buffalo & cows, power & destruction: a political economy and social ecology of the American West
"They Shoot Buffalo, Don't They:
Hazing America's Last Wild Herd",
/Harper's/, June 2008:
"The government began large-scale operations against the Yellowstone
buffalo in 1989, after forest fires drove the herd out of the high
plateaus and geyser basins of the park. The severity of the treatment
the animals receive each year depends on how far they venture from the
park, which itself depends on the size of the herd, the availability of
forage, and the vagaries of weather. In the winter of 1996-97, for
example, 1,084 stray bison were slaughtered by the DOL---at the time,
the largest single-season buffalo kill since the nineteenth century. In
2005-06, more than 30 percent of the herd was culled, including fourteen
bison that, pursued by government agents on snowmobiles, died after
crashing through the ice on Lake Hebgen. The buffalo, it was reported,
struggled for three hours to stay afloat, until two of the creatures at
last sank beneath the water; several others were then retrieved and
shot. The surviving buffalo instinctively gathered around the victims,
shaking their heads, jumping, turning in circles, performing a kind of
dance. They too were killed."
"'When we get rid of the Indians and the buffalo', enthused General
Nelson Miles, commander of a garrison near Fort Keogh, Montana, in 1876,
'the cattle...will fill this country.'"
"Cows are also major contributors to global warming. A 2006 report
issued by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization noted that livestock
account for 18 percent of all greenhouse-gas emissions, including, from
human-generated activities, 37 percent of methane, which has
twenty-three times the warming potential of CO2; and 65 percent of
nitrous-oxide emissions (296 times the warming potential of CO2)."
"Over the past twenty years, ranching as a sector has been consolidated
in the hands of a few powerful operators who can survive the exigencies
of land speculation and the globalization of the beef trade. Today, 10
percent of Montana's cattlemen own 50 percent of the state's cattle.
These rich few now shape ranching in the American West, despite
contributing minimally---under 3 percent---to national beef production.
The key to their success lies in their ability to co-opt public
resources for private gain. Most large-scale ranchers don't keep their
cattle on their own land."
"The result of this federal largesse, and the enclosure and monoculture
it accommodates, is that ranching has become the primary cause of
species extinction, topsoil loss, deforestation, and desertification in
the American West."
"The most formidable player in modern-day western ranching, other than
the US government, is the banks.... As in the age of westward expansion,
then, powerful private interests, banks, and government have arrayed in
opposition to the buffalo."
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