Private Property Rights and Sustainable Rangeland Use
Thadis W. Box
Given at Mesilla, New Mexico, May 4, 1995
The controversy over grazing on public rangelands is not just about cows and grass. It is about ownership of the public lands. It is about what rights individuals can hold in a common resource. The grazing issue deals primarily with public lands, but there is little difference between privately owned land and public land. In the long run society will demand that land, regardless of ownership, be used for the public good.
The most contentious and emotional land use issue now and in the foreseeable future is balancing private property rights with the public interest. This issue will surface in such different land use debates as historical preservation, endangered species, location of waste disposal facilities, and public land management.
I deal with land ownership problems every day. I am a farmer who raises chilies and pecans on a small farm in Mesilla, NM.
I am also a retiree with the major part of my wealth tied up in farmland whose value is much greater for urban development. This value fluctuates with zoning laws, actions of neighbors, and the cultural ambiance of the town.
I am a town trustee, appointed to protect the health, safety, and cultural values of a small, historic community. Much of our village is zoned into small, subsistence farms. These farms are becoming building lots for large and expensive houses. The character of our town is changing. Ten rears ago over half our residents were old people with incomes below the national poverty line. Today, only 28% of our families have low or moderate income. Almost daily, I try to defend the rights of landowners to sell to outside interests while trying to protect the historical, Hispanic ambiance of he community.
By training and experience, I am an ecologist who has pent most of his adult life applying science to natural resource management. I am a card carrying member of the Society for Range Management who values rangelands for hummingbirds wide unbroken vistas, pottery shards, picnics, mule deer, white faced cattle and Angora goats. I live with conflicts in my job and in my psyche.
To help resolve these conflicts, I fall back on a philosophy and a goal. My philosophy is stated simply in a poem I wrote some years ago. I call it
DEED OF TRUST
title of possession
gives the right
until we return
to the soil
we think we own
In a nutshell, my philosophy is that we are stewards; land does not belong to us, we belong to the land.
My goal is to attain sustainable human communities based on sound land use. Let me share some of my recent experiences with you.
Last fall I was asked to participate in a private property rights conference in central Texas. The golden checked warbler and endangered cave bugs had ranchers up in arms.
Food from that rocky, thin soil allowed me to survive the Great Depression. The drought of the 50s turned me from a rancher into a school teacher.
Uncle Sam dragged me kicking and screaming to fight for my rights about the time the drought started, and I hadn't spent much time in Central Texas since. I prepared for the talk by visiting Burnet and Llano Counties where I was raised.
The house where I was born no longer exists. The garden and field that raised food so I could survive the depression is grown up in juniper and mesquite. The slope above the creek where I learned to swim has dense woody vegetation 30 feet high; it is now fair warbler habitat. There are no cotton farms; no cornfields or watermelon patches. Plant communities have changed.
Human communities have changed even more. The First State Bank is now an upscale restaurant. An expresso machine sits where the banker took our mohair money and applied it toward the interest and carried our loan until we could sell the calves in the fall. My school is gone. My church is gone. Three cotton gins are gone. Two banks are gone. There are no people visiting around the courthouse square, discussing crops and rain that hadn't come. A thriving community is no more. My community was not sustainable for farming and ranching.
What I saw in Burnet County were not communities based on ranching, but bedroom communities for Austin. The property right issues were not those of the public desire for endangered species prohibiting the growing of livestock. The main threat to endangered species was hobby ranches, ranchettes, and expanding urbanization. The economic loss perceived by ranchers was not that of regulations preventing them from raising cattle. They were being restricted in their ability to subdivide their ranch and build housing developments, to create yet another non-sustainable community.
This experience with Texans set the stage for what I want to talk about today, private property rights and using rangelands for sustainable communities.
Three years ago I climbed a mountain east of Las Cruces and sat in a rock shelter. As I gazed out over the lush irrigated farms, the housing developments, and the intersection of two busy interstate highways, I wondered if our civilization would also go the same way as those who made the petroglyphs in the shelter I had invaded.
