I’m Patrice Stewart. I’m a senior at Albert Lowry High School in Winnemucca, Nevada. I’ve lived on my family’s cattle ranch in Paradise Valley, Nevada all my life and represent the fifth generation of my family to do so. My great-great grandfather came to Paradise Valley, Nevada in his freight wagon circa 1864 after immigrating to the U.S. from a small village in Germany and my family has been raising cattle here ever since. You probably don’t think ranching when you think of Nevada and I can assure you, we are about as far from the bright lights and casinos of Las Vegas as you can get and still be a part of the Silver State. Our ranch is in Northern Nevada’s Great Basin just below its borders with Oregon and Idaho. It is a challenging environment. It’s tough, high desert country. In the best of times we only get about 11-12 inches of rainfall per year. Lately, the same drought that has affected California and much of the West has reduced our annual moisture to between 7 to 8 inches, and our moisture has been coming more in the form of rains rather that snowfall. That makes a difference because we’ve always relied on spring runoff to irrigate our fields and produce natural hay and pasture for our cattle. Conservation, adapting to drought and changing weather conditions, while still taking good care of this land and our cattle herd are our operating priorities.
From very early on, my family has believed that we shouldn’t try to take more from the land than it can naturally produce. We work hard to keep that in mind when we farm, graze or otherwise use this ground. We utilize grazing as a means of converting grasses and other plant material into meat, milk and the hundreds of other products made from cattle. These grasses and other plants grow on our privately owned land as well as on the public lands surrounding our ranch. We hold federally managed grazing permits to use these resources, and have used them responsibly and respectfully for over 150 years. When our cattle graze through an area, it remains open and usable for wildlife, recreation, sportsmen and other industry. The water we have developed over 150 years has also increased the numbers and variety of wildlife throughout our range.
Our cattle graze the grasses and other small plants that grow under and surround much of the sagebrush and larger plants in our area, they deposit natural fertilizer, and they press new seeds into the ground. The disturbance their feet create helps to move, then secure new seeds and scatter fertilizer to aid in the growth of new plants and maintain and improve soil health.
Cattle grazing dramatically reduces fuel load on the range. Fuel load is the build-up of plant material that left untouched, can and does result in catastrophic wildfire.
Since the mid 1960’s, federal land managers have systematically and drastically cut the amount of cattle grazing in our area by over 50%. They will tell you that this has improved rangeland health and in some places, it has. But, overall, it has also led to a six fold increase in catastrophic wildfire. Millions more acres have burned each year as the result of more fuel being left on the range. Once these fast moving fires start, more dry grasses and other undergrowth around mature plants like sagebrush make them difficult to impossible to stop. Most are started by natural factors like lightening. But whether started naturally or not, once they get going, they kill everything in their path. Every plant, animal, insect that cannot run away is wiped out. Those animals that do survive find food scarce and many starve. Recent fires in the Great Basin have left wide expanses looking more like the moon, rather than anything recognizable here on earth.
I don’t want you to think that grazing can prevent all fires, or that all fire is a bad thing. Just like grazing is a positive part of a healthy ecosystem, so is fire. Our challenge lies in finding that balance.
I love my life on the ranch and out on the range. After college, I intend to make our ranch my life and career. I hope to raise a family there. I cherish the natural world we live in and I respect the need to do what is right when it comes to using the land. No one knows more about this ground than the people who live and work on it every day. My family has earned a living here in this tough high desert environment for over 150 years. We’ve seen others come and go. What we have learned is that to stay, to be successful, we must work with this land, not try to overpower it or change it. We know that if we try to challenge the will of Mother Nature, she is more powerful and she will win…so we try to work with her. That is how we live and that is how we try to manage this land.
Through 150 plus years, we have seen many changes and many approaches to living and working out here. The biggest changes I have seen in my lifetime are a drying trend climate-wise and from a human perspective, the lack of respect environmental groups and federal land managers have for the ranching families who make the Great Basin their home. Instead of wanted to learn from and partner with the folks who live and work here, government and the environmental lobby seem to do everything possible to destroy our way of life without much regard for common sense or good science. Whether it is to fence off water sources, dictate the exact height of plant stubble cattle must leave behind, or drastically limit grazing so that out of control wildfire has a chance to kill every living thing in its path, government seems to be doing everything possible to end our way of life out here.
