At the edge of a hundred miles of rifted steppe sits Kane Ranch, an unassuming brick building just south of the Arizona-Utah border. Within a chair circle out front, Ed Grumbine thrums with energy as the dynamic focal point for 48 eyes. A veteran university professor, he’s recently found tenure outside academia with the Grand Canyon Trust, a conservation non-profit which owns the historic ranch structure and, since 2008, the grazing permits to 830,000 surrounding acres of public land. Ed oversees the business aspects of those allotments, partnering with a veteran rancher to keep the organization’s 600 cattle in line.
The former teacher spends equal time asking questions as answering them, and his main line of rhetorical inquiry, “why the hell is an environmental group running cattle?” sparks animated discussion. Our eventual consensus—building relationships with neighboring ranchers and influencing their practices for the land’s benefit—proves correct, and Ed confirms that the strategy has paid dividends. However, putting environmental sensitivity first has the ranch in the red financially, complicating the endeavor’s long-term prospects.
Asked if he personally would banish cattle from public land, Ed responds affirmatively, but appends two caveats. First, that people still depend on grazing permits to make their living, and second, that the economic and political leverage necessary for a systemic shift towards more sustainable meats simply doesn’t exist. A pragmatist, Ed works to change the system from within, and he leaves us with the mantra “embrace the complexity”, a prominent feature of public lands grazing.
By: Hunter Dun