Coming down the mountain, I took a short cut across a dry, west facing slope. There, with no trees anywhere in sight was an ancient stump with weathered axe marks. I sat and wrote:
STUMP NEAR SOLIDAD CANYON
on desert ridge
and woody scruba stump clings
relict of a gentler time
cannot remember cedar
on that dry west facing slope
the tree grew
it fellin modern times
it stood proud
and twisting winda rare
dark green dot
on a purple hill
climbed that hill
swung his axeremoved the life
that clung to stone
did it make
vigas for adobe hutthe axeman
spokes for wagon wheel
fire to warm a newborn babe
in rare Mesilla snow
judge him not
he was a product
of a harsher time
The Native Americans who first tilled our soil, the pioneers who brought European ways, and those of us using land today are all products of our times. Land use is dictated by our values, but our culture is changing, and our land will be subjected to new uses.
Rangeland owners need to think about changing values, about how land will be used in the future, and about the concern for sustainability. We need to back off from trees, crops, cows, and cave bugs and think about where our property fits in the cultural demands on land.
Although we ecologists study and teach change in biotic communities, we often ignore change all around us. I speak as one who has had 30 years of happy frustration as a teacher, administrator, and citizen. During this time students changed. Society itself changed; new public attitudes about conservation and land use came and went, each having an effect on the land.
Cultural changes didn't just affect land use, they altered people's lives. I watched as animal rights activists ruined careers of dedicated wildlife biologists, and as changing values drove good foresters to retirement. My last Ph.D. student, head of the Botany Department at the National University of Somalia, wrote me, "Thanks to God, only one of my children has starved."
My topic today deals with private property rights and the use of public rangelands. My thesis is that the concept of private property rights is determined by culture, the culture of the west is changing, and that change, especially as it relates to the concept of private property, will dictate the use of public rangelands.
To properly understand the public land debate, we need to look at the larger goal of sustainable land use to support present and future cultures. I will paint with the broad brush of societal needs and changing rangeland use as I discuss my view of land ownership and private property rights, review the status of our public rangelands, examine the changing environment in the west, look at the history of conservation in relationship to sustainability, speculate about some factors affecting future land use. I will try to relate these broad factors to rangeland ownership as I close with some ideas about sustainable systems, cultural change, property rights and public rangelands.
Private Property Rights and Land Ownership
I believe that the controversy over public rangelands is about power, holding on to past values, and resistance to cultural change. To hold on to power, users claim a constitutional property right.
I am not a legal scholar. I have no intention of quoting court cases or arguing the legal points of public vs. private land ownership. Suffice it to say that the Fifth Amendment "nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation" is the basis of the regulatory takings issue. It will be discussed on editorial pages, talk shows, and in the courts many times before it is settled.
I work in the area of historical preservation as a town trustee. Courts have consistently upheld historical preservation ordinances and ruled that there is no taking as long as the landowner is allowed a reasonable use of his property. In other words, the public's interest in preserving its historical integrity can restrict a private landowner from the "highest use" of his land.
I doubt that grazing permits constitute a property right, but even if they do, the courts attitude toward historical preservation will probably be used to determine what regulation can be made of the right. It may turn out that "regulatory taking" is a side issue much like grazing fees; the real issues may be control of perceived cultural values and resistance to change.
The dictionary defines property as something tangible or intangible to which its owner has legal title. Ownership means the legal right to possess, enjoy, and dispose of property.
The part of land that can be owned depends upon the laws of the country, state, or county. In many countries, only the use of the surface can be privately owned, all the rest belongs to the state or the crown.
In the United States, it is commonly believed that a landowner possesses everything from the center of the earth to the space above his land. In reality, minerals and water rights are often owned separately. Wildlife is owned by the state. Air space may be sold. Easements may be granted for access, utilities, or open space. In some places, development rights are separated from the land and sold. The title insurance industry developed to sort out and guarantee legal title to each of the land parts.
