Mike Hudak is an environmental advocate, author, public speaker, photographer. He is the author of Western Turf Wars, the book you need to understand how governmental mismanagement of ranching is destroying America’s public lands with your tax dollars.
Caryn Hartglass: Hi, I am Caryn Hartglass and this is It as All About Food. Thanks for joining me today. We have got a good show coming up, really very interesting. We are here to create a community, dialogue and make this world a better place.
So today, we are going to be talking about a really fascinating subject. And it is a thing you don’t hear very much about. And I am not exactly sure why that is but we are going to hear more about that. I have got a special guest, Mike Hudak, and he as an environmentalist and he as taken on a very giant task dealing with our public lands, lands in the United States that are really owned by tax payers and are used by cattle ranchers for grazing animals, and there as a lot of destruction going on as a result.
So Mike, are you with us?
Mike Hudak: Yes, I am, Caryn.
Cary Hartglass: Oh, great! Okay, well let as just jump right in. How are you doing today?
Mike Hudak: Oh pretty well.
Caryn Hartglass: And where are you right now?
Mike Hudak: I am in Binghamton, New York.
Cary Hartglass: And how as the weather on the East Coast?
Mike Hudak: Well, it as sunny today.
Cary Hartglass: Oh good.
Mike Hudak: So it rained a little bit yesterday and we are supposed to have rain for the rest of the week but, it as yeah, generally pretty nice today.
Caryn Hartglass: I am in San Francisco for the summer. I normally live in New York but I am reading all of my friends a Facebook comments about how awful the weather as been.
Okay, so you ave written a book called Western Turf Wars and we’ll talk a bit about that. But first I wanted to know how you learned about the subject that you specialize in, how did you become so passionate about it. I mean, it as something we never hear about.
Mike Hudak: Well, it as just a personal situation where in the 1990 as I had the opportunity to do a lot of hiking in the west, for weeks at a time, actually, during several summers. And I was hiking in national forests, for the most part. Not national parks, so much, but national forests. And it was there that I kept running into cattle and a few sheep in places, but mostly cattle. And I began to see the environmental impact that these animals were inflicting. And so after several years of this, and I was just doing hiking as recreation, really, not investigation at that point. But after several years of that, I began thinking how I could actually use these activities of hiking out there to better inform people about what I was seeing. I had already been doing sort of travel log shows at various groups here in the east but I was just doing these as travel logs. They weren’t at really environmental education type things. And so then starting in the late 1990 as around 1996-97, then I started focusing really more on environmental impacts. And actually, I had intended to talk more about logging issues at the time because that was actually the big issue with the day. There had been a big brouhaha in the Sierra Club throughout the 90s about getting the Sierra Club to oppose logging on public lands. And of course, I have seen a lot of logging also, as well as the grazing of livestock, and I thought, I could do shows about logging. And it was actually in the course of doing a show about logging here in the east that somebody in the audience said, well what is the Sierra Club’s view about grazing on the public lands? And I actually didn’t know. I said I will check it out and when I did check it out, I found that the Sierra Club had really a very weak policy about grazing of livestock. So I thought, maybe I should really learn more about this and so then I really began to really focus more on the grazing and I thought maybe I could really do something to strengthen the Sierra Club’s grazing policy, just like people had done a few years earlier in regards to strengthening the Sierra Club as policy on logging. And so then I really undertook a personal crusade beginning in 1998 to change the Sierra Club as grazing policy. And so I was running all over the country giving shows at Sierra Club groups and chapters. I gave shows to Sierra Club board meetings in San Francisco in 1998, 1999. And then we finally negotiated an improved policy at the board meeting in San Francisco in September of 2000. So that as basically got started and then after that, I was still giving shows, mostly at colleges and universities though. And I was try trying to build up support for legislative effort that was being worked on at the time to buyout grazing permits, and that as a long story in itself and goes beyond why I was doing but you asked how I got into this and that as basically it.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. So we know most people know nothing about this and we don’t even know what public lands are.
Mike Hudak: Well, the public lands in the west are basically the lands that no one wanted to buy. There is a lot of private land in the west that is ranched and those are the good lands, for the most part. That is land that has water on it, or a lot of water. It is bottom land, it is land that typically is not really high elevation and the other land that surrounds it is often land that was dryer, that didn’t have water sources and so on, and that is the land that nobody wanted to buy. So for many decades throughout the 19th century, this was land, which strictly speaking, was owned by the government, federal government, but it wasn’t managed by anyone.
Caryn Hartglass: Right.
