Where’s a Real Environmentalist When you Need One?


Many of the strongest advocates for planned grazing of cattle and other domestic animals to maintain and restore habitat health – ourselves included – started out opposed to grazing, which the agencies and universities have taught 4-generations to believe is bad for plants and animals.

NOTE: This post initially appeared in Range Magazine’s Fall 2016 edition.


Choices have been made along the Verde River in Arizona… by Dan Dagget.

Since I moved to Arizona in 1980, regulation after regulation has been enacted to “protect” the unique environment of deserts, mountains and riverside oases that was the main attraction that brought me here. Ostensibly, the intent of that strategy has been to sustain the health of the Southwest’s unique ecology, and, where necessary, restore it.

When I first arrived, I became deeply involved in that effort, helping to get millions of acres designated as “wilderness” and miles of river protected as “scenic.” Over time, however, I have kept an eye on the results of those actions. I mean the real, concrete results in terms of the condition of landscapes, grasslands, and wildlife affected, not the political results of liberal politicians elected, bureaucracies and “non-government organizations” created, lucrative grants awarded, profitable lawsuits won, and billion-dollar budgets for advocacy groups funded.

One of the best ways to compare the success of political versus concrete solutions, I am convinced, is to compare their results, and the best way to do that is via before-and-after or side-by-side comparisons. I do that by means of photographs, such as the pair included here. These two images were taken along a river—the Verde—one stretch of which I helped get designated as “wild and scenic” in 1984. The stretch of river that provides this comparison became protected in 1997 by means of an out-of-court agreement by the U.S. Forest Service with a pair of environmental groups which had brought suit to protect a “threatened” (à la the Endangered Species Act) fish—the spikedace.



These two photos were taken 13 days apart. One was taken on an area protected since 1997. The other was taken on private land managed by a rancher aware of the ecological value of using his livestock to perform functions vital to natural ecosystem health, as described by Allan Savory in the Summer 2015 issue of RANGE. [“Cows Can Save the World,” rangemagazine.com]

If the “protected” area of Verde Riverand the spikedace could do so, my bet is they would be thinking, “Where’s a real environmentalist when you need one?” No spikedace have been seen in the protected stretch of the Verde since 1997.


Dan Dagget, a writer, range consultant and conservative environmentalist, lives in Sedona, Ariz. He was one of Sierra Club’s 100 “Environmental Heroes.”

For former stories on the Verde River, go to rangemagazine.com, Back Issues, for Summer 2008, Fall 2008 and Summer 2009. Dan also has Verde River sto- ries in Winter 2014 and Spring 2016. His talks are “as good as public speaking gets.”
He may be contacted via dandagget@aol.com

Ranching, wildlife management, finance, oil & gas, real estate development and management.
  • Sad commentary about what progressivism is truly about.
    And, as a southerner I have seen the same through-out the country.
    When I integrated myself into Arizona in 1979 it was because of the astonishingly stark beauty. And, because of the love of Arizona that was apparent. Sadly that Arizona Attitude is slowly slipping away from us.
    “Progress has literally come and took its toll”.
    “All for wealth untold”. John Anderson
    Happy Independence Day


  • Chris – I sort of hate to write you, mostly when I have a criticism. I guess there is more contrarian in me than I like to admit. Dan, I copy you on this because Chris has included a piece of yours in the post below.

    The opening quote – not sure who said it but it looks like something from Chris – most agencies that deal with land management are not at all opposed to grazing – BLM, USFS, NRCS. It is true that NPS does not allow grazing on most national parks, but they are the exception. I think FWS can go either way from what I have seen. Furthermore, no university that I’m aware of that grants land management degrees is opposed to grazing. Texas Tech, Texas A&M, NMSU, Colorado State, Utah State, Arizona State, etc – they all teach that grazing is compatible with if not beneficial to good land management. Yes, there are some faculty members in those schools that are opposed to grazing and this is prevalent in the Biology department, but not in the Wildlife Management or Range Management departments.

    I think we would all agree that grazing can be done in a harmful or helpful manner – it is not inherently good or bad. It is the manager who makes it good or bad.