In the end, property rights in land are only those in which society allows legal title to be issued for private possession and control. I do not know what the courts will ultimately rule on private rights on public rangelands or public rights on private lands, or what the right to possess, enjoy, and dispose of means. But when I tried to relate these thoughts to my owning the 125 year old adobe house I restored and the farm I live on, I wrote:
warranty deed recorded
a court of law
this house is mine
but i share this home
with those who
were born here
people this land
filled their dreams
and those whose dreams
this is their house
the state says
but i am steward
who came before me
and for those
who may think
they own it
after i've gone
Whatever the laws say, I do not believe we should own land any more than we own our children. With both, we are caretakers, holding them in trust until we pass them on to the next generation. If we abuse our children, fail to educate them, or neglect their development, we can be sent to jail. But if we overgraze or mine our rangeland, we can sell it to be sub- divided. Houses can be built and the land forever removed from production.
If we want to adopt a child, our income is investigated, our morals are examined, and we must prove we are good citizens. If we want to buy a piece of land, we need only money. Our morals and ethics are not questioned.
Society has an interest in both the child that passes the culture to the next generation and in the land that supports it. The rules should be the same. If they were, we would not have current debate over private property rights and the public rangelands.
The Status of Public Rangelands
Public lands make up from a little less than a third to over 95% of each of the western states. Congress has decreed that this land shall remain in public ownership and that it shall be managed for multiple uses.
Traditionally those lands that were too dry, too high, too rocky, or too cold for farming or intensive forestry were grazed by domestic livestock. These are our rangelands. They were grazed by livestock first as an uncontrolled commons, and later under permit from USFS or BLM.
With uncontrolled grazing, most rangelands were overgrazed and the vegetation depleted within two decades after the arrival of domestic livestock. The Forest Service and BLM instituted grazing management and most rangelands have improved slowly in the past 60-90 years.
There is controversy over the condition and health of the public rangelands because that condition was measured using different ecological concepts, different measurement techniques, and with different agendas for land use. Different opinions about land ownership further cloud the truth.
I thought about restricting this lecture to why opinions differ on the condition of rangeland. But to do that I would become sidetracked from the main issue of cultural demands on the land and how they affect concepts of ownership.
Let us look briefly at how the field of range management itself has unwittingly contributed to the misunderstanding. Range management began near the end of inexhaustible grass.
The first Europeans overestimated the carrying capacity of our rangelands. Investors brought huge herds of cattle and sheep into the west. When livestock died in the drought of 1896, livestock men turned to the Federal Government for help.
Botanists were sent to study the range, experiment stations were formed, and range related work was established in most every western state. Two major points emerge from the early years of range management: 1) The profession came from an attempt to save the livestock industry, and 2) It was based largely on observation and experience, not science.
Science came to range management when the development of ecology gave range managers a theory on which to base their management. Plant succession was first described in 1899; the first two decades of the 20th century was an exciting time for range managers.
The Chicago (Cowles) and Nebraska (Clements) schools of ecology moved students into range management. Arthur Sampson, in a 1919 publication, related succession to range management. He published the first textbook in range management, and taught here at Berkeley. Many consider him the father of range management.
James Jardine reported to his students at Utah State that his head hurt and he couldn't sleep due to excitement over classes he took at Chicago. His 1919 publication tied ecology and animal production together and outlined ways for the Forest Service ranges to be managed.
Again, two major points emerge: First, the early scientific influence was primarily from Clementsian ecology, and second, range management in the first 50 years was geared to increasing livestock production.
That heritage continues to haunt the profession today.
In the second fifty years, the range management profession matured and changed. The American Society of Range Management was formed and changed to Society for Range Management. Range management became more scientific as new sciences were accepted, and new knowledge was developed. The process was slow, especially when it conflicted with the Clementsian dogma and the livestock history.
The change in range management can be seen in definitions in the textbook by Stoddart and Smith. In the first edition (1943) range management was defined as the science and art of planning and directing range use so as to obtain maximum livestock production range land consistent with the conservation of range resources.
It goes on to say "This definition implies a sustained yield of livestock over a long period of time."
The book leaves no doubt that the main objective was to produce livestock.
In the second edition (1955), range management was the science and art of obtaining maximum livestock production from range land consistent with the conservation of land resources.
It goes on to say "It is evident from this definition that range management is closely related to animal husbandry and plant ecology. We see the beginning of a move from livestock production to land management in 12 years.