Mike Hudak: The government, there were no managing agencies until the 20th century. And so what you had was what has become known as the Tragedy of the Commons, where you had all of these ranchers turning their cattle loose on these public lands from their private lands but they would go on to the public lands for much of the year, and they would just graze the hell out of it. And there was no management.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay so they just did that because it was there and now we have a regulating agency, the Bureau of Land Management.
Mike Hudak: And the Forest Service, the Forest Service was the first agency beginning in 1905 and that established the National Forest System. And that as when the first grazing allotments were established around 1905. But then of course, as you mentioned, the BLM came along later. The BLM lands were lands that really didn’t qualify to be called forests because they were low elevation and they generally didn’t have trees on them and they generally were very arid and hot. And so those lands, again, continued without any management beyond 1905 up until the early 1930 as. And it was then in 1934 that the Taylor Grazing Act was passed, which established a regulatory agency which was the forerunner of the BLM or the Bureau of Land Management. So yes, we do have some management beginning in 1905 with the Forest Service, in 1934 with the Bureau of Land Management or it as forerunner, actually. But of course, the management of those agencies has really not been sufficient to halt the degradation of the land which had been ongoing for decades before that. And my book addresses the politics behind the management in those agencies and basically shows why that management is not capable of halting the degradation caused by ranching and livestock grazing.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, I still have a lot of basic questions. You said originally there were all these private ranchers, they had their own land and yet they would allow their livestock to graze on the public land. Now why did they need to do that?
Mike Hudak: Well, they needed the forage.
Caryn Hartglass: So they didn’t have enough land of their own?
Mike Hudak: That is right.
Caryn Hartglass: Even though it was the more fertile, rich property.
Mike Hudak: Sure.
Caryn Hartglass: And I mean, is this leading to the point that animals require a lot of food?
Mike Hudak: Well you have to understand that these lands in the west are arid and generally pretty hot, or in the case of the Forest Service lands, are high elevation. So these are not generally highly productive lands. We are not talking about Vermont, for instance, where there’s a lot of precipitation and it as pretty lush. We are talking about places that are pretty dry and so, yeah, these lands don’t produce a lot of forage per acre. And so, a single animal would need probably a couple hundred acres per month or whatever to just survive.
Caryn Hartglass: Now, cattle aren’t natural to these areas, are they?
Mike Hudak: No, they certainly aren’t. They are not even native to North America. Cattle were domesticated in Europe and were not introduced to North America until the early 1600s by the Spanish explorers.
Caryn Hartglass: And what animals used to be on these land before cattle grazing was so popular?
Mike Hudak: Well it depends where you are talking about. If you are talking about the Midwest, the Great Plains, certainly there were large herds of bison. But that, for the most part, is not where we are talking about. We are talking about areas west of that. And so those areas, once you get past the rocky mountain front range and down into western New Mexico and all of Arizona and those areas. There really weren’t any bison. And so it as the current belief among scientists that there have not been large herds of large herbivores in those regions, at least for the last 10 or 12 thousand years.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, that is interesting because I have heard some people make arguments that oh you know, what are you complaining about the cattle grazing there, there used to be these large herds of bison. But you are telling me that they weren’t in this area.
Mike Hudak: If you are talking about North Dakota to North Texas, there certainly were large herds of bison. But that as not the area we are talking about. And the vegetation there is, or at least was, completely different than what we are seeing farther to the west. Now of course, a lot of the Great Plains have also been destroyed as wildlife habitat but not by grazing so much, but simply by crop agriculture.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah.
Mike Hudak: Which of course a lot of it goes to feed cattle in feedlots and factory farms. But that as another story altogether.
Caryn Hartglass. Yeah another awful story. We talk a little more frequently about, and it as getting a little maybe a bit more attention. But anyway, back to public grazing. So there as a lot of wildlife that have been destroyed or become close to extinction or are being “managed” in these areas to benefit the cattle.
Mike Hudak: Right.
Caryn Hartglass: And I looked at a few of your video clips and it as really quite distressing. The large variety of different fish and insects, birds and animals that are all impacted by this public grazing.
Mike Hudak: Right. And many of these are species that are not well known to the public. And they don at really have much of a constituency because most of them are not game animals. If they were animals that were hunted, or in some cases fished, then they would at least have some kind of a constituency. But most of these animals are not game animals, and so it as like who are going to speak for them.
Caryn Hartglass: Right.
Mike Hudak: And it as often difficult even to get the federal government to list these species as threatened or endangered when they actually are being railroaded, so to speak, to extinction by impacts of livestock grazing.
