A conservation film Zinke, Perdue, Ross should watch
August 23, 2017
It's rare for the Environmental Defense Fund and big agriculture to agree on anything.
But the National Corn Growers Association, the Iowa Soybean Association, Smithfield Foods, Land O'Lakes and other farm groups are co-hosting showings of "Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman," a film EDF made about the conservation efforts of a Montana rancher, a Kansas farmer and a Louisiana fisherman.
The film, narrated by former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, shows how these producers and EDF worked together using federal government programs to sustain ranches, farm soil and fisheries.
The private showings in St. Louis, Des Moines and Minneapolis and an earlier one, in Bozeman, Mont., cosponsored by the Montana Stock Growers, promote the public debut of the documentary on the Discovery Channel on Aug. 31 at 9 p.m.
The TV showing will be an opportunity for the entire country to see the film but the most important audience — if they tune in — would be Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
Zinke is in charge of conservation on federal lands and their relationship with adjoining private lands. Perdue's responsibilities include the Natural Resources Conservation Service and USDA agricultural research programs. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross's agencies include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees the nation's fisheries.
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EDF and the Discovery Channel made an advance copy of "Rancher, Farmer Fisherman" available to The Hagstrom Report. It is a visually gorgeous film, with its scenes of Montana ranches adjoining public lands, Kansas prairies and fishing in the Gulf of Mexico.
"Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman" brings together the story of conservation in different parts of a very large country with a single theme: that environmentalists and producers can work together to achieve common goals.
But it does not shy away from the conflicts that still make this cooperation difficult. A Montana rancher explains his neighbors have been shocked that he has signed easements to keep his land in agriculture forever, wondering what impact the decision would have on their land values.
A Kansas farmer who practices minimum or no-till agriculture explains that previous generations of farmers who plowed the soil were using the best farming methods they knew at that time. But now, he adds, the latest science shows that diversity and cover crops can provide a better basis for long-term agriculture.
And a Louisiana fisherman says that most fishermen viewed the Gulf of Mexico a lot like the Wild West where there should be no rules and no government intervention. Only when the red snapper was so depleted that the industry was nearly destroyed would the fishermen agree to fishing limits. And even today there are conflicts between the commercial fishermen and the recreational fishing industry over how much of the catch each sector should be allowed.
If the film has a weakness, it is that it does not take into account the challenges to all federal conservation efforts under the Trump administration. The successes described in the film would not have been possible without federal policy or research. But that makes watching the film even more important for everyone from the cabinet officers to the producers affected by these policies to the environmentalists who so rarely see farmers, ranchers and fishermen as their allies.