Photographers' Blog

At a Colorado Cattle Drive

Igancio, United States

By Lucas Jackson

According to official statistics, around one percent of the United States’ population operates farms or ranches. After eight years of living in New York, I have discovered that the land rights issues that I remember my parents discussing when I was a child in rural New Mexico are all but invisible to the remaining 99 percent.

Cowboys David Thompson and Wyatt Williams release a calf after giving it medicine after pushing a herd of hundreds of cattle across Highway 160 during a weeklong operation on a Forest Service grazing lease run by rancher Steve Pargin near Ignacio, Colorado

But ranchers’ land rights became big news recently, through one extreme example. This was the story of Cliven Bundy, a Nevada cattle rancher who stopped paying grazing fees, and whose protest became a catalyst for an armed standoff with Bureau of Land Management rangers in the Nevada desert.

This level of hostility between a rancher and the government is rare, but an unfortunate side effect of stories like Bundy’s is that many Americans begin to think that these outliers are representative of the group, which is certainly not true.

But one important similarity between someone like Bundy and an average rancher in the West is that many don’t own enough land to graze the amount of cattle that it takes to make a living. According to a 2012 congressional study, almost half of the land in the western United States is federally owned.

Cowboy David Thompson looks down on a large herd of cattle that has been gathered during a weeklong operation on a Forest Service grazing lease run by rancher Steve Pargin near Ignacio, Colorado

Having someone, whoever they are, managing the land is not such a bad thing. The 1930s “Dust Bowl” disaster, when droughts and dust storms plagued large parts of the United States, illuminated the tough reality of land overuse and poor conservation.

Nevada showdown

Bunkerville, Nevada

By Jim Urquhart

“I’ve got a clear shot at four of them,” the man with a rifle beside me said, as he aimed his weapon in the direction of U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) officers.

We were on a bridge in southern Nevada in the midst of a tense standoff between the BLM and a group of angry ranchers, milita-members and gun-rights activists. It seemed as if we were a hair’s breadth away from Americans killing Americans right in front of me.

This showdown had come after the BLM started rounding up cattle belonging to rancher Cliven Bundy, who had been letting his animals graze illegally on federal land for over 20 years.