Caryn Hartglass: I want to mention that you have a website mikehudak.com. And everything that we are talking about, there as a lot of videos and podcasts that you can listen to with a lot of great information.
So back to what we were talking about. One of the things that I keep bringing up is that we need a lot of diversity in this world: diversity in plant life, diversity in animal life. People that don’t talk about the environment or food talk about the importance of diversity just within humanity. We are just starting to appreciate the value of the different cultures in our world, but diversity is so important and we see it in terms of monocropping, how devastating that is when we are growing one crop and how susceptible we are to the bugs and viruses and infestations that can wipe out our food supply just because we are isolating and simplifying. And diversity is so important just because it is beautiful, it is interesting but it also makes a more sustainable lifestyle. So we hear more about the damage to rainforest, where we are losing valuable plant and animal species, so many of them we haven at even identified. But it as also happening on these public lands.
Mike Hudak: Oh it certainly is. And one of the things that people probably aren’t to aware of is the action of the government to actually facilitate a loss of biodiversity. I think people are probably familiar with the concept of livestock over grazing an area.
Caryn Hartglass: Right.
Mike Hudak: This is where the cattle will really eat the vegetation to the point that it becomes weakened, it loses vigor, and eventually, plants over many years, and these are perennial types of vegetation, will actually die out as a result of the cattle just continually eating them too much. This is why I said this is part of the bad management of the federal agencies that they allow the cattle to be there in such large numbers for such long periods of time that they can actually do damage to this perennial vegetation.
Caryn Hartglass: Especially because it as so dry and there as not a lot for them to eat after a while, so they just eat whatever they can find.
Mike Hudak: That as right. But it gets worse than this. So what happens after many years is the native vegetation, where there might be dozens of species of native grasses will die out and the topsoil will blow away and weeds will then just exploit this. Weeds will just come in and will seed themselves in areas of degraded soil. Weeds do not provide the habitat that is required for the free living animals that live there. Whether it as ground nesting birds, small mammals that need cover from predatory birds or whatever. And so it will basically just turn into a wasteland. Well of course at that point, the cattle have nothing left to eat there either. And so that as when these agencies will often step in and they all get some funding to reseed the area with some kind of perennial vegetation. In the past they have often seeded it with a monoculture of exotic vegetation which at least is palatable somewhat to the cattle. But still, it as pretty much useless to the native wildlife because it either doesn’t at taste very good or it as not high enough to provide cover for the small mammals and ground nesting birds. And so you all get this monoculture of some exotic grass from Russia, for instance, like crested wheatgrass, and they all seed tens of thousands of acres and they basically turn a native landscape, a wild landscape, basically into a lawn.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah.
Mike Hudak: Using tax payer money to do it.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh yeah, I want to get into that now. So, originally these ranchers were just allowing their herds to graze all over the place and then we had these agencies come along. You said there were some grazing permits that people have but they are really not spending a lot of money or paying very much to use these lands.
Mike Hudak: Oh, that as right. The amount that the ranchers currently pay for the permit is I think the lowest or very close to the lowest amount allowed by law. There was a federal minimum set back under the Reagan administration, I think with a dollar 35 cents per animal unit month and an animal unit month is the amount of forage that a cow-calf pair would consume in a month. It as generally about 8 or 9 hundred pounds of forage. And for that, a rancher pays a dollar and 35 cents.
Caryn Hartglass: A dollar and 35, that as really really criminal.
Mike Hudak: Yeah, and of course this is only something like a 6th or so of the annual management costs for those public lands. So what the ranchers are paying, and their grazing fees only cover about one-sixth the management costs, the rest is made up of general revenues from taxpayers.
Caryn Hartglass: What people need to realize, there as just so many issues that this touches on but this in terms of consuming meat, we have the factory farms and they are horrific in so many ways and they are just so cruel to the animals and they are horrible in the environment and there as really nothing good about them but one of the reasons they exist is that people have an ever increasing taste for meat and in order to produce these animals at such large quantities, we have to confine them like that. And people keep saying I wanna eat grass-fed beef. And what they don at realize is we can at have that quantity of animals being raised grazing. There as just not enough land. And even if there was enough land, it as very destructive on the land, so that the land ultimately becomes useless.
Mike Hudak: Right right. Now of course, virtually all of the animals, all of the cattle that are raised on the public lands, virtually all of them end up spending the last six to nine months of their pitifully short lives in feedlots. I have seen some of those, I have visited several years ago the largest feedlot west of the Mississippi river in Grandview, Idaho. And that as a real experience to see that.
Caryn Hartglass: I can at imagine, it as very brown and dry and bleak.
Mike Hudak: Yes, and you can smell it miles away, as well.
Caryn Hartglass: Right, and what it as doing to the environment in terms of putting out methane gas for global warming, what it as doing to the water, all of the excrement that leeches into the water supply, it as very polluting, just not a good situation.
Mike Hudak: Right.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay so let as talk more about the politics. How did we get into this situation and how is it continuing?
Mike Hudak: Well, that as a really complicated situation. Like, where should I begin? Because there as, and this is what I ave been doing some podcasts about the last few months, looking at the various aspects of how it is that these agencies cannot manage these cattle in an environmentally benign way, at least. And there as a whole bunch of factors dealing with the structure of these government agencies, the way they are funded, the way that they can be influenced by elected officials, and also the way that the employees of these organizations can even be just harassed individually in the communities where they live, by ranchers or their friends of ranchers. And so all of this kind of activity is what underlies why these agencies don at even come close to managing the cattle on these lands in a way so that it won at severely damage the habitat for free living animals. And the only recourse to balance out those other factors that is the influence of elected officials and the harassment that the employees receive in the communities where they live, the only way to balance that out really is for environmentalists to sue these agencies for their bad management. The court is the only place where there as some kind of a level playing field and there at least, the environmentalists have been fairly successful in getting favorable rulings and then forcing the agencies to either close allotments or to reduce the environmental impacts from the livestock. So in a nutshell, that is basically it.
Caryn Hartglass: Give some examples of the environmental organizations that have brought something.
Mike Hudak: Well there is several and it as interesting that just over the last, I guess it as almost 20 years now, that in virtually a new type of environmental organization has come into existence in the west. Prior to the late 1980 as, there were for the most part, just large national organizations like the Sierra Club, like the Natural Resources Defense Council, National Wildlife Federation, the Wilderness Society and so on. And those organizations if they did bring lawsuits, typically brought them over high level issues like some regulatory change in the BLM or something or how, let as say, there was a lawsuit back in the 1970 as against the BLM from Natural Resources Defense Council over the interpretation of some aspect of the Federal Lands Policy and Management Act which was recently enacted in 1976, at that time, so they brought a lawsuit soon after that challenging how the agency was interpreting a provision of that. Point is that these national organizations would typically, if they litigated at all, would litigate over very high level policies that would tend to have an effect over the management of the entire organization. But what happened in the late 1980 as is that you see these regional environmental organizations come into existence such as Center for Biological Diversity which is based in Tucson, Western Watersheds Project which is based in Hailey, Idaho, Oregon National Desert Association in Bend, Oregon, WildEarth Guardians which is based in Santa Fe. These organizations and others like them came into existence to litigate at the regional level and so these organizations rather than focusing for the most part on high level regulations and interpretations of laws by the agencies, they focus on litigation over the management of local grazing allotments or local timber sales. And that was an area that the national organizations just had not been paying attention to. It was just they couldn’t raise money at a national level to litigate over the management over a specific grazing allotment. But these other regional organizations have been doing that and they have been very successful.
Caryn Hatglass: That is good.
Mike Hudak: You know, winning 70-80% of their cases.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, so are we seeing some progress?
Mike Hudak: We were seeing progress in terms of these regional western organizations winning lawsuits. I’m a little worried though that it’s a situation where they can win virtually all of those battles but we could still lose the war, so to speak. Because there just aren’t enough battles that they can enter into. I mean these organizations are limited in what they can do by how much funding they can get in terms of how much they can pay lawyers and so on to fight these cases. And so that’s a limitation. There’s a lot of, and they also need a hook, they need to have studies showing that there is some species of wildlife which is being, that maybe has already been listed as threatened or endangered, which they can then litigate for under the Endangered Species Act. So you need a hook like that, as well. There’s just a lot of areas where there haven’t been studies done.
Caryn Hartglass: Right.
Mike Hudak: And so they can’t bring those lawsuits so easily. But nevertheless, the litigation front has been going pretty well over the last decade. Of course the George W. Bush administration was a big negative for the whole effort.
Caryn Hartglass: Of course.
Mike Hudak: There were regulatory changes proposed and there were species that should have been listed as threatened or endangered that weren’t because of a lot of politics in the government. There’s a long sad story about Julie MacDonald which you may be familiar with. It was basically a Bush appointee who was changing the reports written by agency biologists. These reports would say such and such species should be listed as threatened or endangered and MacDonald was just reversing these decisions as an administrator and so this was all negative for our efforts. But I have to say that aside from all of that, there has been a legislative of campaign underway for the last several years which has not been going well and I’m not happy about that. And that doesn’t really have anything to do with the Bush administration. Until recently it didn’t even have anything to do with the global economic decline. It’s just stuff that just didn’t work out very successfully and it’s caused a lot of problems. It’s been a big set back. You may be aware that in the early years of this decade an entity came into existence called the Public Lands Grazing Campaign which I was not affiliated with but I did a lot of promotion of their work through my presentations. And they had then spearheaded the writing and introduction of legislation to buyout federal grazing permits above market rates on a voluntary basis.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay.
Mike Hudak: And this legislation had been first introduced back in 2003 and I thought things were going along fine. They were collecting co-sponsors for the legislation. It was introduced again in mid 2005 and then in 2006 this National Grazing Campaign announced that they were going out of business for financial problems. And so that was a big blow. It was a blow to the overall effort to move this legislation forward. It was a blow to me personally because I had started writing my book in 2004 on the assumption that this campaign and their legislation would be around when I completed the book.
Caryn Hartglass: Right haha.
Mike Hudak: And here it’s 2006, this campaign goes out of business, their legislation drops out of the congress. I finished my book in 2007 and it’s like, what am I gonna talk about here? There’s no campaign anymore. There’s no legislation. There’s nothing actionable that I can tell people they can do to move this public land protection effort forward. And so I’ve actually been spending the last 2 years as a Sierra Club volunteer. This is aside from my role as the director of my own non-profit organization. But as a Sierra Club volunteer, trying to get the Sierra Club to take over the role of this grazing campaign to find a new primary sponsor for this legislation and get it reintroduced back into the congress.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. And how is that going?
Mike Hudak: Well we’ve had the approval of the Sierra Club.
Cary Hartglass: Oh great.
Mike Hudak: That’s fine. I’ve been collecting many of the organizations which had supported the legislation 5 or 6 years ago, getting them back on board. But we’ve been having a lot of difficulty finding a new sponsor for the legislation. The person who had sponsored it in the past doesn’t want to do it again and I’ve had to talk with many of the former co-sponsors of the legislation. So far none of them have wanted to be the new primary sponsor. I’m still talking with people, I’m still hopeful that someone will agree to it. But of course there’s a lot of diversions now. Okay. We’ve got the congress occupied, has been occupied with energy issues, with the financial issues, now with health care reform. And it’s just very difficult to get the attention of members of congress within that context.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, it’s difficult. It’s also difficult for a lot of non-profits to get anything going right now.
Mike Hudak: Oh yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: And I’ll be surprised to see how many survived this particularly difficult economic times.
Mike Hudak: I know two organizations that have gone out of business in the last two months, not dealing with grazing specifically. Although one of them actually was the fiscal sponsor of the National Public Lands Grazing Campaign when it was still in existence up ’til 3 years ago. And that organization just went out of business 2 or 3 months ago. It was called American Land Alliance. And so they’re gone, and another one, too. And I know even major organizations have been impacted by this economic decline. The Natural Resources Defense Council, major national organization, had until recently two people on it’s staff working on grazing issues. They’d always had at least one person since the mid-1970’s. And as I said, they brought some very good, very important litigation in the 1970’s, 1980’s. And I just heard a few months ago that their 2 staff people have been re-assigned because the grant money that had been used to pay their salaries had been redirected towards global climate change rather than grazing.
Caryn Hartglass: Right.
Mike Hudak: So now they have nobody working on grazing there, to my understanding, at the Natural Resources Defense Council. So this is all negative, from my point of view, as someone who cares about these types of impacts.
Carn Hartglass: Well, I can only hope that what we learn from climate change is going to have a positive impact on everything, including grazing. Ultimately, I hope people realize that animal agriculture does not work, especially the way we do it today, and that people are really going to need to change their diet if we’re going to survive as a species. And because animal agriculture is so devastating on the environment and on our health, so people will need to be eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. That’s what EarthSave is all about, getting that message out. And so when people start moving to a healthier plant based diet and lose their taste for 3 meals a day of animal food, we’re not gonna have the need to raise as many and ultimately those ranchers will get significantly smaller and perhaps contain their herds on their private property.