    Dan, regarding riparian management, I don’t claim to know as much as you or the other experts but I have spent much of the past 20 years focused on riparian mgt in Texas. I have had the privilege of working with some of the top folks like Don Pritchard, Steve Leonard, Sandy Wyman and Wayne Elmore (National Riparian Service Team). All of these are very pro-grazing, and I suspect you know some of them. I just recorded a lecture to be given at Sul Ross University on riparian grazing management, so I am not opposed to grazing in riparian areas (as long as it is done carefully). However, I have never seen a riparian area decline in condition with no grazing. I have watched many riparian areas thrive when grazing is temporarily suspended (10 – 15 years) and I have seen many riparian areas decline when grazing is poorly managed. I hate to see the battle become “grazing is good for riparian areas and rest is bad” . That is way too simplistic (and even untrue in my experience). There is a time and place for both strategies.

    I too am a fan of photos to show riparian and upland response to management. And because I use this tool myself, I know how easy it is to make the photo say what you want it to say. The two photos you chose to support your contention that protection from grazing is bad, do not seem to be comparable. There seems to be a big difference in the inherent hydrology or geology of the two reaches and there is more going on than just grazing. At least that is the way it appears to me. The kinds of photos that are truly convincing are fixed point photos over time that show change at a given location. Of course these are harder to obtain. I have seen both proponents and detractors of holistic planned grazing use cherry-picked photos to prove their position.

    I appreciate what both of you do. Keep up the good fight for responsible, sustainable stewardship of our lands, waters and wildlife.


    Steve Nelle
    San Angelo


    Dear Steve,

    Thanks, I appreciate your remarks as always.

    Not a single state or federally managed property in far-West Texas is grazed. Why not? Because the bureaus that run them think this is bad for wildlife and habitat. If you doubt this, read their management plans, some of which are posted on the blog.

    Federal agencies are required to allow grazing but as their slow strangulation of public land ranchers shows, they are not pro-grazing, either. Why? Because they too believe it to harm the ranges. The irony is, they are correct in this belief, which is shared by the land grant colleges, who cannot get their brains around holistic thinking, in part because they are economically integrated with the agro-giants, and in part because of their invasive species ideology.

    Traditional ranchers continue doing vast damage to rangelands, with their bad grazing, and attacks on biodiversity through poisons and animal removals which the universities and agencies generally promote. I say generally because as individuals a growing number understand and resist, but they are overwhelmed by the coalition of universities, agencies, conservation organizations, agrochemical and agricultural giants, and legislators: Big Wildlife.

    For years we have gone round-and-round about planned grazing, which the Texas land grant colleges, especially Texas A&M says does not work. I reposted a discussion of this on July 6, written back when I still thought science made a difference to these positions.

    I realize you believe that total rest is as good a tool as planned grazing with its animal impact, and that you disagree that animal impact is an absolute necessity for the health of ranges. I cannot change that but will advocate for better practices – that is why I started the Circle Ranch Blog.The good news from my perspective is that the public is moving rapidly towards these views which Dan Dagget and I share with Savory and so many others, and I hope to live to see them adopted by our agencies and universities who I readily acknowledge have a wealth of knowledge regarding cattle and wildlife.

    I have posted all of this, and I sincerely thank you for your input.

    Your friend,




    My position is not as black and white as you describe. I see the value of high animal impact in some places including some places in the Chihuahuan Desert. Conversely, I see the value of rest in some cases. One is not always good and other is not always bad. There is room for both in the right circumstance. I see value in the principles outlined by Savory; but I have also seen good results with more conventional or traditional management. It does not have to be a war between the two sides.



    Thanks Again Steve,

    My rangeland understanding is this: Nomadic grazers are the keystone species for healthy grasslands – cattle are their substitutes. Abundant prey and abundant predators are also a necessity. Without all of these pieces the desert systems come apart. While periodic cattle grazing must be followed by long recovery (rest if you prefer), and while grazing must be planned to reflect many variables, animal impact from cattle and wild animals is the sine qua non of grassland health.

    The foregoing is a physiological fact, not a political statement. No such organizing vision is found in any corner of Big Wildlife – including the agencies you named – who constantly quote Aldo Leopold but largely ignore him in their practices.

    In my opinion, Dan Dagget is among a few contrarians willing to call out the fake environmentalists whose self-serving actions harm their declared objectives.

    Thanks again for reading and commenting, I have appended the comment in the blog.

    With best regards,


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *