The American West is currently in a state of tensioned flux. The Old West built the foundation for the very land that we have come to love so much. The New West is trying to alter it in ways that upsets much of what The Old West was founded on. Both sides ignite angst in the other. The Old West cares about the land in its own way, wanting to preserve the land for ranching and recreation that founded the landscapes. Meanwhile, The New West wants to conserve everything, leaving The Old West wondering where there would be room for ranching. One solution could be simpler than we realize.
What people love about the American West is that there is still plenty of open space inspiring everyone who visits or who is fortunate enough to call a western region home. It’s a diverse and unparalleled natural beauty that extends for hundreds of miles from desert floors to snow-capped mountains. No one will argue that. Where arguments come in is how domestic animals and wildlife are managed on that land. Cattle ranching is an ingrained tradition in The Old West and a consistent source of income for many livelihoods. Two key threats to that lifestyle are bison and wild predators. Though never documented in the wild, bison are known to carry a disease called brucellosis which will cause cattle to abort their young early, meanwhile wild predators have been known to attack and kill cattle and other stock in attempts to feed themselves and their young. Ironically, these two problems could also be the solution.
The first, and trickiest, part of a potential solution would require that the government help subsidize private ranches in becoming Wildlife Friendly Certified. This would ease tension from both sides by alleviating much of the growing predatory threat that surrounds many of these private ranches. With more and more evidence pouring in every day that predators are required for a healthy ecosystem, more and more conflicts are becoming inevitable. Through this method, systems would be put in place to ensure a minimal amount of interaction occurs between domestic livestock and wild predators in search of a meal.
In addition, ranchers that are grazing on public lands would be required to swap out their cattle for bison over the course of a relatively short period of time. Bison have been proven to be better for the land due to their grazing habits and migration patterns. Put simply, bison are North America’s native cattle. They belong on public lands. They are healthier for consumption, better for the North American environment, and having more bison meat in more stores and locations would drive down the cost, a block currently undermining bison meat breaking through to the mainstream. Likewise, this would also open the doors to reintroducing other native species to public lands such as prairie dogs who evolved over thousands of years literally alongside the bison to create a truly balanced grazing region across the western United States. In fact, prairie dogs create healthier grasses that attract bison, their homes inviting burrowing owls, coyotes, hawks and eagles, and even the currently endangered black-footed ferret, among many others. It’s an example that Ted Turner has perfected, consistently ranching bison on his private lands with all other native species of each region sharing the land in harmony.
Once bison have begun to be restored to public lands, this would open many new doors for ecotourism to neighboring towns that were never there before. Marketing for safaris through varying regions would take on a whole new life for itself in towns or communities that were previously struggling to make ends meet. With all of the new income pouring into more communities thanks to the ever-expanding ecotourism industry, the economy would begin to take a turn in an admirable direction. Within a matter of years, the United States could see a boom in foreign visitors similar to Africa’s where people visit vast areas of a region not for a few key viewpoints scattered throughout the land, but for hundreds of viewpoints with native wildlife accenting and accentuating every landscape in rich detail that few other places worldwide could compete with. Along with minimal predators harassing ranches, the entire American West could see an unprecedented natural renaissance that would make any other country jealous. It’s a plan so simple and obvious, it almost makes you wonder why it hasn’t been put into effect yet.