Mike Hudak: Well, I would hope so. The public lands ranching is kind of a strange activity, though. And it’s such a marginal activity. It doesn’t produce a lot of beef actually. And many of the ranchers are actually becoming quite clever in how they’re marketing their products. And they’re actually marketing it internationally. So they’re not all, they’re not entirely dependent on what’s consumed in the United States. Some of these guys have gotten really really clever in terms of marketing their product as a specialty item. Much like the Russians would market caviar or vodka in the United States, for instance, these ranchers are forming direct marketing cooperatives to market their beef as a specialty product in Asia, particularly in Japan and Korea and Hong Kong. Places like that. And so it’s sold as like this exotic western beef, which has a whole mystique associated with it from years, decades of media propaganda about the virtues of American cowboys and ranchers. And so, I’m not entirely hopeful that we could put these guys out of business simply by convincing people in the United States to eat less beef. And of course if we see the statistics, I just saw the statistics yesterday or the day before where it was shown that in 2008, that global per capita consumption of meat was actually at its highest level ever. And I know even in the United States, per capita consumption of beef is only a few percent, like maybe 3 or 4% less as of 2005, which was the most recent statistic I had. Only about 3 or 4% less than it was in the early 1960’s. Now we’re talking about per capita consumption. If we’re talking about total consumption, well, there’s more people than there were in 1960 in the United States. So total consumption is way more but even per capita consumption is only slightly less. So I’ll tell you vegetarian activists better really get busy moving on that. And of course I’m one of them in a way. I’ve been a vegetarian for years and really adopted the vegan diet already in the early 1990’s, although I don’t really make a promotion of vegan diet as part of my shows because I think that’s a little bit of a diversion. A lot of the people that I talk with, they’re nowhere near ready to make that kind of personal change. And especially if I go out and talk to people at Audobon societies or Trout Unlimited or something like that, I just want people who want to support the idea of getting these ranchers off the public lands. I don’t want to make them feel that they have to make this personal change. There’s plenty of other people who do that who are very good at it but they don’t talk about ranching so much so I focused really just on the ranching.
Caryn Hartglass: And how, so you were expecting this legislation to be moving through when your book came out and it didn’t.
Mike Hudak: Right.
Caryn Hartglass: Has your book received any attention by any particular group since it’s come out?
Mike Hudak: Well, it’s gotten a little attention, it’s gotten some reviews for service employees for environmental ethics favorably reviewed it so when it came out. But it’s often been ignored by even environmental organizations. I saw just a few months ago that a pro ranching book had been favorably reviewed in the magazine of the National Audobon Society.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh my goodness.
Mike Hudak: Whereas they had completely ignored my book. You know as the publisher of my book, I of course sent it out to various publications for consideration of review and I’d sent a copy of the book to Audubon Magazine shortly after my book came out in 2007 and it was completely ignored. And then this pro-ranching book came out just in January and it received a favorable review in Audubon Magazine. So of course I don’t know a whole lot about the internals of Audobon but I do have a friend who was associated with them back in the early 1990’s and he told me that there was at least one rancher on the board of National Audubon Society in the 1990’s. I don’t know whether that’s still true today.
Caryn Hartglass: Well that seems so crazy since it impacts so many birds in a negative way.
Mike Hudak: Right. But there’s a lot of interesting politics that goes on in these national environmental organizations, too. I can tell you, here’s something people probably don’t know, that at this time, as we speak, there is at least one rancher who sits on the board of the Natural Resources Defense Council. There’s at least one rancher who sits on the board of the Wilderness Society.
Caryn Hartglass: Right.
Mike Hudak: There used to be a rancher who was on the board of the Sierra Club. Not recently but maybe 15-20 years ago. So ranchers are all over the place in these organizations.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, well the whole definition of wilderness has at least in people’s perception has changed over the years. And so we want to preserve wilderness and we want to preserve the natural environment. And none of that really exists anymore or very little of it. And so the people that wanna preserve what’s there now have their own special interest.
Mike Hudak: Right. And of course wilderness itself, the definition of wilderness has become pretty narrow. And I can tell you that when I was working on the Sierra Club 10 years ago to strengthen their policy, some of my biggest opponents to strengthening the grazing policy in the Sierra Club were wilderness advocates. Because they were afraid that if the policy on grazing was too strong, that it would affect the club’s ability to support wilderness legislation. Because of course as the original Federal Wilderness Act was written in 1964, it allowed grazing to continue where it existed. It did not say oh we’re gonna designate this as wilderness, the grazing has to go. No no no no, the grazing can continue. So that was a compromise that was made in passing that wilderness legislation. And it’s a very unfortunate one. I think if that wilderness bill had been delayed 15 years or so, more research would’ve come out about just how damaging livestock grazing is. That was not so well known in 1964.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. So are there some species that we’re a little familiar with that are endangered or becoming extinct in these regions?
Mike Hudak: Species that we’d be familiar with?
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah.
