By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily
“This Land Was Your Land.” With a headline like that, I should have known that it was click-bait. But I took the bait and clicked on The New York Times opinion piece last weekend, only to see that the author was none other than Christopher Ketcham. His work is currently widespread in anticipation of the release of his book “This Land: How Cowboys, Capitalism, and Corruption Are Ruining the American West.”
Don’t bother to read the NYT piece. It’s largely fiction, the creation of an extremist who only sees ugly if a trace of humankind is evident. The Brooklyn, New York-native Ketcham is billed as an “environmental journalist” but I’d say he’s an environmental extremist with a tendency for getting paid to write bulls**t stories that aren’t fact-checked by editors. If you make use of public lands in any way other than for environmental extremism, you’re probably on his list of vile enemies. Really.
Extremist? Edward Abbey was the guy’s hero. According to a pre-release book review posted to Outside Online (which noted Ketham’s “tendency to follow in Edward Abbey’s footsteps to subject us to a bit of macho bravado”), Ketcham wrote that groups like the Wilderness Society should “either take up the fight armed to the teeth or disband and get out of the way.”
Two years ago, Ketcham wrote about his opposition to killing coyotes with “I walked up the mountain in the howling snow and the drifts and the flashing of the moon behind the clouds, looking for coyote traps to sabotage.”
While the Camp Fire was burning last year – California’s deadliest and most destructive wildfire, killing at least 85 people – Ketcham wrote a Counterpunch column titled Build In A Fire Plain, Get What You Deserve: “I’ve always hated the human infrastructure in California, and so I can’t say this is a bad thing.”
The guy calls for the decommissioning of roads in national parks, an end to public lands grazing, and the use of the Endangered Species Act to “smash the entire exploitative economy on the public lands.”
In March 2016, Ketcham penned “The Rogue Agency: A USDA program that tortures dogs and kills endangered species” – a look at USDA Wildlife Services, the animal damage control experts used by other wildlife agencies to control or kill predators killing livestock, and to keep birds from hitting planes at airports across the country.
Ketcham described the article as detailing “the stupid, cruel, wanton waste of the USDA’s wildlife slaughter program called Wildlife Services.” That Ketcham relied on grossly outdated and inaccurate account didn’t matter, and USDA administrator Kevin Shay responded, “We will not apologize for putting people’s livelihoods and the interests of human safety on equal footing with the noble cause of animal conservation.”
Hatchet jobs are Ketcham’s specialty. In 2015, he wrote for Harper’s Magazine on “The Ruin of the West: How Republicans are plundering our public lands” – another assault on public lands livestock grazing, and, as always, using an anti-grazing activist as his primary source.
Ketcham spreads his vile message to other magazines as well. In its “The Earth Died Screaming Issue” in May 2015, VICE published another Ketcham piece about his lawsuit “against the National Park Service in protest of the government’s brutal and stupid policy of slaughtering wild bison” as they exit Yellowstone National Park and enter Montana.
For those of you who know about the complexities of brucellosis transmission involving elk, bison, and cattle, don’t expect to find a nuanced (or even balanced) discussion of this issue, because what you’ll find is more of Ketcham’s rabid blathering as he explains why he joined the ACLU in suing the National Park Service: “The goal of the ACLU lawsuit was to see, smell, and hear, up close, bison corralled, beaten, whipped, raped, sorted, and moved onto the trucks that carry them to their death.”
Yes, Ketcham claimed that bison were “raped.” Of course they lost the lawsuit, after a federal judge denied their request for an injunction, agreeing that the Park Service had not violated their rights by applying reasonable limitations for watching the culling process.
When wolves in the Northern Rockies were removed from the list of federally protected species, Ketcham wrote in his “Wolves to the Slaughter” piece that “the federal government last year scheduled wolves to be killed in huge numbers across the Northern Rockies.” To Ketcham, removal from federal protection is the same thing as “scheduling wolves to be killed in huge numbers.” Ketcham’s slant is impeccably transparent.
In a May 2014 piece for VICE, Ketcham was at it again, “How to kill a wolf – An undercover report from the Idaho Coyote and Wolf Derby” in which Ketcham and two Idaho activists infiltrated a coyote derby, apparently because, Ketcham wrote, “I wondered whether the residents of Salmon were looking to kill wolves out of spite. They hated these creatures, and I wanted to understand why.” They had to pretend to be hunters, Ketcham wrote, because: “Many pro-wolf activists across the American West, especially those who have publicly opposed the ranching industry, have reported similar threats and acts of aggression — tires slashed, homes vandalized, windows busted out with bricks in the night.” The coyote hunt organizers were so convinced of the Ketcham clan’s authenticity that they helpfully “suggested spots in the surrounding mountains where we could find wolves to shoot illegally.”
Ketcham noted: “The number of cattle and sheep lost to wolves and other predators each year is negligible. In 2010, just 0.23 percent of cattle in the US died from ‘carnivore depredations’ (as wolf attacks on livestock are officially categorized).” No mention that wolf depredations do not occur at the national-herd level, but at the local herd/flock level.
But cattle are despicable, according to Ketcham, “In fact, cows mess up just about everything in the ecosystems of the arid West.”
Of course, no wolves were killed during the two-day coyote derby, despite the “How to kill a wolf” title of the piece. Contempt for those who would kill predators, or graze livestock on federal land, drips throughout Ketcham’s writings – a hallmark of sorts.
Ketcham consistently uses the same sources – sources known for their anti-grazing activism, including Brian and Natalie Ertz of Idaho, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Western Watersheds Project. The result is agenda-driven ranting.
It’s unfortunate that humans in the West are a villain to Ketcham. He’d prefer cow-free, car-free, human-free landscapes. Ketchum can’t see through his own hateful vitriol to the beauty that surrounds him when he visits here.
Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily.