Friday, April 18, 2014

Americans Value Both Property & Public Lands

The news media loves a good stereotype, such as a story recently out west where inadvertently a rancher may be abusing the commons while failing to pay his fair share.  He successfully posed as a victim by calling on heavily armed extremists.

As a descendant of generations of cattle ranchers, I know that as independent as they are, ranchers have no patience for the few among them who always seem bent on gaming the system while dodging responsibilities.

This is especially true of those who abuse the land.

But in this instance, I suspect one or more government agents had been enablers until pushed into action by a lawsuit.  Uneven or lethargic enforcement is the real reason regulations have earned a pejorative.

I suspect ranchers and regulators generally fall into the three groupings, long-identified in research about how Americans overall feel about their work.

Fully half are “not engaged,” or as one researcher put it, either “sleepwalking” or frazzled by concerns unrelated to work.  This group is where the government agents in this news story probably fell.

Twenty percent of Americans are “actively disengaged,” working to undermine others.  This may describe the rancher who was abusing publicly-owned land while also failing to pay for the right to use it.

All too often, leniency with members of this group merely breeds a sense of entitlement.

According to a Republican friend of mine who has served both as an administrator and elected official, given more energetic and even handed enforcement of regulations, we would need far fewer.

Of course, a third of Americans are fully engaged in their work according to the annual survey.  Researchers at Harvard, Stanford and Claremont have also found that 20% of these workers experience what is described as “flow” at least once a day and a smaller percentage less often.

Government workers fit the profile for Americans workers overall with a slightly smaller percentage “actively disengaged.”  I assume ranchers overall are more engaged than the average, as are workers in smaller non-profits.

However, being engaged is about far more than just genes or heritage.  In fact, while one can learn to be engaged, finding it is about exploration of passions until there is a fit.

There is clearly room in every economic sector and organization, including government and even families, for the trend to Pay to Quit” programs.

I became a fan of economist/futurist Jeremy Rifkin more than twenty years ago when I happened to read, Beyond Beef: The Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture.  Initially, I was interested in the archeology of my heritage, but his books always transcend their focus.

Even more prescient today is one I read a little more than a year later entitled, The End of Work.

In Mr. Rifkin’s newest book released this month, he again reminds us of how the notion of private property evolved. It began with the first of several European enclosure movements in the 1500s, including mass evictions, and was then legislated from the early 1700s to 1850, including 14 million acres in England alone.

Several books and essays regarding this era were required reading when I was working my way to a degree in 1972 at Brigham Young University, including one entitled, The Tragedy of the Commons, which is more a platitudinal op-ed than science, history or economics.

Private property was embedded in the evolution of America, even down to initial limitations of who could vote.

But by 1847 when many of my ancestors were headed into the Rocky Mountains, lawmakers were paying attention to the concerns of Americans over the destructive excesses caused by human activity when left to the market alone.

This rapidly led to a federal department of the Interior and formation a little more than two decades later of Yellowstone National Park, a few miles from what would become our ancestral ranch.

This American movement was driven by popular acclaim fueled by  nature essayists, photographers and artists taken on survey expeditions, including the spectacular Hudson Bay school depictions of the west by Albert Bierstadt.

Favorite memories of mine include cutting through the fine arts building between classes on my way to work part-time in what was  then-called the Office of Tours & Conference, my first start-up experience.

My favorites were Bierstadt’s pieces, including the 10’ wide painting shown in this blog, two decades before a 102,000 s.f., 4-story building was erected to showcase what must be nearly 20,000 pieces in the Museum of Art’s collection by now.

Influenced by John Muir, Republican President Theodore Roosevelt incorporated scenic and natural preservation with his own brand of utilitarian conservation including national forests such as the Targhee, located just north of our ranch.

All of this is now scientifically reinforced by the subsequent science of ecology and what economists measure as eco-system services.

A scientific poll taken last year reinforced how strongly more than two-thirds of Americans feel about permanent protection of public lands including 1-in-3 who wants some accessible for fee-based livestock grazing.

Judging by an even more recent poll showing that Americans put protection of the environment over jobs, I assume they would not be sympathetic with over-grazing on public lands in Nevada, even when threatened by extremist assault weapons.

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