The third edition (1975) described range management as the science and art of optimizing the returns from rangelands in those combinations most desired by and suitable to society through the manipulation of range ecosystems. It goes on to say "Range management is at once a biological, a physical, and a social science." The definition no longer uses maximize or livestock; instead, it talks about societal needs and ecosystems.
These definitions are important since all were written by one man-a scholar and a Berkeley student-Art Smith. Most American range managers have used this textbook in their range courses.
What is a good definition today as the public debates rangeland use? Before we examine that, let's look at the broader society, people's wants, and the demand that land be managed in a "new" way.
The New Land Management
Emotional, marginal issues, sidetrack us from sustainable land use and social justice. We divide rather than seek a sustainable future. Cattle free by 2003. The spotted owl becomes a surrogate for old growth timber. Animal welfare groups and wild horse enthusiasts protect feral horses that in turn destroy public rangeland. In the end we spend more on feral horses than on battered women. What sets our priorities?
At a conference on endangered species in Phoenix, I wrote the following. I call it
Mexican spotted owl
arrive on dead dinosaurs
die in boxcars
A rabbitbush makes
the endangered list
Chrysothamnus molestus, there should be a way to balance conservation with social justice.
Chrysothamnus molestus we need a new land management using land for societal values. There is a call to shape the future conditions of landscapes for a full diversity of life, ecological processes, human values, and resource uses. This is a far cry from the cows and grass approach to rangeland use I studied as a college student.
This new range management means balancing science with social values, economic feasibility, institutional traditions and political muscle. This could be a recipe for sustainable rangeland use, but it has largely been associated with wetlands protection, endangered species, or biological diversity.
It has not become the watchword, as many of us had hoped, for agriculture and natural resource management. We have yet to relate new land management and sustainability concerns to property rights, equity issues, and social justice.
We know that grass, wildlife, and stable systems are good for the land. We say we practice wise land use.
Land use objectives for most people are the same wise resource use but we differ widely on what wisdom to use. To a Hopi, San Francisco peak is a holy place, a place for spiritual renewal to sustain his culture. To a white recreationist it is a ski slope, a summer cabin, or wilderness a retreat to sustain another very different set of values. To a forester, it is a place to grow trees; to a shepherd, it is a place to grow sheep. It is a place to support commodity production to satisfy yet another culture of consumers.
Wise use for each group is to sustain the use that perpetuates its cultural values. Only when we are forced to think globally and beyond our own culture does wise use include managing for options to be kept open for new or future uses in other words, to think about sustainability in the future west.
Changing Environment of the West
The old west was sparsely populated. There was no desire and little need for societal control. Each person operated as an individual. It was "me and God against the world." The economy was dominated by agriculture, mining, and the military; extractive industries were viewed as right and good. State and local governmental officials were elected to serve the rural populace. Both the people and the government supported major extractive industries.
In the new west each state is dominated by at least one major urban area. Large numbers of "newcomers and outsiders" have arrived who are highly educated, comfortable with societal restrictions, and environmentally oriented. They bring new values and non-commodity demands on the land. Many older retirees and sunbirds spend only part of the year in the west. The economy is dominated by tourism, technology, and service industries.
In Utah, WordPerfect and Novell have replaced Kennecott and Thiokol as the corporate giants. Agriculture and ranching are changing. Catron County, New Mexico makes national headlines with its new version of the sagebrush rebellion and its fight with environmentalists. The impression is that New Mexico ranchers are anti-environment and on the warpath. But while Catron County digs in its heels, others are examining ways to use rangeland for societal values.
Ted Turner and Jane Fonda own New Mexico's largest ranch. The Ladder and Armindarez ranches have been combined to raise bison. The magnificent Gray Ranch is now owned by a foundation established by poet-rancher- philosopher Drum Hadley. He has deeded conservation easements on the entire place to assure that the land will never be developed for housing.
Hadley and the Malpaiz group, a group of public land ranchers on the New Mexico-Arizona border, are examining new and unique ways to keep public land values and protect legitimate ranches. They are using conservation easements, grass banks, and self help to improve both public and private rangeland.
Politics are changing to reflect the new order in the west. Conservatism does not mean just supporting agriculture, it means supporting new corporations as well. The largest business may make computers, and to keep the computer labor force happy, rangelands will not necessarily be managed for livestock products.
