Recently, with the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing restrictions the outdoors beckons many of us out for adventure, open spaces and freedom from home-based lockdown. When you go out exploring and camping in Arizona, whether you are in the forest or out in the desert, you are probably on public lands. U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and State Trust land are all considered public lands that are managed by different agencies.
These agencies oversee the public lands while the ranchers work on these same lands. Ranchers use public lands and the resources on them to raise their cattle and in return ranchers make improvements to the land including,
- Increased diversity of plant and animal species,
- Reducing wildfire threat from rangeland fires (an important one in Arizona and California),
- Habitat restoration for wildlife including threatened and endangered species.
- Control of invasive plant species,
- Controlling erosion from water runoff for improved water quality,
- Improving vegetation along stream banks and watershed health,
- Offering visually attractive vistas,
- Preventing fragmentation of habitat from housing and commercial development and maintaining connected wildlife corridors,
- Preserving open space in a rapidly growing state, and
- Offering recreational opportunities, such as hiking and wildlife viewing.
Ranchers are the true conservationists, working to improve the land for not only their cattle business but also for the wildlife that also occupy the land. Being the stewards of the public lands is something that many ranchers are proud of and take very seriously. Adds northern Arizona Rancher Benny Aja, “Much of our state lands currently under grazing are not suitable for other enterprises, yet the forage grown on these lands can be used by cattle to produce an agricultural product while the water we maintain for our cattle also allows wildlife to thrive.”
Public lands are also used in many ways by other people from Hikers to Hunters to UTV riders. While these folks are welcome to use the land for these activities, ranchers would like those recreating on these lands to remember that it is also a rancher’s place of business and damage to infrastructure like broken or purposely-cut fencing has a cost associated with it. Respect for the land is often something that everyone assumes will be exercised but many times that doesn’t happen. You hear stories of people in UTV’s driving reckless and pushing ranchers off to the shoulder of the road when the rancher is just simply trying to check a water tank. Gates are often left open and water tanks are shot full of holes.
Sometimes people think that pulling the wooden stays out of the fence for a fire is acceptable but when a rancher has to utilize that corral to work cattle and the fence is in pieces it makes for a difficult day on the ranch. Even worse is when there is a report of livestock being harmed, intentionally or not that is a rancher’s profit. And Ranching in the great state of Arizona doesn’t always provide a large profit.
Ranching and recreating must work hand in hand for everyone using the lands to get along. When a person or persons is on public lands and sees that a rancher is working in an area, it’s best to try to find a way around the area or stop and ask if you are causing a problem. Most of all, using common sense and being respectful will get you a lot further than not. Yes, as a citizen you have the right to use public lands, but the right comes with responsibility to treat the land with the respect it deserves.
Public lands are multi-use. So, they're for your use and the ranchers use. And, these lands deserve your respect.
So, if you and your family decide to hike, bike, ride or hunt on public lands remember the multi-use opportunities as you the “recreator” and the ranchers possess. The rancher improvements on public lands as previously identified in the bullets mean you have a better place to play. Close the gate, pick up your trash and be respectful of those men and women working hard to make a living and put American-grown beef on your plate.
And next time you are out and see someone working while you are playing and enjoying your time on public lands be polite and respectful. These men and women are the backbone of the west and make it possible for you to be able to enjoy the scenery and enjoy the wide-open spaces of the West!
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