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Cal

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Tony Dean Outdoors
Articles
What's Wrong with the Dakotas?

When I served as Press Secretary to South Dakota Gov. Frank L. Farrar (1970-72), his campaign for reelection centered on out-migration of young people. Three decades later, the trend continues, and an article by former Iowan, Verlyn Klinkenborg in the New York Times, addresses this problem, which is faced by most Midwest states.

He said the Iowa legislature is also trying to keep young people from leaving the state, and that it runs second to only North Dakota in terms of "brain drain;" and while he didn't mention South Dakota, I'm guessing it's in the running. Iowa's solution is simplistic; just dump their state income tax for anyone under 30, kind of a reverse "build it and they will come." Aside from costing a lot of state revenue, it's a wrongheaded idea, and those smart enough to earn a lot of money and escape taxation, will likely move to a "no tax" state like South Dakota on their 31st birthday.

I'm one of the few who's lived in all three states, and I suggest North Dakota might only be losing more young people than the other two because it's colder. Otherwise the business and political climates are much the same.

But the hunting and fishing are much better in the Dakotas. I was lucky enough to live in Iowa when pheasant and quail hunting was still decent; you stood a good chance of killing some ducks if you knew your stuff, but even then, cottontail rabbits and squirrels were considered top game animals. Since, Iowa hunting has worsened except for deer, turkey and giant Canada geese, but these days, there aren't many places you can't find these ubiquitous species.

And in spite of what you hear from some who say the live in the Dakotas because of the fishing and hunting, most live where they do because of their job. In the early 1960's. I moved from Bismarck to Cedar Rapids, IA, a market three times larger, to take a radio job. In radio, if you want more money, moving to a larger market is the only way to do it. Today, I am happy to be back in the Dakotas and can't imagine working and living anywhere else. But, let's be honest. To make a good living here, you must work at it because there aren't many six figure-income jobs. Owning a profitable business is one way to increase income, but there are only a couple ways to do that. The easiest way is to inherit it. The other way is to start your own company, but not everyone is geared to do that.

Meanwhile, the real problem is the willingness of political leaders to hang their hats and state's future on mature industries. Consider Wyoming. Organizations with a tax-exempt status provide more jobs than the mining industry does there, though you'd never know it by the emphasis Wyoming puts on its extractive mining industry. But is their reliance different than South Dakota's on timber and mining in the Black Hills? Neither comes close to matching tourism for jobs provided or revenue produced. The reason is elementary. Mining, timber and agriculture share something, in that they are mature industries that employ fewer people as technology increases. Add the steadily diminishing numbers of farms and ranches in each Dakota (about 20,000 in each state, down from 77,000 in 1914) to the increase in technology and the ever-increasing cost of fuel, and it's hard to look beyond anything but a dead-end road if we pursue agriculture as the savior for our economy. Thus, Klinkenborg's suggestion that Iowa's number one problem is its reliance on industrialized agriculture, sounds eerily similar problems we face in the Dakotas.

But Klinkenborg, who grew up in rural Iowa, pulls no punches in recognizing the problems caused by big agriculture.

"It was caused by the state's wholehearted, uncritical embrace of industrial agriculture, which has depopulated the countryside, destroyed the economic and social texture of small towns, and made certain that ordinary Iowans are defenseless against the pollution of factory farming," he wrote.

In other words, you can’t blame this one on Walmart.

Substitute "Dakotans" for "Iowans" and the same statement probably stands. After all, where do you find the "entry level" jobs in agriculture? If you suggest the local slaughter-house, you'll have found most of them. And if some are successful in bringing factory hog farming or industrial dairy farms into our states, others will be tending pigs or attaching machines, and if Iowa experience is an indication, they'll be filling those jobs with immigrant workers.

Iowa has paid a bigger price than most states. To reach the stage of “agricultural prosperity" that’s settled on, they gave up their prairie, nearly all of their wetlands and replaced it with enough corn and soybeans to meet America's needs. Because such row crops do little to hold soil in place, and because it is necessary to tile drain fields to attain good yields, water quality in lakes and rivers has suffered greatly. So has wildlife, because as pressure to produce more increases, habitat dwindles and birds and animals are pushed into fewer tiny places. But the truth is bitter. If you think the practicioners of “industrial agriculture” give a tinkers damn about fish or wildlife, you’re dead wrong.