The future west well reflect great diversity, but not just in natural attributes of elevation, temperature, and rainfall. It will contain the richest and poorest people, the largest city and most remote village, the greatest ethnic mixture and purest settlements. There will be more immigration, increased urbanization, more old people, more rich people, and an economy dominated by high technology and tourism. Increased value will be placed on quality of life. Demand for a new land management based on sustainable land use and social justice will increase.
There will be greater and more rapid change. To help relate to the expected change in rangeland use, we can look at the history of conservation in the United States.
Conservation in the United States
When the first European settlers arrived in North America, we entered an "Era of Exploitation." To conquer the wilderness was right and honorable. Development of the new land was public policy. Forests were cut. Prairies were plowed. Buffalo were replaced with homesteaders. The railroad connected the Atlantic to the Pacific. A new nation raced to become an industrial giant and a world power.
About the middle of the 19th Century, a few people began to call for saving plants, animals, or land. We entered an " Era of preservation." Yellowstone became our first National Park. Forest Reserves were established. Public policy still embraced growth and development, but room was made to save a little of our resources. Organizations and infrastructure were created to put the land under professional management.
Eighty years ago this week Stephen Mather assembled a few people in the Sigma Chi house here at Berkeley to discuss problems with the public parks. Results of this meeting were instrumental in forming the National Park Service.
Between the first and second world wars, we entered an "Era of Reclamation." The soil erosion service was formed and the Taylor Grazing Act passed. Make-work projects of the Great Depression constructed terraces, planted forests, built campgrounds, established windbreaks, and tried to rebuild that which had been depleted.
After WWII, as the Cold War made us aware of the possibility of nuclear destruction, we entered the "Era of Environmental Concern."
Rachel Carson's book, Silent Spring focused our fears and our attention on ourselves and our families. This book changed the conservation movement forever. What had been a land based movement became a concern for personal health and safety. This new environmental awareness became the moving force for clean air, clean water, organically grown food, and other demands of urban based citizens. It changed the demands made on the land.
We may now have entered yet another era, the "Era of Sustainability." It grew out of the earth day movement of the 1970s. Originally, the movement was led by powerless kids who distrusted society and its leaders. It was reactive in nature and spawned laws such as NEPA, NFMA, FLMPA, etc. Solutions were based on rules rather than reason. Litigation and lawyers dominated the conservation scene.
The Earth Day Movement became muddled with an unpopular war, new sex mores, free speech movement, changing gender roles, communal living and other evidences of cultural evolution. It lost its power in many diverse, but related movements for which conservation leaders were not ready. Cultural values were being challenged in our society, but most did not view it as a fundamental new direction for conservation. They saw it as simply an extension of the environmental movement.
The examples of cultural change I have seen in Natural Resource students over the past three decades cause me to believe that we are indeed moving into the beginning of the era of sustainability.
During the 1970's I taught a class of 340 students on natural resources and the future. It was so popular I overbooked it by 15% like the airlines.
The 1970's kids were filled with idealism. They cared. They wanted to save the world. They did not want a job, at least the kind we had to offer in range management. Foresters and wildlife managers were bad guys who cut trees and wallowed in blood and guts. The students went into the peace corps, they demonstrated and marched against injustice, and the resisted those in power.
Today, these very people are in power. They are now in leadership positions from the district ranger's office to the White House.
The students of the 1980's also saw in "the bomb" a real likelihood that their dreams could be cut short. Class size dropped. Students sought material wealth. They were willing to take any job if it paid well enough. They were not concerned with social issues or the land. In the 1980's fear of extinction led to a "let's get it now" attitude. Concern for personal wealth replaced concern for society. BMW's and MBA's were dominant.
Military Science as a major subject was more popular than forestry and all other fields of conservation combined. Rambo ruled. God lived on Wall Street and drank Perrier water.
The ethic for the 80's was, "greed is good, rules are for fools, and he who has the most toys in the end wins."
What cultural values will the next generation bring now that the threat of nuclear destruction has diminished? I don't know.
But whatever they are, the new cultural values will determine how society feels about property rights and their relationship to sustainable communities.
