JOHN DAY – A Grant County natural resources consultant says private landowners should tout their part in the John Day River Basin fishery’s success.
“If you don’t step up and take credit for what you’ve done, somebody else will,” Shaun Robertson warned in a talk at the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association conference June 10-12. His session was one of several that packed the Sale Barn at the Grant County Fairgrounds during the three-day event.
Robertson, founder of the John Day Resource Center, said the John Day River Basin is a powerful draw for groups that want “to save us from ourselves.”
He recounted how one group called it “the last best place,” but then described it as a place destroyed by logging, grazing, mining and other traditional activities. It was a pitch, he said, to get money “to save it.”
He said the reality is that long-term landowners have been good stewards, and were so for a century without the involvement of federal and state regulators.
He said to be wary when groups talk about “legacy effects,” which he called code for “we need lots of money to fix what happened a long time ago.”
In fact, he said, the John Day River’s improving fishery resource is a bright spot in the Columbia Basin, and he credits private landowners and local programs for the gains.
“Elsewhere in the Columbia Basin, it’s all gloom and doom,” he said.
He said stronger fish runs and habitat gains have come about because landowners and local agencies, such as Grant Soil and Water Conservation District, are working together on shared goals and commitments.
At the same time, Robertson sees an influx of non-government organizations ready to take credit for benefits forged on the private lands. And he said there’s a need for honesty in the discussions about natural resources.
For example, he showed a photo that had been used by one group as evidence of grazing mismanagement, noting that something was missing from the image: cowpies. Puzzled, he researched the source of the photo, and found it had been taken after a massive grasshopper infestation – and the result shown in the picture had nothing to do with grazing.
Robertson said some resource damage blamed on landowner practices really reflects post-World War II changes on a national scale, when the focus of government shifted from the war effort to one of reforming the local landscape. What ensued was an era of land clearing, dam building and waterway control.
Today, he said, government agencies are trying to fix the damage from those activities, but often without accepting responsibility for their role in creating the problem.
Robertson got a chuckle from the audience when he said Oregon ranchers could take a lesson from French farmers.
He showed a photo of a convoy of French farm equipment clogging a highway in a parade to draw attention to the needs of agriculture.
“They get on their tractors and dump manure in the streets … and pretty soon, they’ve got an audience,” Robertson said.
He said he’s not advocating anarchy, but he urged ranchers to stop complaining in the coffee shops and take their cases instead to the centers of power, where decisions get made.
He said agriculture’s slogans from recent years – “We feed the world” or “Every day is Earth Day for the American cattleman” – no longer cut it. He said ranchers instead need to tell the whole story of rural Oregon, and the strong schools, families and communities that agriculture has fostered and built.