Mike Hudak: Well there’s a lot of species of fish, a lot of species of trout for instance. Probably ones that aren’t so well known because they’re endemic to specific regions. Like there’s an area in southern New Mexico where there’s a species of trout called the gila trout which had been listed as threatened and which was impacted by cattle there. It was a big brouhaha over that in the early 1990’s. A lot of that’s profiled in my book with an interview I did with Mike Sauber, who co-ran a little environmental organization called Gila Watch. There’s another species of trout in California, which is actually the state fish of California called the Golden Trout. And it lives in just fairly small areas throughout the Sierra Nevada. And of course there’s a lot of high elevation grazing in those of wilderness areas by cattle. And there was a major case that was argued out in the Forest Service. It didn’t actually come to a lawsuit but it was a lot of activism done from 1995 to about 2000. Again, this is profiled in my book by a guy who was actually involved in that issue. And the cattle were actually owned by Anheuser-Busch, the brewing company which had purchased a ranch which it wanted just for the water. It runs a brewery in Van Nuys, California and they were afraid that if the water supply in Van Nuys was ever to be cut off due to drought or earthquake, that they wanted an alternative water supply from the high Sierras.
Caryn Hartglass: Clever.
Mike Hudak: And so they bought this ranch and the ranch had grazing permits associated with it. So of course they didn’t just want to give up the permits so they hired a ranch manager and continued them, continued the grazing but of course the grazing was doing damage, to the fish in particular, and a lot of other things, I suppose. And so there was a major campaign that involved the Sierra Club and several other organizations like the Natural Resources Defense Council, Trout Unlimited, California Trout. They finally were able to put enough pressure on the Forest Service to at least suspend the grazing there by Anheuser-Busch for 10 years. I think that’s going to be up next year and it’s going to be up for review. So it’ll be interesting to see whether the Forest Service will reinstate the grazing or whether they’ll continue the suspension. I don’t know. So those are a couple of species. There are many others, too. There’s of course, actually a species of fish that are naive and fish that anybody would care to catch like desert pupfish, for instance. So there’s a lot of nondescript type of species like that.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, what people may not realize is why is it that fish are affected. It’s kind of complicated when you connect the dots of the impact of cattle grazing on a particular land and how it affects the streams and the health of the streams and the waters and then ultimately the fish. And I was looking at one of your videos on that. You wanna just review a little. That is truly fascinating.
Mike Hudak: Yeah sure. I’ll just mention one thing else, too. You asked about major fish that were impacted and I just recalled that salmon are impacted, as well. And I remember talking with one old time activist up in Oregon years ago who told me that actually the population of salmon had begun to decline even before the dams were put in the Columbia river and the Snake river. And even before logging was a major issue there, it was really the livestock grazing that had begun the severe decline of the salmon of the North West. And the way that the grazing does that as you pointed out, is fairly complicated and it’s a long term process that can take decades. And what it has to do is with is the destruction of the stream side forests, to a large extent, by the cattle. And this can take 30 or 40 years. These streams in the west have forests along them of Alder or Willow and the cattle are typically allowed to graze along these streams. Well of course the cattle will eat the saplings of these trees just as well as any other grass or vegetation that grows there. Well over many years of course they eat out all the saplings that are coming up from these Willow and Alder. And eventually, after 30 or 40 or 50 years, the mature trees just die off from old age. These are not particularly long live species of trees anyway. They might only live 60 or 70 years.
Caryn Hartglass: Right.
Mike Hudak: And so after a while, they start dying out. Well, geez, after 50, 60, 70 years there are no trees left, they’re gone. And so what’s happening there then is of course the streams lose the shade from these trees and they lose the stabilizing effect of the root of these trees on the banks. So, the banks will erode, the streams will become much wider and shallower and there won’t be any shade on these streams. Well, these fish have evolved over hundreds, maybe thousands of years to flourish really in cool water. Why? Cause cool water holds more dissolved oxygen than warm water does. And so in these arid, hot areas of the west, where they get a lot of sunshine, this course heats up the water more. And these fish literally suffocate to death.
Caryn Hartglass: Gosh.
Mike Hudak: And it’s even bad for them at night. You know the trees covering these streams would tend to moderate the temperature between night and day.
Caryn Hartglass: Right.