My observation is that society wants its communities, its culture, and its lifestyle to be sustainable. There are many different ideas about sustainability, but most all definitions have four central concepts:
1). There must be equity for today's land stewards. People on the land, farmers and ranchers, must make a good living.
2). There should be equity for future generations. We must leave options open for our grandkids.
3). Long term sustainability must take precedence over short term profit. We must keep the land productive. We must learn to live on the interest without depleting the principle.
4). The fourth central concept is environmental enhancement. We must improve what has been given us. We need to leave the world better than we found it, become active in land improvement.
These are not new concepts. They are the same as those that Aldo Leopold and Hugh Hammond Bennet wrote about sixty years ago. They are the same as those I used thirty five years ago when I talked to my church on Stewardship Sunday.
The concepts are the same. But the world has changed. And I have changed. Then I had yet to earn my Ph.D. I did not even know where Somalia was. I had never looked into the eyes of a starving child. And I had never had a friend write "Thanks to God, only one of my children has starved."
Our culture, like me, has changed because of what has happened to it.
Sustainable Land Use and the Rangelands of the Future West
Sustainable rangeland use means implementing a policy that meets the needs of people today without destroying the resources that will be needed in the future. It depends, in part, upon determining the ecological carrying capacity of the land, determining what people want and need from the land, and a political and economic system that matches what people want and need with land capability.
While the potential carrying capacity of the land remains relatively stable, the cultural and social demands on the land are constantly changing, causing the actual carrying capacity to fluctuate widely through time. Therefore, the overriding element for landowners is coping with change.
The rangelands, both public and private, of the future west will be managed to satisfy changing cultural demands. Managers will have to have a new vision that reflects both new and changing values.
Public Rangelands and the Vision of the New West
Managing public rangelands in the future west will result in a new definition of range management. I suggest range management is the manipulation of rangeland ecosystems to improve past damage, provide societal needs from those systems, and to keep options open for future generations. This definition implies that long term sustainability of the system has priority over short term commodity extraction.
This definition also implies that private landowners and public lands managers are expected to pass on the basic productivity of the land to future generations. If this expectation becomes part of the ethic and culture of future generations, the argument that a grazing permit is personal property may not be important.
Whether a private property right can exist on public land will depend on the answers to two questions: 1) Is resource management culturally acceptable? 2). Can managers and institutions cope with cultural change?
Future Issues for Public Rangelands
No one knows exactly what the future holds. However, global issues ultimately will be more important in rangeland use than local issues. I will discuss four.
The primary question for my generation of range managers was, "Who will feed the hungry world?" We have succeeded to the point we have an embarrassment of surpluses, and consumers are buying less animal products. But the problem of feeding people remains, only the time frame has changed. Some 40,000 people die each day of starvation and disease. In a month more people than live in New Mexico will die from nutrition related ailments.
The gap between the haves and the have nots is increasing. Poor countries are growing 4 times as fast as rich countries; 4 out of 5 babies are born into poverty.
Sustainable use of rangelands, equity in this generation, means feeding those less fortunate than we whether they are in Rwanda, or Bosnia, or Oakland.
Rich countries are not growing they are growing old. Poor countries have young populations of mostly non-white people. In the United States, wealth is concentrated in a few, usually older people.
The United States has moved from the world's largest creditor nation to its largest debtor nation. The global financial center has moved from Wall Street to somewhere on the Pacific Rim. Our markets and our labor are in poor countries, but they are unable to buy. Their standard of living must be raised if they are to participate in sustainable development.
Sustainable rangeland use, equity for future generations, depends on world peace and world trade.
Material science and technology
We live in a world where designers imagine a product, engineers specify the characteristics of the components, and chemists create the building materials from polymers, graphite, ceramics, or whatever combination of elements can produce the required strength and aesthetic qualities. No longer does the designer buy two by fours and then let them determine the final product; the manufactured item is based on the creators imagination and skills. The demand for natural building products such as wood, wool, and cotton will change.
Sustainable rangeland use, long term stability, means adapting new materials and adjusting land use through a combination of ecology, economics, and technology.
