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The Media Adores Ranchers. Here’s Why They Shouldn’t.

[Part I of a series on ranchers]


The US livestock industry has enormous economic and political clout. But news reports consistently highlight a small segment of it — ranchers grazing livestock on federally-managed western grasslands — as news sources, granting them undue influence on policy issues in which they have a large economic stake.

This bias has occurred despite a decade’s worth of empirical evidence showing that public-lands ranchers — who rely on hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies but represent only 2.7 percent of the nation’s total livestock operators — fleece US taxpayers, public lands and protected species in order to graze livestock (mostly cattle) on the cheap.

The media bias seems endemic. Whether discussing wild horses, bison, predator species (wolves, coyote, cougars and bears), sage grouse or desert tortoises, livestock operators and lawmakers from western states are consistently allowed to present themselves in news reports as stewards of 230 million acres of grasslands, forest and wildlife habitat that nearly everyone agrees have been compromised. And they do this while suing the federal government to remove wildlife at public expenseblock wildlife protections and gain control of federal land. Check out the linked articles and see for yourself.

The federal grazing subsidy gives them the political and environmental power they’re currently exploiting. But the media doesn’t mention it — and the ranchers never bring it up.

A lot of studies have, however, going back quite a few years. Just last month, The Center For Biological Diversity put out a report:  Costs and Consequences: The Real Price of Livestock Grazing on America’s Public Lands.

Randi Spivak, Director, Public Lands Program for the Center of Biological Diversity, told me that she sent the report to 100 journalists, both nationally and in Western newsrooms. Only three outlets provided coverage: E&E News (a news bulletin covering energy and environmental policy and markets); the Idaho Mountain Express; and the Sierra Sun Times, Spivak said.

The rest? Radio silence.

For the media, the cowboy myth lives on.

This is Part I of a four-part SourceWatch series on ranchers in the media. 

Coming up:

Part II: Sustainable Cowboys or Welfare Ranchers of the American West?   (an economic analysis of subsidized public lands ranching; contains reading list of source materials)
Part III: Bad Ranchers, Bad Cows (peer-reviewed study of damage caused by cattle grazing in a national wildlife refuge)
Part IV: Forbes Billionaires Top US Welfare Ranchers List 

About Vickery Eckhoff (16 Articles)
Vickery Eckhoff is the co-founder and executive editor of The Daily Pitchfork. Her articles on wild horses, public lands grazing and the meat industry have been published in Forbes, the Huffington Post, Newsweek/The Daily Beast, Alternet and Salon.
Contact: Website

37 Comments on The Media Adores Ranchers. Here’s Why They Shouldn’t.

  1. I know what I would like to give them.
    But my opinion would be unapproiate.

  2. Very good reporting. It is about time that the welfare ranchers are doing to our land and wild horses. That welfare ranchers livestock is not worth the price. Our land is worth more then that. Our wild horses are worth more then that. Time for the ranchers to remove private livestock OFF public lands. Time for BLM to give the land taken away from our wild horses grazing areas back. Time to ZERO out the cattle off our lands.

  3. Barbara Warner // February 7, 2015 at 8:29 pm // Reply

    Frackers, miners, drillers, loggers and developers are ruining our public lands also. Will anything be left for my grandchildren?

  4. Lisa LeBlanc // February 7, 2015 at 8:34 pm // Reply

    From “Costs and Consequences: The Real Price of Grazing on America’s Public Lands”:

    “There are about 800,000 livestock operators and cattle producers in the United States. Of those, fewer than 21,000 — or 2.7 percent of the nation’s total livestock operators — benefit from the Forest Service and BLM grazing programs in the West.”

    21,000 Public Lands ‘ranchers’, directing policy and law. I don’t understand why private land ranchers put up with it.

    This small segment has used more resources, caused more rangeland destruction and done more to reshape the geology and topography of the ranges than any natural disaster in the past 150 years.

    We have bunchgrasses that have gone extinct; tracts of calorie-dense winter fat – a desert plant that can live up to 130 years – decimated (meaning those plants will not recover in our lifetime). Everything that exists and grows in Western deserts has evolved to grow small and slow, to gain optimum utility from minimal resources. There are small exclosures throughout the West that have made insignificant recovery in 6 decades of non-grazing.

    And still – 21,000 entitled twerps are allowed to exploit these dwindling resources on 10’s of millions of acres, unabated, while a sycophantic media continues to kiss their Tony Lama’s (though it’s a little beyond me as to why; it isn’t as if mainstream media can be relied upon for much of use).

    21,000; it’s shameful.

    • Another perspective on public lands grazing.

