Video educates public on the benefits of ranching, grazing

Jan 15, 2010

“You’ve got to tell your story.”

Lately, these are the buzzwords that ranchers have been hearing in industry media, from local cattlemen’s associations, at conferences, and in classrooms.

With a growing sense of urgency, and in the face of negative and frequently misleading media coverage, the industry is getting serious about the need to educate the uninformed public about who we are, and the benefits of ranching.

Ask most any producer, and he or she will tell you how responsible ranching benefits grazing lands, wildlife, and rural communities.

Yet the public has remained largely ignorant of the positive impact ranching has on our rangelands and open spaces. All too often, public opinion is shaped by radical groups which portray the cattle industry unfairly and inaccurately. Hence the vital importance of telling our story, sharing with the public who we are, what we do, and how ranching benefits America as a whole.

The Society for Range Management (SRM) is responding to this need with the creation of “Hope on the Range,” an educational video documenting the benefits of grazing on western rangelands. The project, which has backing from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), released a nine-minute pilot version of the video in February ’09 which has been widely distributed to high schools, colleges, legislators, and SRM member ship.

Feedback gathered on this version has been used to create a 28-minute version of the video which is to be marketed to PBS affiliate television stations with a view toward targeting a wide audience outside of the industry.

Linda Coates-Markle is the BLM liason to SRM and the project co-ordinator for “Hope on the Range.” According to Coates-Markle, the primary purpose of the project is to “help present a more balanced perspective to the general public in terms of benefits related to grazing on the public range lands.” Continues Coates-Markle, “There’s a lot of positive benefits out there if livestock grazing is used in a good, reasoned, well-managed scenario and we wanted the opportunity to present that situation to the public.”

“Hope on the Range” discusses such key issues as the use of grazing as a management tool for control of wildfires and invasive species, the benefits of grazing to wildlife populations, and the importance of ranches to the preservation of open spaces and preventing urban sprawl. The full-length version of the video will expand on these issues by also considering some of the positive social and economic impacts of grazing and ranching in western communities.

Coates-Markle elaborates:

“Primarily, our approach was to identify three case studies that were worthy of consideration: ecologic, economical, and social benefits of livestock grazing on western rangelands.”

In addition to depicting breathtaking scenery of open spaces, “Hope on the Range” features interviews with range management professionals who give scientific backing to the idea that grazing can have a positive effect on rangeland ecosystems. These are balanced by discussions with producers who explain the importance of sustainable grazing practices to the ongoing viability of ranching. Says Coates- Markel, “We’ve been doing a lot of interviews. We’ve been trying to reach out not only to academic types and researchers, but also folks that make their life on the land, that use these practices on a daily basis ... We’ve probably generated about 25 hours of interviews.”

Though ranchers have always proven very adept at sharing the positive aspects of ranching amongst themselves, SRM is aiming to take the “Hope on the Range” project outside industry channels and into the public eye where it can potentially change the hearts and minds of the voters and consumers that the industry relies upon. Although the pilot version was primarily distributed to producers and industry affiliates such as university ag and rangemanagement departments, the full-length version of “Hope on the Range” will be targeted at the general public through distribution to PBS-affiliate stations.

Wide distribution through public television broadcast also opens up the possibility of engaging viewers outside of western communities who otherwise might not be exposed to public lands policy issues and almost certainly not to a balanced perspective. It allows the industry to present a realistic image of itself and to explain how grazing can benefit the public lands which are held in trust by all Americans.

“I think ‘Hope on the Range’ has a lot of appeal to western communities because, really, there are a lot of new people in the West who maybe only have a rudimentary understanding of some of the issues,” says Tony Garrett, project producer. “But I think the program will have appeal to other parts of the country as well.”

SRM is also making an effort to connect with younger viewers, people who are energized about learning, making changes, and having a positive impact on public policy. The full-length version of “Hope on the Range” will feature music by renowned cowboy musician Dave Stamey and interviews with students from the University of Nevada’s Range Science Club discussing their visions for the future of ranching and public lands grazing. Noting the importance of informing the nation’s next generation of voters on the benefits of publiclands grazing, “Perhaps it is the younger generation within the general public that might be best served by a production on this topic,” says Coates-Markle. “Hopefully, it will help the public understand the benefits to be gained by supporting the rancher and the ranching industry.”

A polished rough-cut of the full-length version will be available at the annual SRM meeting in Denver, CO, Feb. 7-11. Those interested in obtaining a copy of either version should contact Linda Coates-Markel at SRM: 303/986-3309 or at — Andy Rieber, WLJ Correspondent