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A Question of Values: A Flint Hills Rancher Ponders Industrial Wind Development  

Resolving Our Cultural Identity Crisis: Agriculture vs. Environment

“…this concept of preserving land in private hands has become a great theme of our region. Our Flint Hills culture has rested on this principle: that we want our land to remain agriculturally productive in private hands, namely producing high quality beef cattle, at the same time we preserve the Flint Hills much as they were hundreds of years ago.”

As ranchers we have kind of a cultural identity crisis with our land. On the one hand, in our farm organizations’ press releases, we dutifully say farmers and ranchers are the “real environmentalists,” and in our rodeo opening ceremonies, we recite prayers about our love of the land. On the other hand, amongst ourselves, we sometimes lambaste the environmental community for being uncaring and unrealistic about economic realities of farming and ranching.

Still, we go home at night knowing we are caught somewhere in between. Despite our coffee shop grumbling about environmentalists, we know that we really do love this land and that we have a huge responsibility to manage it wisely. We know we are the protectors of the last stand of the Tallgrass Prairie. Many of us can easily relate to Zula Bennington Greene’s beautiful description of Chase County in the early 1900s, because it still describes our lives today. She wrote:

“We lived surrounded by clean curves of hills. They changed with the seasons from green to tawny brown to sand, and sometimes we woke to a sheet of glistening white, but the solid curve did not shift or move and in after years I found that the sweep of hill against sky had set a pattern of beauty in my mind.” (Chase County Historical Sketches, Vol. I, p. 6)

We ranchers know that although we can profit from this land (or at least try to profit from it), that profit must never come at a cost that will harm it, that will violate the integrity of the land. The question is: where is that line? What is “harm”? What is the “integrity of the land”?

So far, in spite of incredible economic challenges, the Flint Hills ranchers in large part have towed the line, and managed their ranches in a way that has preserved the integrity of the land. The “pattern of beauty” in the “clean curves” and “sweep of hill against sky” in most places remains today.

The ranchers have a pride in that tradition of stewardship, which surfaced strongly in the dispute of the 70’s and 80’s over whether or not a prairie national park should be created–in early versions, from condemnation of private ranches. The ranchers responded to this threat saying a national park was not needed because they were committed to preserving the Flint Hills in private hands. They commented it was ironic that ranchers were “rewarded” for good stewardship by having the government threaten to take away their lands for a park!

Of course the park issue was fortunately settled without eminent domain, but nevertheless this concept of preserving land in private hands has become a great theme of our region. Our Flint Hills culture has rested on this principle: that we want our land to remain agriculturally productive in private hands, namely producing high quality beef cattle, at the same time we preserve the Flint Hills much as they were hundreds of years ago.

However, the three concerns-industrial wind turbines, coal-bed methane and urban sprawl-currently do threaten the actual “integrity of the land.” These intrusions can significantly alter the landscape, vegetation and ecosystems in ways that are unprecedented. Indeed, they could destroy the “clean curves of hills” and much more.

As an unfortunate part of our Flint Hills culture, we can remember and still even see the results of destructive practices of irresponsible oil producers of the last century who denuded and eroded surface areas, polluted underground water supplies, and left the mess for landowners to clean up. Will we believe the promises of this new generation of smiling lease-men baiting us with checks as we sign away our ability to protect our land and heritage?

We as landowners need to decide. Will we choose to take a quick profit, often to the economic detriment of our neighbors, not to mention our heirs, by developing this pristine land in a way that will destroy its integrity? Or will we remember our commitment to preserve the land in our private hands, and say “no” to developers?

Our cultural values will dictate our choices. Let’s show the nation that the government doesn’t need to take our land from us in order for it to be protected. We will do it, like we said we would, and make decisions that are wise in the long-term for our land, our children and our nation.

Anne B. Wilson

Five Oaks Ranch

Elmdale, Kansas

Anne B. Wilson, Elmdale (KS)

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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