Think about your own life. Everyone has something or does something that they know better than anyone else. Imagine a federal agency or a political group from 2000 miles away descending on you, and telling you that YOU are the problem, without even knowing you or how you operate. They impose a different, better ways to do things. Heck, over the years, they’ll impose a dozen different, better ways to do things. You build and tear out the same fences, and have the same discussions like they are all new and improved just about every time a new ranger or BLM boss comes to town. You have little choice, so you try to be open-minded and you listen, you try it their way and along the way you try to share with them your experience and what you know, only to be treated like an outlaw in your own life. It’s frustrating to say the least.
If government and the environmental lobby are allowed to continue their War on the West unchecked, people like my family and me will be gone in less than a generation, and with us, a way of life will be gone. Our cattle herds use a resource that is absolutely worthless for anything else. We care deeply about this environment and want to see it maintained and flourishing forever. We are the true environmentalists out here. Whether you call us buckaroos or cowboys and cowgirls, we are the best stewards of this land, because we love it, we understand it and we make our living here – so taking the best care of it is in our best interests.
The latest threat to our survival is a dwindling number of birds called sage grouse. These are birds about the size of a small chicken that live among and eat sagebrush. As a species, grouse are in decline world-wide. Here in the Great Basin, their numbers started to plummet in the mid 1960’s just as cattle grazing was being reduced and wildfire began to destroy huge new swaths of their historic habitat. The cause and effect is direct. As federal land managers removed cattle from the range, more fuels built up, wildfires ravaged the Great Basin and sage grouse numbers fell. Today, 80% of the threat posed to the sage grouse is from habitat loss and destruction. The number one threat to their critical habitat is wildfire.
The truth is, the best, most natural and most responsible way to remove the excess fuels on our rangeland is through responsible livestock grazing. Our cattle can be grazed at rates that will remove the fuel load efficiently while minimizing disruption to sage grouse mating, breeding and lifecycle. This is a win-win if government bureaucracy will allow it. Even by their own numbers, the potential threat to sage grouse numbers caused by livestock grazing is less than 3% - and the benefits are huge. Over four times more grouse are killed by legal hunting, birds of prey, ravens, coyotes and bobcats than by all grazing combined. And of course, all of these losses are dwarfed by the enormity of loss caused by just one out of control wildland fire.
Increased, responsible cattle grazing is a common sense solution to a real problem. It is sage grouse conservation that works. It is all natural, renewable, and part of a natural, healthy cycle of life. Cattle do not share a food source with the sage grouse, so they complement one another rather than competing for resources. The bonus is that cattle grazing also produces delicious, healthy products that feed and clothe people. Our family cattle ranch produces enough beef in an average year to feed over 1000 people. When you throw in the hundreds of other useful products made from our cattle, the positive impact to our economy reaches into millions of dollars.
Our operation has no full-time employees except my folks and I. We use neighbors, friends and part-time help during busy times of the year, like round-up and brandings. We’re not big agri-business, we are the real face of ranching in the United States. My family and I are active members of our communities, we vote, we volunteer, we go to school, we rodeo, we pay our bills and our taxes. We don’t employ illegal immigrants or lean on the welfare system, we drive American built pick-up trucks, like our food natural, healthy and fresh, and we still ride horses and herd our cattle from field to field on the ranch and out on the desert using our trusty saddle horses. We get up before the sun and we fall into bed every night, tired, but loving what we do…and knowing that what we do, and how we do it… is a good thing. Good for the land, good for the people who eat and use our use products and good for our Country.
You might have heard that the US Department of the Interior has decided NOT to list the Sage Grouse as endangered and based on that, you might believe that the war on our way of life is over - but it is not. It has just begun. Federal land managers at the BLM and US Forest Service have written a land use plan for sage grouse that can and will put our ranch and all the others like us, out of business. It's 280 pages effectively stop or limit all human uses to the point of making access to our private lands and use of our grazing permits impossible. This has all been done without good science or due process. This is what our federal government is doing to good people everyday. It has nothing to do with actually saving the sage grouse, it has to do with control and power over each and everyone of us. If that scared you, you should be scared.
I wouldn’t change how I live for anything. Ranching in the Great Basin is a great way of life and it’s how I want to spend mine. If you believe like I do that not only the sage grouse, but also the Nevada ranch family is a species worth saving, log onto my website and sign my petition. www.savethesagegrouse.org
My campaign aims to inform Americans about how ranch families like mine can help save the sage grouse through responsible livestock grazing. We know, livestock grazing is sage grouse conservation that works! It’s common sense and good science.
Thanks for your time today, if you would like to know more about our ranching operation, visit www.stewartsninetysixranch.com and if you have a choice at the dinner table tonight, remember, EAT BEEF!!!! It tastes great and is great for you!