I'd like to note that the whole Bundy issue has been all about the people and various property ownership perceptions and fantasies, and practically nothing has been "in the news" about the land and its function as a cow host. The BLM action was a result of a move to correct an inappropriate use of the landscape, but the resistance to the BLM is all about Bundy's "rights". The question that has not been asked is, does Bundy, or anyone else, have the right to abuse the land? And what benefit accrues that counterbalances the cost of impacting the land?

We Americans seem to have a blindness when it comes to objectively assessing the appropriateness of various uses of the planet, even to evaluating the actual lifecycle costs of doing a thing.

I was on a field trip last Monday up to a forest thinning project on Mt. Graham in southeastern Arizona. The fundamental concern is to prevent the mountain from having all its vegetation burned off in one big conflagration, as is happening all over the place these days. One of the presenters on the trip was a young PhD out of the University of AZ, who did his dissertation on the fire history/ecology of Mt. Graham.

The mountain is one of those very interesting "sky island" ecosystems, which rise out of a chaparral desert at 3,000' and transition through a range of vegetation types to spruce and aspen at the top around 10,600'.

Our fellow had a lot of information, but the most interesting bit was a show and tell around a piece of wood from a tree that sprouted in the late 1700's. In a more natural ecological fire regime, relatively low intensity fires occur as frequently as every 3-5 years, burning through grass and organic litter on the forest floor; or as infrequently as 300-400 years, depending on the vegetation type. Trees that are not killed by a fire are often scarred on one side, usually the uphill side where a ground fire is a bit more intense due to combustibles collecting there. A fire scar kills the cambium, or growth layer of cells, and over successive years the cambium next to the dead part starts to grow over it, making a bulge with a dead layer in between. fire scar history (not the Mt. Graham sample)

The fire scar history on the piece of wood was quite regular until 1863 (tree rings are a reliable tool for dating meteorological and other ecological events). That's when fire suppression on Mt. Graham began. The common understanding about fire suppression is that it began in 1910, after the catastrophic Big Burn in northern Idaho that pretty much launched the Forest Service and it's mission of putting out all forest fires. But on Mt. Graham the tree rings show that fire suppression started in the mid 1860's. The reason? Actually, there are two; the transcontinental railroads brought cows and soldiers. The cows quickly removed the fine fuels that carried the frequent non-catastrophic ground fires, and the soldiers removed the Indians who regularly set fires as a land management tool.

The humongous fires that we are experiencing in the recent decades, which are exponentially increasing in severity, are largely due to the introduction of cows and Americans (not native Americans, but true Americans) into the ecosystem. We have discussed somewhat the economics connected with Cliven Bundy as a welfare rancher, i.e. the federal subsidy of dirt-cheap use of the land that he and his family have received for a hundred years, plus the additional pittance that he has refused to pay on his lease for the last twenty years; but we have not accounted for the costs of fighting forest fires, or the loss of topsoil, or the loss of ecosystems that provide the planet with clean air and water, or the loss of species, or the loss of incredible beauty...

Just what property right allows Bundy and his kind, and all of the rest of us, to abuse the land for shallow personal gain?
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the old model obsolete.”
– R. Buckminster Fuller