More ominously, Iowa drinking water in cities has suffered. Because Iowa is tiled from virtually border to border, each time heavy rain falls, massive amounts of water flow downhill from the drain tile to ditch to river and untimately, through the kitchen tap.

Is this what we want for the Dakotas?

I think not, but we’d better recognize the fact that the Red River valley in North Dakota has already reached that point. Think not? Drive up or down I-29 during a melt and see where the water goes: right into the road ditches, and ultimately into the Red River. Wonder where the floods originate.

Well Duh!

But so powerful is the agriculture lobby, that residents fell helpless to fight a system that has so much control over government. When ranchers say prairie dogs are destroying rangeland, few argue. This overlooks the fact that when the ancestors of today's ranchers brought European cattle, breeds ill-suited to the rigors of winter on the Great Plains, these selective grazers began a generation-long destruction of native grasses that early settlers ill-advisedly replanted with imported species such as Timothy, Cheat and Kentucky Bluegrass. Thus, prairie not already lost to the plow was chewed into domestication. Unfortunately, many introduced grasses lose their value to wildlife and cattle during the winter.

Meanwhile, cows flattened vegetation in riparian areas, ruining streams and in some years, grazing the prairie down to nothing. And what wasn't grazed was plowed with the same disastrous results.

The prairie dog issue that's been burning in South Dakota provides a good example of how agriculture works the government. Since the first ranchers arrived on the West River prairie, they've been waging war on any wildlife that they believe interferes with cattle or sheep. They were successful in convincing the government that it should be the taxpayers responsibility to control them. And we have been doing it for years. We’ve spent billions on coyote eradication, only to find that where we’ve cut coyote numbers, they’ve been replaced by skunks, raccoons and red fox. And then the coyotes come back stronger than ever, probably because they eat the smaller predators.

But how did we manage to get ourselves into the position where we believed it was the responsibility of our government, thus we taxpayers, to eradicate coyotes so a few could raise sheep that we can’t even find lamb on most supermarket counters.

Back a number of years ago, ranchers convinced the legislature that prairie dogs should be relegated to pest status, and even attempted to rename them as "prairie rats." They created myths such as the common belief that cattle and horses break their legs in prairie dog burrows.

That surprised Dan Uresk, who once headed the Rocky Mountain Research station in Rapid City before prairie dog politics resulted in his demotion to a title of Senior Biologist. Uresk told me he's tried tracing those claims and has yet to find such an incident.

Not long ago, I delivered the keynote address to a prairie dog gathering in Rapid City that was sponsored in part by the National Wildlife Federation, the SD Wildlife Federation and the SD Wildlife Society. Agency professionals comprised most of the attendees. One of the things I stressed was that of the "bullying political tactics" employed by many ranchers.

Then, after I left, George Vandel, a Game, Fish & Parks bureaucrat, said he was offended by my description of the political tactics of ranchers. Ironically, his own department has been the object of relentless bullying efforts by those same ranchers. Perhaps George has become a true bureaucrat in that he seeks shelter when things go wrong but seeks the spotlight when things go well. Regardless, George always takes shots at me because he dislikes me.

He was followed by Secretary of Agriculture, Larry Gabriel, who warned those in attendance to get on board with this "good neighbor prairie dog program" the state created in response to the threat of the possible endangered species listing of the black-tailed prairie dog. Gabriel told them that "ranchers are frustrated, that they're talking about getting their guns and shooting someone."

That comment wasn't well received by the group, and one, a federal employee, suggested to Gabriel that his remarks were "19th century remarks in the 21st century," and not appropriate in a room full of professionals. Moreover, he said, Gabriel's comments validated everything I said in the opening address.

Gabriel apologized.

Even though I frequently disagree with Larry, I’ve always liked him and consider him one smart cookie. And, it takes a big man to apologize.

Black-tailed prairie dogs are a keystone species, an indicator of the health of the prairie ecosystem, and they have been shot and poisoned unmercifully until the Endangered Species Act (ESA) reared up to stop these efforts.

