Trust underlies decision making in the Okanogan–Wenatchee National Forest. Specifically, cattle ranching on public lands breeds conflicts among a diverse public. To city-dwelling environmentalists, it is hard to comprehend why the USFS allows cattle to trample riparian areas and munch on native grasses. In a system where every major decision is preceded by a year-long document extensively outlining the impacts, why are ranchers allowed to continue to have a disproportionate impact on this public land?
Cattle ranchers like Vic Stokes view themselves as critical components of the American food system: they are feeding the hungry. As Vic’s son Kent explained, ranchers are environmentalists in the sense that they work with and in the environment every single day. In order to run a successful cattle operation, they have to anticipate and control elements of the ecosystem. Ranchers view their role as improving the land, holding onto multi-generational traditions, and benefiting society.
At the root of this issue is the matter of trust. Environmentalists don’t trust ranchers to adequately care for the environment. Ranchers don’t trust that the regulations implemented by the federal government are in tune with the reality of ranching. As proven in the Methow, trust can be at least partially established through collaborative discussions. Vic Stokes summed it up stating that it’s how we disagree that matters. Hopefully, when addressing the issue of cattle grazing on public lands, we can trust the USFS to facilitate a decision that is fair to all land users including ranchers and environmentalists.