Mike Hudak: So it would be not so hot in the day and not so cool at night. Well, the cool water you think is a plus. Well it is up to a point, but the fish receive more thermal variation over the course of a 24-hour period than they normally would and you can imagine, hot cold hot cold hot cold. It impacts the immune systems of these fish. And it just makes them more susceptible to infections and parasites and they’re generally less healthy. And so they don’t live as long and making things even worse is of course this erosion that I mentioned. And so when the fish lay their eggs, the fish eggs can actually be smothered by all of the silt that’s coming down from the erosion of the banks. And so the fish not only don’t live as long, but they don’t reproduce as well. And of course, it’s a recipe for the decline in their population. So that’s basically how it happens.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. They say a picture can tell a thousand words and on your website and some of the videos and pictures you have really show a lot of what you’ve been describing. The before and afters and it’s really very very powerful. And it just shows you, just some changes that we can do to the environment. Nature is brilliant in terms of creating balance. And then we come along and do something and nature will let us know if it’s right or wrong. And clearly this type of management of animals, cattle, is devastating to everything else.
Mike Hudak: It certainly is.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh my. So what’s on the horizon, what can we do?
Mike Hudak: Well I wish that legislation were back in the congress right now and I would encourage people to support it. But it’s not in the congress. I had talked when I last talked with you, a month or so ago, I’d have something positive to report, but I did talk with one congressional aid on the phone. I told him I wanted to come down and talk with him in June, at least. And he said, Oh no, we’re so occupied with health care reform that there’s no way we can get to this until at least September and he said there’s no point in my coming down until the congressional break in August. So I’m sitting here, twiddling my thumbs, politically speaking, for the next month until I can even begin to talk with anybody in the congress about this.
Caryn Hartglass: Maybe it’s a good time for you to reflect and meditate on this subject and you’ll come up with some good new strategy when the time is right. I know healthcare is a very important subject and it’s very critical right now. I’m not saying your issue isn’t important but it’s something, the damage has been going on for decades and it’s going to take a lot of time to repair the areas that have been destroyed.
Mike Hudak: Oh yeah. Very long time, probably a lot longer than most people suspect.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah.
Mike Hudak: Certainly the streams, the streams will heal most quickly. Maybe in 40 or 50 or 60 years. The grassland areas might take hundreds, if not even thousands of years, in some cases.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. But that, people don’t understand what happens with the soil and trampling and what roots can do to keep soil healthy and the insects and the bugs. It’s a very complicated web of life that compliments each other. And when they’re all gone, it’s very difficult to get it going again.
Mike Hudak: It certainly is. And I know we do not possess the scientific understanding to restore these areas at this time. I’ve been told this by people who’ve devoted their whole lives to research on grasslands. We don’t have the scientific understanding to restore them and the estimate, even if we did, it would just be prohibitively expensive to do it. So we’re going to have to rely on these places to naturally regenerating. And that’s what I’m saying could take many hundreds of years.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. Well I hope it doesn’t take that long and again there’s a lot that we don’t understand and I’m also very very inspired by the positive things that technology can bring. You know there’s so many things that have happened over the last 50 years This we never imagined 50 years ago that are just average modern day things that we can’t live without. And so technology’s gonna grow and leave some balance and I’m sure that we’re gonna come up with something, many things, that are gonna help us in terms of our natural resources and food production and then cleaning up the mess that we’ve made with pollution. We just need to, all of us, get to a higher place and that’s where my concern is right now because a lot of people, generally are sleep walking and has their heads in the sand and don’t want to acknowledge some of the changes that they’re gonna have to make in their own personal lives. So that’s where I’m putting my energy, working and talking with individuals and that’s where EarthSave comes in, providing information. But everybody individual has to know that they’re responsible for making this world a better place. And we do need to have some regulation happening but I really believe the power is within the individual. I’m just hoping that a majority starts to realize what’s happening and make personal changes.
Mike Hudak: Absolutely.
Caryn Hartglass: My goodness. Well I invite people to visit Mike’s website, mikehudak.com. There’s a lot of very wonderful information by the book, Western Turf Wars, which you can do at your website.
Mike Hudak: That’s right. Well, there’s a separate website for the book and the website is just the name of the book, westernturfwars.com.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. Mike, it’s been great talking to you. I really applaud the work that you’re doing. Keep at it.
Mike Hudak: I will, thank you. Hope you enjoy San Francisco.
Caryn Hartglass: And just ride this little intensity with the healthcare issues, which I hope would get resolved and hopefully the politicians will have more time for some of these other issues, including yours.
Mike Hudak: Right: Yeah. I’ll let you know if we’re successful in getting legislation in in a couple of months.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. I will look forward to that.
Mike Hudak: Okay.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, thanks for talking to you. Thanks for talking with me.
Mike Hudak: Thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: Thanks for talking to you.
Mike Hudak: Okay.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, thank you so much.
Transcribed by Mary Rose de La Peña 5/15/2014