Will cattle go the way of timber?

April 11, 2009 11:36 am

According to Peter Barry’s response to the “Cattle are No. 1” column by OCA President Bill Moore, Oregon cattle ranchers took $664 million to the bank last year. This is a sad testimony to what has happened to Oregon’s No.1 Industry of Yesteryear — timber.

This industry was the “Big Mama” of Oregon natural resource industries. It provided thousands of good-paying jobs and allowed for a thriving consumer economy. Using the Endangered Species Act, the spotted owl was used as a tool to begin the massive shut-down of Oregon’s economic foundation. This owl is now copulating with the barred owl, having lots of little sub-species and enjoys more habitat than any owl ever knew. We are still waiting for that “better Earth” we were promised if the owl was saved.

Now, the timber industry is all but dead or in severe death throes, with many workers having to find another way to provide for their families — if they can. Most of the timber is imported from Canada or harvested on private property and our forests are diseased and dying because of lack of management. The science used to “save the owl” was some of, as Mr. Barry called it, that “runny, stinky stuff” that comes from cows, but useful as a means to an end for some.

The very idea that ranchers are running to the bank with lots of money is laughable. Most of those millions made are spent on taxes, operating expenses, equipment, in supporting local economies, supporting schools and raising families. Not much is left when all is said and done. It can be a vicious cycle to stay in the ranching business. But $664 million into the economy of Oregon isn’t something to be ignored. Imagine what it would be like without it.

Several years ago, fencing off the creeks from livestock became an “issue,” and while it was voluntary, the government adopted regulations effecting ranchers and offered incentives for participation. It was called “The Clean Water Act,” and while its purpose was to protect water from pollution, it actually destroyed fish habitat, in particular, spawning beds, slowed the flow of water and increased water temperatures. Many lovely steelhead beds were destroyed. 

Now some are concerned that there aren’t enough “wild” steelhead. Was this program designed using science or some of that runny, stinky stuff?

Ponds providing livestock with water have been built by every rancher not having fresh, flowing water available. When the creeks slow to a trickle or dry up and disappear, deer, elk, turkeys, other wildlife and birds of all kinds partake of the pond. Some times during droughts, ranchers have to haul water to the ponds. Water is a necessity of life for all, and no rancher would deny water to any animal. To suggest ranchers don’t care about clean water and wildlife is more “runny, stinky” stuff from someone who sounds like a bovine-phobic with a personal ax to grind.

Cattlemen do not receive subsidies for their livestock. In fact, most just want a fair market opportunity. Cattle prices cycle, but the market is also affected by supply and demand. Today, the U.S. cow-calf producer is the only agriculture industry that has not been completely taken over by the big agribusiness cartels. The meat-packing industry makes billions of dollars and places great pressure on USDA to allow for cattle imports when prices cut too much into their huge profits. As Mr. Easterday, large feedlot owner in several locations including Hermiston, was quoted in several newspapers, “40 percent of the cattle in feedlots are purchased from Canada and Mexico.’’ (Sounds like what happened to the timber industry.)

The average age of today’s farmer/rancher is approaching 59 years old. The young farmer is virtually non-existent, and many are wondering who will farm for the future generations. Current conditions are not encouraging for many in farming and ranching and haven’t been for some time. Are we to consider the farmer/rancher as an “indicator species” when we speak of “small enterprise” and “food independence”?

Will America experience a serious decline in food production or rely on the personal eating preference of some and runny, stinky stuff from which most of our government studies are based on? A choice will have to be made soon or many will find that the cost of groceries will rise to new heights not yet seen by these current generations.

Making good decisions should be based on facts, true science and life experience. Mr. Barry and a few others can continue to depend on the “other stuff.’’

Vicki Fleshman is a freelance journalist and cattle rancher who lives in Joseph.