We have ranchers who have complained about prairie dogs to the point where they've removed nearly all of them except for those on public lands and now they want them gone too. They claim prairie dogs destroy forage, but scientific evidence shows cows and calves on a light to moderate grazing schedule neither gain or lose weight in a prairie dog town. Besides, poisoning prairie dogs only amounts to a gain of about 50 pounds of forage per acre.

One thing we know is that the easiest way to attract prairie dogs is to overgraze your pastures, something that scientific research proves to the point there is no doubt. And if you look at western South Dakota today, you know that they could pop up most anywhere. But we are in a drought, which means the rancher who cares about the land, takes extra special care of it in such times. And we have ranchers like that.

We also have those who never have good grass, even in wet years.

Many ranchers have strong feelings about prairie dogs, but their views aren't shared by the public, even in an ag-dominated state such as South Dakota.

A survey conducted by Larry Gigliotti Ph.D of the SD Game, Fish & Parks Department notes that about 75 percent of all South Dakotans believe prairie dog populations should be maintained.

So how is it that a high percentage of politicians in elective office look at the same research and factual science, but still cling to the belief prairie dogs should be eradicated? The truth is, the agricultural lobby dominates state governments to the point that anyone questioning farm or ranch policies is viewed as unpatriotic, uninformed, unconcerned with the economy, or they are given the worst insult of all.

They are called environmentalists.

Yet, there are glimmers of hope, especially among farmers, who having seen the results of industrial agriculture.

Several years ago, I spoke at Iowa's Pheasants Forever State Convention in Des Moines. Most of the committees that were in attendance were made up of farmers who loved bird hunting, and one by one, I heard them address what they were doing to reverse a trend they didn't like. And when they're not doing that, they're planning trips to fish and hunt in the Dakotas.

And not long ago, I made another trip to Iowa to speak at yet another Pheasants Forever banquet, this time in Lemars.
The room was full of farmers, and they honored an individual who did some incredible conservation work on this farm. He was so proud of his work that when he addressed the more than 600 attendees, tears came to his eyes. And each year, the Lemars Pheasants Forever chapter recognizes a landowner who cares. And to give you an idea of the significance of sacrificing land for wildlife habitat in Iowa, in the Lemars area, good farmland sells for about $3,000 per acre. In the heart of South Dakota’s pheasant belt, south central SD, it goes for about $600 per acre.

I gather Iowans learned that sometimes you have to lose everything before you truly realize what you had, a lesson still to be learned by many Dakotans. Certainly you'd think that when almost everyone knows that land here is worth a lot more for recreational purposes than for agricultural production, there's a message in it. No, we're told, we have to save that land for agricultural production. But why? If you eliminate ag production from the Dakotas, it will be but a blip on the national output screen. And there are single counties in Florida that produce more beef than our two states combined. Jobs in agriculture? Fine, where are they and how much do they pay?

The truth is, there isn't enough economic life in communities like Beach, Lakota, Armour or Buffalo, to keep young people here, unless they are willing to work for entry level wages or are too damn lazy to get a better job, even if it means leaving the Dakotas. So what do we do as a matter of official state policy? Can we continue to bow to the agricultural history of our states and think we can somehow recreate another Little House on the Prairie community?

Meanwhile, the few that stay will proudly say they do so because of the high quality of outdoor recreation, and there may be truth there. But what they don't realize is that industrial agriculture doesn't give two hoots in hell about ducks or pheasants. And there's little worse, in my mind, than working for minimum wage while having nothing to fish or hunt.

When I was 16 years old, I worked at a creamery in Mandan. My job was simple. Cans full of cream came by on a conveyor belt as they were unloaded. I had a big plier-like wire snipper. I'd snip the wires holding the lid on top, then with an upward swing, knock the top off. Try to picture yourself doing that kind of work for the rest of your life. I was paid 50 cents per hour as a part time summer worker, but I worked alongside a man who'd been on that job for over a decade. I think I realized then that I'd never make much money or be happy in such a job.

