The West is at war with itself over the future of public and private lands, and ranchers are caught in the middle. Rick Knight, professor of wildlife conservation at Colorado State University and co-editor of "Ranching West of the 100th Meridian," will explore the topic at a book signing at 7:30 p.m. on March 22 at Jade Creek Books in Fort Collins.
The book challenges environmentalists who see cattle as a scourge upon the land, fiscal conservatives who consider the leasing of grazing rights to be a federal handout program and developers who want purchase intact ranches for subdivisions and shopping centers.
Half of the American West is private land and the other half is public. Historically, conservationists have believed that land used for livestock grazing does not support important elements of biodiversity. With the rapid loss of privately owned ranch lands to housing developments across the West, some environmental organizations have changed their approach to conserving nature. Instead of buying up private lands and setting them aside, these groups and many others have begun working with ranchers.
The book looks at whether the strategy of working with ranchers to maintain natural biodiversity works as well as land set aside specifically for that purpose. Knight examined songbirds, carnivores and plant communities on three land uses: ranches, protected areas without livestock grazing and developed land.
The findings of the study were surprising. In terms of songbirds and carnivores, ranches were found to be as good as protected areas in maintaining viable populations of species sensitive to habitat loss. In regard to the plant communities, ranches were found to be better than protected areas in that they had fewer exotic and invasive species.
Private ranchlands were found to contain significant populations of species of conservation concern. Knight’s overall findings confirm that working with ranchers to maintain native biodiversity has succeeded. The book emphasizes that ranchers are America’s premier land stewards and that cooperation with them to save the West’s natural heritage is paramount because of rapid land-use changes.
The book grew out of a unique conference held at Colorado State University two years ago. Ranchers, economists, ecologists, environmentalist, federal and state land agencies were brought together to understand their interdependence and to open a dialogue for a working partnership.
Contributors to the book include Paul Starrs, Linda Hasselstrom, Bob Budd, Drummond Hadley, Mark Brunson, Wayne Elmore, Allan Savory, Luther Propst and Bill Weeks. All are highly respected for their conservation expertise.
Wendell Gilgert from the Wildlife Habitat Management Institute in the Department of Fishery and Wildlife Biology at Colorado State and Ed Marston, publisher of High Country News, also co-edited the book.
Knight, who has been with Colorado State since 1989, also is co-editor of "Stewardship Across Boundaries" and "A New Century for Natural Resource Management."
The book signing is free and open to the public. Reservations are not required. For more information contact Jade Creek Books at (970) 484-3019.