    • Nicely stated Lisa!! Thank you for that perspective and for shedding some light on a few things that I was not aware of since I’ve been following all of the articles regarding our beloved wild horses!

  5. Grandma Gregg // February 7, 2015 at 9:16 pm // Reply

    What can be done to address the problems associated with public lands livestock grazing? There is a simple answer: end it. Get the cows and sheep off, let the wild creatures reclaim their native habitat, and send the ranchers a bill for the cost of restoration.

  6. “The federal grazing subsidy gives them the political and environmental power they’re currently exploiting. But the media doesn’t mention it — and the ranchers never bring it up.”

    And, Congress doesn’t address it! It is time to get a very big BROOM and sweep them out of Congress!

  7. It is time for the public to be informed as to how tragic it is that the cattle industry is one of the main causes for wild horse round ups and horse slaughter. There is no excuse for the BLM giving priority to the big cattle industry allowing them to graza their cows on the cheap, thereby causing so many deaths of wild horses. Public lands are that, public lands, and they belong to the wild horse, and all other wild life, not to the big private money making cattle industry. It has now been proved also that the millions of cattle grazing are contributing 51% of the green house gasses to our atmosphere, that is not the case with having wild horses living on the lands. Humans better wake up to the realities.

  8. Melissa Ohlsson // February 7, 2015 at 11:57 pm // Reply

    Way to go, Vickery! Can’t wait for part two! Despite the crickets chirping in the media arenas, word regarding the Welfare ranching/wild horse/BLM issue IS spreading across America, but I fear just not fast enough. I inadvertantly hooked-up with some fellow advocates through facebook earlier this week… one lives in West Virginia, just learned about our wild horse issues and is so hopping MAD she jumped in up to her neck and has accomplished a great deal in only a few weeks! The other is in Conneticut, is well informed and belongs to a well-known, eastern based, animal welfare organization. I’m confident these two will get the people on the east coast educated and fired-up to kick some BLM ass! I only hope it’s in time…

  9. Terri L Russell // February 8, 2015 at 1:55 am // Reply

    Thank you Vickery! A always, you are spot on. Keep bringing it to the public ago that they are well informed. Personally,.I’m sick of these else recipients. they are not doing anything for this country and charity at home and not at a price. Maybe some day JQP will wake up. Let’s just hope it’s not too late. Look at what these same rancher types did to the gray wolf. It was made extinct once and now they are doing it again. They didn’t learn. Just remember that a hard head makes a soft arse.

  10. Maggie Frazier // February 8, 2015 at 8:47 am // Reply

    Vickery – keep up your good work! Great article – actually truthful unlike too much of the media. Your name means GREAT journalism! Honestly, are these supposed reporters all 12 – that they regard anyone with a hat & boots as COWBOYS???? People are people – good or bad – these guys are pretenders!

  11. These Wild Horses were captured and taken to BLM Litchfield Holding Facility in California due to a rancher’s complaint/request
    Why were they not returned to their Herd Management Area?
    Why did they leave their Herd Management Area in the first place?
    Were they looking for food and water….why?

    Surprise Field Office
    The Surprise Field Office manages nearly 1.5 million acres of public land straddling the border of northeast California and northwest Nevada.

    DOI-BLM-CA-N070-2014-0016 CX Wild horse and burro removal of wild horses from private lands Mosquito and Long valley nevada Steve Surian
    530-279-2712 pending 03/03/2014 09/17/2014 NAE

    Surprise nuisance Horse Removal
    Oct 23-30
    Because They were off the HMA
    Water Bait trap by BLM
    Near Boyd Springs
    10 captured
    4 Mares 14yr, 6 yr, 8 yr, and 1 yearling
    3 Foals
    3 Stallions 9 yr, 7yr and 3 yr
    Taken to Litchfield

  12. The fate of these Wild Burros, which have been dubbed as “Nuisance Burros”, is unknown at this point in time.
    Are they still out there, in the wild, or…
    have they already been captured and removed?
    If so….where have they been taken?

    Eagle Lake Field Office
    Public lands managed by the Eagle Lake Field Office cover approximately one million acres in northeastern California and northwestern Nevada

    CA-N050-2015-03 CX Wild horse and burro Removal of Nuisance Burros on Private Land Stony Creek Ranch
    Contact Farris, Patrick
    530.252.5319 In Progress 10/14/2014 NHA Eagle Lake 2015

  13. Update
    Surprise Field Office Wild Horse capture and removal
    WHY did they leave their Herd Management Area?
    How many permitted livestock were on their Herd Management Area?

