A working cattleman offers a view from the saddle, which too often gives onto suburban subdivisions.
Southern Arizona rancher Collins is a man of parts: a scholar and practitioner of range conservation, a livestock producer, and an organizer of environmental good works. He is also keenly aware of what he likens as tribal divisions between nature lovers and those who work the land, as when he writes of two rural denizens “carrying their guns and a brace of Montezuma quail for supper, while the birders, draped with high dollar Swarovski binoculars, gasped in horror.” In this sometimes-pensive memoir, the author writes of other clashes, some of them obvious: Given the choice of a mine, a feature of an extractive economy that destroys the land, or a housing development, which covers the land with asphalt, or a ranch, which puts a herd of cattle out on the land, it’s clear where he falls even as representatives of the other industries clamor to gain access to the mix of public and private lands on which Western ranches rely. Although environmentally minded, Collins places himself in opposition to numerous environmental groups that consider any ranching to be destructive, some of which have a great deal of money behind them and whose “main tool is the lawsuit.” Like many Western ranchers, too, Collins has had his run-ins with federal agencies and wildlife biologists who, on one hand, give pride of place to topminnows and errant jaguars and who, on the other hand, like nothing better than damming up watercourses in remote canyons. Against them, the author holds up the examples of private conservation organizations comprised of people whose livelihoods depend on the land. When not engaged in polemic—thankfully, not often—Collins delivers a few amiable yarns about cowboying: “Cowboy sagas,” he writes, “arise and gain stature from the dubious excitement of chasing range cattle through thickets and over boulder slides.”
A valuable if debatable contribution to the literature of Western land conservation.