Of the world's 10 largest countries only 3 are "Christian" in philosophical thought. The implications of a global change away from Judeo-Christian attitudes about development will have profound effects on sustainable land use and private property.
The most obvious trends are an increase in animal rights activities and a wider acceptance of vegetarianism. However, much more important changes will occur with different concepts of equity, beauty, property ownership, productivity, and work.
Even now, work is not what we do, but is what we can imagine. Vladimir Horowitz, one of the greatest pianist of all times, died a few years ago. A clever computer programmer can make a synthesizer play, Horowitz, Chet Atkins, Alabama, the Grateful Dead, or even Bob Wills. But she cannot make the computer imagine the music.
The android, Mr. Data, on Star Trek has all the past knowledge and human experience stored on his computer chips, but he lacks human emotion and a philosophical base. A Mr. Data could provide all the information needed to make the world better, but he could not define better for us.
Sustainable rangeland use, environmental enhancement, will depend on what our concept of "better" is. Our philosophical base will be the key element, not our technology.
Private Property Rights And Sustainable Use of Public Rangeland
In America, the ownership of private property is a fundamental, constitutional right. It is part of our culture. It is the basis for the market economy. It can be the elemental building block for incentives to improve the land because it allows for stability and intergenerational transfer-indeed, to think about the future.
But when private land ownership is viewed in the larger scheme of things, we find that the future of our society depends upon the entire community having a say in the use of the land.
Private ownership of land must be culturally acceptable. Land, public or private, must produce what society wants. It is the products of land that sustains the community.
Private property owners must use their land to meet the needs brought about by cultural change. Private rangeland owners use the market place to meet societal needs. Whether people want leaner beef or no beef at all will be determined in the market and landowners will adjust land use to produce what the consumer wants. If sportsmen want better hunting, trophy bucks, or fatter pheasants these can be produced on managed hunting leases. If people are willing to pay for outdoor recreation, dude ranches and private parks appear.
Americans now say that all people have a right to clean air, clean water, beautiful landscapes, and genetic diversity. These do not fit easily into the market concept. If society wants things from private land chat cannot be met in the market, some sort of public right must be enforced. Societal demand for these things come at a time when trust in government is low. The public wants less regulation of private property.
The amount of regulation that is acceptable to landowners and the general public varies. Regulation generally is accepted when a land use damages others. There is little objection to ordinances for noxious weed control. Landowners seldom object to containing fire or waste water to their own property. Most would agree chat a land use chat pollutes the air or water should be controlled. There is less agreement that a private landowner should be required to maintain a beautiful landscape, and even less that he should provide habitat for endangered species at the expense of profit from some other use.
Ordinances and laws now on the books, and widely accepted by private property owners, clearly establish that the public has rights in the use of private property. The extent of these rights, and the restrictions on private landowner, will be determined by the cultural values of the society. In the United States, these issues are addressed in the political process and will ultimately be determined by the voters.
Although other factors will operate, the primary consideration in determining private land use by its owner will be the market place. The exercise of public rights in private land will be determined by the ballot box.
Society has decreed, through congressional action, that ranges on public land remain in public ownership. Public ownership raises expectations for varied cultural desires such as scenic beauty, commodity extraction, endangered species, and genetic diversity. Most of these are supported by an organized group whose objective is to assure their particular use is continued in a manner favorable to its members.
Other cultural expectations such as equity and social justice may have no groups directly lobbying for their interests in public lands. Debate about public rangelands centers around symptoms such as range health and grazing fees rather than use of rangelands to support sustainable communities. The real issue is whether a private property "right" such as grazing is in the public interest.
Public Rangeland, Sustainable Land Use and Cultural Change
Sustainable rangeland use can exist only if the use is compatible with cultural demands. Cultures change. Land uses change. If what people want from the land is not congruous with the ecological base, cultures cannot succeed.
Balancing land capability to cultural demands will be controlled by what we can imagine, creativity, vision. And all these are part of education-the creation of a vision.
There are four simple steps in education: 1) Make people aware of the facts, 2) Give them problem solving skills, 3) Give them a bag of tools, and 4) Inspire them to do something.
We need to create new visions in the property rights/public rangeland debate by tying science and application together in those simple steps of education. First, identify the problem. What is causing the conflict between property rights and the public good?