    Litchfield Ca. BLM Corrals Offering Wild Horses For Adoption
    December 18, 2014!Litchfield-Ca-BLM-Corrals-Offering-Wild-Horses-For-Adoption/c1q5o/9C4C18B9-71DE-42AE-ACA4-0B5F5BB57029

    The California BLM Litchfield Corrals are now offering for adoption the following, bait-trap captured wild horses. All 16 mustangs are listed as being from the
    Carter Reservoir HMA (Herd Management Area), but were off HMA and captured on private lands at the request of those land owners.

    Because of the severe drought, and the lack of forage many wild horses have strayed off their HMAs. 5 were captured east of the Carter HMA and 11 were trapped west of the Carter HMA. It is not known if all of these branded wild horses are from the Carter Reservoir herd or migrated from adjacent herds as no DNA testing has been done and at this time none is being scheduled.

    We will update photos and try to add better ones as we get them. The weather has been a huge obstacle, with wind, rain & snow plus trying to schedule to get photos taken between all the projects going on there at the corrals, like gelding the stallions has been difficult.

    If you would like more photos please go to the JOIN page, and fill out the contact form requesting more photos or go to and send us a private message.

    Contact the Ca. BLM Litchfield Corrals phone: 530-254-6575 for adoption information.

  14. Vickery. Anytime you want to come out to NV. Just let me know. I can give you a tour of our area known as the Virginia Range near Reno, NV. Ashow you our wild horse’s that are being threatened.

  15. This is what a BLM holding facility looks like.
    For Wild Horses and Burros it is a prison
    America’s Federally Protected Wild Horses and Burros belong in the wild, NOT behind bars.
    Litchfield holding facility after the BLM Twin Peaks roundup which removed 1799 Wild Horses and Burros from their Legal Herd Management Area
    Twin Peaks Roundup Litchfield Corral 8.13.10.WMV

  16. i guess we can thank Hollywood for brainwashing America into believing all Ranchers wear white cowboy hats. The Cowboy movies of the 40’s and 50’s lulled us into believing that Cowboys love horses and home on the range, where the deer and the antelope play, was an idyllic, bountiful place. Hopefully, our children and our grand-children, who were spared the Great American Cowboy indoctrination, will see it Dor what it is, the destruction of the West by a group of callous, greedy men.

  17. We should dissolve the B.L.M., they do not protect our wild animals or our federal land.

  18. Tanya Vudler Casale // February 9, 2015 at 2:47 pm // Reply

    For a horse person or a non horse person this is devastating to see. Of course the media will not report on anything against the Ag. Business. The media is owned or influenced by their rich owners and sponsors who are friendly with people in the Ag. Business, and care more about their friends than any animals that may be tortured in the process. Money controls everything, and money is owned by a small minority which cares only about money and profit. It is heart breaking. I think that a documentary showing what is happening to the wild horses and stating all the facts should be released just like the documentary about the caprive orcas, Blackfish, which educated many people, and some things were made easier fot the orcas. Not enough people know the history and the plight of the American Mustang. It has to be a film of controversy that will start something with American people. In the mean time I admire all the work being done by the wild horse rescue organizations. Thank you for all you do..

  19. Flynn Johnson // February 9, 2015 at 3:27 pm // Reply

    Vickery Eckhoff – New York City – That just about says it all. Come out to the real west, spend some time on the ranches, and become truly informed. I think you will return to New York City and search for some REAL dragons to slay.

    • Good writing is about research, data, reports, observation, analysis, good contacts, and a lot of hard work—something that any rancher can appreciate, Mr. Flynn. That can be done from lots of places.

    • The problem, Mr. Flynn, is not with real ranches, such as mine, and presumably, yours. The problem is with public lands managed to benefit private individuals by allowing their private cattle to overrun and damage those public lands. That this destruction, and the removal of indigenous wild horses that are stored and fed with my tax dollars and even Ms. Eckhoff’s so these Cattle corps can get fat is a problem any American should not tolerate.

  20. The Nov/Dec 2014 issue of AllAnimals, a publication put out by the Humane Society of the United States spoke at length of the problems of over-breeding and the struggle for control of wild horses…all things were said good and straight up regarding the BLM. A political piece, obviously. As I began to read it, hoping for additional info regarding the plight of our nation’s wild horse heritage, it was presented in such a way that it became very clear that the HSUS was trying desperately to not disturb the water! Twould have been much better if they had told the WHOLE truth, not just a slight angle of it.

