Environmental Advocacy Could Impact Cattle Ranchers

A 2011 settlement between the U.S. Department of the Interior and a coalition of environmental advocacy groups; led by WildEarth Guardians, a Santa Fe, New Mexico-based organization operating in several western states; could threaten the economic viability of New Mexico cattle ranchers. The 2011 settlement was the result of years of advocacy on the part of environmental groups and WildEarth to force the federal government to make a more concerted effort to protect endangered wildlife in the Southwest. In the settlement, the Department of the Interior agreed to list more than 100 animals on the endangered species list (while also placing several species on a proposed list), placating critics who had accused the department of ignoring ecological threats posed by U.S. agriculture. [1]

While the Department of the Interior claimed the settlement was the result of scientific study, agricultural groups have claimed that the government is being held hostage by the threat of lawsuits from environmental groups. The brouhaha has been reignited by the government’s listing of the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse as endangered. The government response to that listen has been to plan a series of enclosures and eight-foot-tall fences to protect the mouse’s habitat. Farmers and ranchers claim that the fences will interfere with cattle-grazing and claim that there are other ways to protect the species that will have less of an economic impact. While the dispute may seem minor, it comes only a few months after a well-publicized standoff between federal agents and Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy (a standoff that stemmed from Bundy’s refusal to pay grazing fees for his use of federal land). [2] These tensions between farmers and federal regulators underscore the importance of ranching and livestock to the overall U.S. economy. With sales of cattle alone accounting for almost 20 percent of all agricultural sales (more than $76 billion), it is clear that ranching is a vital part of the health and financial security of the U.S. agricultural sector and the U.S. economy in general. [3]

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References
[1] T.S. Last, “Endangered Mouse May Cost NM Ranchers Their Livelihood,” Albuquerque Journal, July 4, 2014.
[2] Ibid.
[3] USDA, Census of Agriculture, “Ranking of Market Value of Ag Products Sold”