Ranchers and Environmentalism in the Sandhills

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In The Last Prairie, Stephen Jones praises the ranchers for their environmentally conservationist behavior, talking about how they "interact quietly with nature every day." (Jones). While Jones does note some issues with practices like ditching or introducing new grass species into crops of hay, he mostly just has good words for the ranchers and their conservationist efforts.

In particular, Jones points out how "continued public-private partnerships involving the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and conservation groups such as the Nature Conservancy will [most likely] lead to an incremental restoration and preservation of Sandhills wetlands and grasslands." (Jones). The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service says that "ranching has proven to be the best economic and environmental use of the Sandhills" and that they have "an ecosystem approach to resource management in the Sandhills." (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service). The Sandhills Task Force works together with ranchers to "to enhance the sandhill wetland-grassland ecosystem in a way that sustains profitable private ranching, wildlife and vegetative diversity, and associated water supplies." (Sandhills Task Force). This joint effort between the government and local ranchers seems to be a refreshing and agreeable approach to environmentalism. According to the rancher John lee, "I've never seen government work like this. We get along real good. This was a unique opportunity to work with them instead of against them. We're trying to get along, with the land, with the wildlife, with the government." (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service).

It is very interesting that an entire community has managed to keep a natural ecosystem basically intact, or at least changed it very little, with only minimal help from the government. In The Last Prairie, Jones quotes Daniel Licht, who said, "Of all the large ecotypes in the grassland biome, the Sandhills may be as close as any to its pre-Columbian condition." (Jones). Yes, there have definitely been changes--most notably in the near-extinction of bison--but the Sandhills ecosystem has basically remained unchanged. This fact is partially due to the fact that the Sandhills are so remote and unsuitable for anything but ranching--were the land good for some other economic purpose, it would have been destroyed a century ago. Still, there is no denying that the ranchers love the land, and are willing to protect it.

The behavior of the rancher community shows that it is possible for a community to take care of its environment--and also that it is possible for the government to work with local people rather than against them for the environment's sake. If this approach could be taken with environmental efforts across the country, it could be extremely helpful for the environmental effort.


Works Cited

Jones, Stephen. The Last Prairie: A Sandhills Journal. Kindle edition. USA: Ragged Mountain Press, 2000.

Sandhills Task Force. http://sandhillstaskforce.org/

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/pfw/ne/ne4.htm

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1 Comment

Stephen Jones does a very good job with relaying the relationship between ranchers and wildlife in the Sandhills in The Last Prairie. He goes on to state the benefits of conservation that exist with the ranchers’ mentality of the natural world that thrives around them. The land and wildlife in the Sandhills is much more than profitable gain, but something that needs to be respected and treated with dignity. The idea that the government is fully behind this idea of conservation is truly beneficial to both parties—ranching and the ecosystem itself. Maybe wildlife and ecosystems cannot truly ever be entirely preserved in the sense that Edward Abbey described in his book, Desert Solitaire, but there are still methods that can be used to conserve the environment while still being valuable to the human component. Conservation is a technique that should not be taken lightly; it is a serious matter that should be in the back of every American’s head. The fact that the government is behind the notion of conservation for the sake of ranching is an overall win for not just ranchers, but all Americans. If this idea can be taken as an example to more naturally-rich areas across the United States as a conservationist method then much wildlife and the ecosystems they inhabit may be saved for further years to come.

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