For every farmer like my friend, Steve Halverson or my ranching friends, Brady or Wendi Rinehart, there are others who resent the Swampbuster Program because as weak as it is, it prevents them from draining the last slough. There are others who talk independent and free enterprise, but can’t wait for the government to do something else for them.
Steve is a very successful farmer, one who's worked hard to make a good living raising wheat, sunflowers and cattle, but also what might be the biggest population of pheasants per acre anywhere on Earth. He sees the value of wetlands; doesn't apologize for maintaining them, and the tall stands of grass on his diversified Lyman County operation haven't hindered his beef operation any, though they've certainly helped those great crops of pheasants.

Brady and Wendy know that the land they ranch in northern Hyde County should never be plowed and it bothers them greatly when similar ground is turned over for the first time in their area. That's why they've become outspoken proponents of grassland easements.

What the Halverson's and Rinehart's have in common is a land ethic, and I've no doubt they'll leave their holdings better than they found them.

Meanwhile, Government faces choices, difficult ones. They can look toward economic development that represents nothing more than a continuation of what we've been doing for over a century, a policy that's resulted in the loss of most of our farmers or ranchers and the small towns they supported. Or we can try another direction. Farming has been propped up by federal farm programs for many years, and it's not been better for anyone other than the companies that sell feed, seed, and supplies. As Klinkenborg suggests, we might consider an alternative to the kind of farming that has been responsible for what he calls "industrial agriculture" for decades. Certainly most in agriculture will oppose that, but what's the alternative?
 

sw

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Cal,
you had better keep him, or better yet, get him a job caring for the prairie dogs and wolves and grizz we need to relocate to Central Park. Just keep him busy so he does not move the Bozeman, the now the environmentalist capital of the world. Maybe you should get his address and I will send him a T-shirt our local Cattlewomen sell that has a steer on it and it says "I am cared for by the original environmentalists" :lol:
 

Bull Burger

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Tony Dean said:
Besides, poisoning prairie dogs only amounts to a gain of about 50 pounds of forage per acre.


The gain amounts to ALL pounds of forage per acre! More like 500#/dry year up to 1500#/wet year.

You just as well graze a basketball court as a prairie dog town. Same production.
 

Liberty Belle

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Tony Dean is such a far-left enviro-whacko that he has become very entertaining for those of us acquainted with his views. What boggles my mind is why any hunter or fisherman would ever listen to him. Why would any business sponsor his drivel? Why would any radio station in an agriculture community air this socialist, enviro-whacko, and anti-gun creep who hates landowners and doesn't believe there should be any such thing as private property rights?
 
A

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Tony Dean: "But how did we manage to get ourselves into the position where we believed it was the responsibility of our government, thus we taxpayers, to eradicate coyotes so a few could raise sheep that we can’t even find lamb on most supermarket counters."

I'll tell you why Tony! Because in 1972, president Nixon banned compound 1080 and producers were told that they would have a professional, accountable, Animal Damage Control program in it's place.

Chose your poison Tony, literally!

It was guys like you that didn't want landowners taking care of their own problems and now you don't want anyone else to do it either.

FINE, GIVE THEM BACK THEIR POISONS TONY!!!

You want it both ways.!


Tony: "They claim prairie dogs destroy forage, but scientific evidence shows cows and calves on a light to moderate grazing schedule neither gain or lose weight in a prairie dog town."

Hahaha!

Forgot to mention the stocking rate Tony and the fact that this misleading study was conducted during the growing season.

Recent studies by SDSU have confirmed what ranchers have been saying all along.

There is pastures in the Conata basin that are not even fit for pr. dogs anymore and haven't had cattle on them for 7 years.

Pr. dogs are great AS LONG AS THEY ARE SOMEONE ELSE'S PROBLEM RIGHT TONY????



~SH~
 

Jason

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At the risk of incuring the wrath of you Dakotans, if you really read this particular article, Tony makes some valid points.

Step back for a second and ignore his previous rants. Just look at this article.

While some of his statements are misleading, his basic premis is that those in agriculture need to look at the bigger picture. Poor agrinomic practices have led to being over run by prairie dogs. His looking for the origins of stories about cattle and horses breaking legs in holes is similar to we ask for here. Who has it happened to?

I think this story has more to do with agriculture in general rather than prairie dogs in particular.

Feel free to continue disecting :)
 

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