Second, set priorities. What can we can we change chat will really make a difference.
Third, improve our bag of tools. Do good science. Synthesize and integrate, as well as enumerate and explain. Tie ecology, economic development, and social justice together. Accept social sciences as land management tools. Improve the application of science.
Fourth, inspire. Inspire to make something happen. Inspire to create new visions of what can be. Develop a new vision of how society benefits from public rangeland. Show how social justice is served by both private property rights and public land ownership. Dream of how National Forests in California can contribute to keeping Mesilla, NM quaint, beautiful, and historically significant. Imagine how BLM desert ranges in Utah contribute to solving crime in downtown Los Angeles.
But we are having trouble implementing new visions because those of us who manage and use public rangelands do not know how to relate to our new cultures. Our traditional allies were those that protected us from world communism and nuclear destruction, promoted consumption for continued growth and economic gain, and supported commodity extraction such as beef from cows grazing public rangelands.
Our current support comes from those wanting sustainability.
New clients for sustainability may come from diverse groups with very different immediate goals. Some are environmental groups wanting resource protection. Others are the underemployed, the hungry, the have-nots wanting social justice.
We have new allies trying to apply market economies where there are no traditions, institutional support, or past experience. We have others who reject the market and want rangeland use controlled by laws and litigation. Most all are two or three generations removed from the land, and may not share our feeling for it.
New support is not always scientifically credible. We often get bogged down defending practices or positions that may be equally incredible-and the land loses because we cannot relate to new societal values.
We, like the pioneer in the poem I started with, are products of a different time. Our success will be determined by whether we can adjust, change, lead.
People today are no longer living in fear of communism or the bomb. Creation of sustainable communities is a major cultural goal. Our science is better.
We struggle to maintain peace. We realize that people are an important part of this sustainability movement. If we concentrate on education, creativity, application, we can move to a higher plateau where social justice is balanced with land use-where rangelands are culturally acceptable and truly sustainable.
Public rangelands will improve and be healthy if we remember, equity for today's generation, a better life for our grandkids, to leave options open for those who follow us, and leave the world better than we found it.
But we will not have, indeed we do not deserve, improving public rangelands if we continue business as usual, defend private property rights for personal gain at the expense of the community, continue to organize our programs of development around narrowly drawn issues such as low grazing fees or saving endangered species, underestimate the broad based support for sustainability.
We will fail if we ignore equity and social justice in our property rights equation whether it is keeping Ahmed Elmi's children alive in Somalia, getting single mom's off welfare in San Jose, or keeping gang members from killing one another in San Francisco.
I pray that history will show that we in this generation set the stage for a better world tomorrow. I am incredibly fortunate to have lived at this time. I am lucky to have a career in resource management. I am proud to have been a teacher. I am pleased to be a different kind of teacher today. I appreciate your kindness in letting me spout my biases. Thank you for asking me to present the Albright Lecture for 1995.
Thadis W. Box
It is the University's privilege that Thadis Box is the 33rd Horace Marden Albright Lecturer in Conservation. Thad Box raises pecans and chilies on a small farm in Mesilla, New Mexico, where he is a member of the Town Board of Trustees. He serves, on an adjunct basis, as the Gerald Thomas Professor of Natural Resources and Food Production at New Mexico State University. In past lives he was twenty years Dean of Natural Resources, and is now Professor Emeritus of Range Management at Utah State University. Prior to becoming Dean, he taught at Texas Tech University and Utah State.
His formal education began in a one room school in Llano County, Texas, near where he was born. He holds a B.S. degree from Southwest Texas State and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from Texas A&M University..
Among his honors are the E. Harris Harbinson Award for Distinguished Teaching given by the Danforth Foundation, the Welder Wildlife Foundation Fellowship, the Chevron National Conservation Award, the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization Visiting Scientist Fellowship, and the Frederick G. Renner Award for Distinguished ResearchHe has lectured and consulted in over thirty countries on every major continent. His publications list over 200 books and papers ranging from a major textbook in his field to research articles to poems. He continues to write from a century old adobe house he restored; both he and his house come from the land.