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My grandfather used to love to tell the story of a preacher who came to the ranch to visit. “My goodness, Joe, you have a beautiful place,” said the minister. “The green grass blowing in the wind, the cottonwood trees filled with singing birds, the abundant wildlife, and the sparkling streams, it is amazing what you and the good Lord have done.”
“Yes,” my grandfather said, “It is beautiful. But you should have seen it when the Lord was doing it by himself.”
There is a great message in that story. Man can improve the environment. Man can enhance mother nature’s handiwork. In today’s world, especially in today’s environmental world, there is a common belief, almost a religious belief, that man has raped and pillaged the environment at every opportunity. There is a notion that before man arrived at the scene, a utopia existed that was without equal; fish were jumping in every stream, and wildlife hid behind every sagebrush.
I will freely admit that there have been instances where man has not taken care of the environment. We all know that we have made mistakes along the way, but many of those mistakes can and have been rectified. As we learn more about the proper way to treat our renewable resources, we will continue to do better.
But in many instances, especially in the west, man has enhanced the environment. The early settlers recognized that one of the first agricultural practices needed for the arid west was to scatter water and irrigate the dry soil. In the process, wildlife habitat was created, stream-bank stabilization occurred, and the environment improved. My grandfather, who was born in 1898, never saw a deer until he was 14 years old. He often told the story of when he was a young man and riding out on the range in the fall, waking up one morning to a skiff of snow. As he was saddling his horse, he noticed a deer track. He followed that deer track all morning hoping to see the deer, because he had never seen a deer before. After years of predator control and habitat improvement, deer and other wildlife are an everyday sight for many people in the west.