  21. BULLITIN: Confirmed — Bureau of Land Management’s Bait and Trap Roundup Kills 29 Wild Horses, as their Paperwork Shows Clearly! A $29,000 SCAM TO RECEIVE TAXPAYER MONEY

    At Murderer’s Creek, yes, we have “all” concluded that 29 Deaths were completed, if not directly then indirectly, from this particular, supposedly bait and trapping roundup –- the fact is also the use of Dead-Horses to assimilate increase in private contractor voucher’s and payments . . .
    Administered by the Forestry – 75% and BLM – 25%.

  22. Debi Kelly Van Cleave // February 10, 2015 at 7:28 am // Reply

    The BLM is owned by the rich cattle barons. Thanks for working to shine a light on this atrocity.

  23. Thank you for trying to enlighten the ignorant

  24. Thank you for your well written and honest article! I will share it on Facebook!

  25. Carol Kracht // March 1, 2015 at 9:02 am // Reply

    Excellent article. I live in Utah surrounded by public lands abused by cattle grazing. I would also like you to research and publish a follow up article on the incredible amount of monetary subsidy these ranchers claim in so called ‘losses’ as well as the pittance they pay for each animal unit on public lands. The taxpayer is being doubly fleeced.

  26. Stephanie // May 15, 2015 at 6:59 am // Reply

    Western States Caucas, what are they? Why are all those politians lobbying for the environment when they are actually wanting to rid the public lands of all wild life. Why do they have such power and why is the media not calling them out on behalf of the public?

  27. Nina Council // May 16, 2015 at 1:10 am // Reply

    It all stinks, it again is all about money, money, money. Ranchers want the wild horses dead, gone, so they can continue to use our Public Lands to make their millions off their poor cows. Public Lands are that Public Lands and the belong to our wild horses and all wild life, and not to Money Making Cattle Industries. Its all wrong and the government allows, this is such a subject for discusion. We humans who care must rise up and stop all this unfairness. The lands belong to the horses, not Cattle businesses

  28. Grandma Gregg // May 16, 2015 at 10:41 am // Reply

    May I suggest that you listen to this recent radio show … well worth it and very enlightening!
    (click “here” to get the radio show started)

  29. The BLM – bought and paid for by the ranchers.

  30. Larry Kelley // January 6, 2016 at 4:33 pm // Reply

    I have a had time grasping the meaning of public land having lived in the east most of my life. I spend a good amount of time in Arizona and lived there for awhile. I go back and forth about my option. In many parts of Az the land is so inhospitable that nothing larger than a lizard can survive. Ranchers in order to make a living have to make improvements in order to raise their cattle. Improvements can take the form of any kind of irrigatin from canals, windmills, pumps to water tanks, fencing, gates etc. As this arid area adjusts, big game will move in as well as preditors. I’m guessing without these improvements there would be many fewer horses, big game etc. The rancher also has his eyes wide open for illegal behavior. I’ve seen pictures of all kinds of wildlife including undocumented people drinking from these water tanks. Let me say here I’m not a huge fan of some of the things ranchers get away with, but I have this nightmare scenario where ranchers quit and the four wheel drives take over, doing as much damage to the desert as the cattle. Like I say until I read an article yesterday I would have been 100% behind removing the ranchers from public land. While we are at let’s talk about be mining that render the land useless forever and pay no royalties.

  31. I personally work hard for all animals, primarily for our horses in that I am a horse owner. It is dispicable how the captured wild horses are held in deplorable conditions, in all sort of weather, freezing, heated, over crowding, on dirt, horses die in these situations, and have absolute lives of misery, suffering and death. The federal government must step in, congress must change the rules. Public Lands belong to the wild horses, not to private big cattle businesses, this is criminal and not lawful. We tax payers seem to have no say in regards to our public lands. My heart is broken, all must change. I see acre upon acre empty where big landowners could offer to take herds of horses but they don’t. The arrogance, greed and insensitivity of man is appauling, in fact disgusting. Its always about money, mankind will pay for its stupidity, man is destroying all natural balances, see the realities of today, climate change, disappearing wildlife, polluted waters, rising oceans. Wake up people

  32. Maureen Gerety // January 7, 2016 at 10:20 am // Reply

    Get rid of the contracts and give the land back to the people, where it belongs, stop letting the government, make a profit from welfare ranchers, this is not what the people want, and if your representative wont address it get rid of them.

4 Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. The Media Adores Ranchers. Here’s Why They Shouldn’t. [Part I] | Straight from the Horse's Heart
  2. The Media Adores Ranchers. Here’s Why They Shouldn’t. [Part I] | The PPJ Gazette
  3. Welfare Ranchers, Riding High (Again) | Vickery Eckhoff
  4. Sustainable Cowboys or Welfare Ranchers of the American West? | The Daily Pitchfork

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