Archive » August 24, 2007
ON THE RANCH
By Nancy Crawford-Hall
I Was Wrong
We are starting our second week of deer season (hunting), and I wrote last week that recent years have been very different to those seasons when I was growing up. I was wrong. This year has already seen the arrest/citation of a hunter who parked on the side of Highway 154 in the late afternoon last week, jumped over our fence and proceeded to cross our Armour Hill pasture with a rifle slung over his shoulder. One of the ranch personnel spotted him out in the field, called the ranch manager, the sheriff and me. We all converged on the parked truck and waited for the officers to arrive. According to California law, a property must be fenced, cultivated or posted to qualify for a trespass violation. Of course, the Armour Hill pasture is fenced and posted, although people keep tearing off the posted signs right where the hunter entered.
I was surprised that someone would so obviously trespass and try to hunt as well but it was suggested to me that because the National Forests are closed because of the Zaca Fire, which is where most deer tags are issued as the place to hunt, the choice is reduced to finding a ranch owner who allows hunting or to trespass and hope to get away with it. I have the feeling that this deer season might be busier than it has been in recent years. I am not looking forward to that prospect because there are some individuals who are determined to trespass no matter what.
In the past two years we have had people come up the Santa Ynez River, perhaps not being aware that it is mostly private property, for which we pay taxes, to hunt ducks. This usually occurs around Christmas time and happens just below our horse breeding facility. Gunshots are not something that pregnant mares appreciate. In fact, young foals are not very happy about sounds like that either and it becomes extremely dangerous as they bolt to avoid the sound, hopefully, not running into anything.
Fires, Theft and Pests
We have endured, here in the Valley, over a month of smoky air, sometimes chokingly, brown or gray skies, ashes falling everywhere and questions as to when it is going to end. Asthma and hay fever sufferers have been particularly affected, wondering whether it is safe to participate in their usual activities or some days, whether they should even venture outdoors at all.
In talking recently to a person long associated with fighting those fires, I got the answer to a question I asked last week about whether anyone knew of a fire here that had lasted as long as the Zaca fire, to date. He presented me with data about fires over the last 75 years which was astounding. Generally speaking, from Riverside to Monterey Counties, mostly in Santa Barbara County, over these years the average length of the fire was about 15.3 days and approximately 100,000 acres was burned. The longest and largest fire was in 1932 in Ventura County which lasted 35 days and consumed 220,000 acres.
So with this information and much gratitude to the individual who presented it, the question remains, is there a change in forest fire policy that we are witnessing these days? That is, when we can see anything of our surroundings at all. It would be educational to hear from our experts on what their thoughts are regarding the pros and cons of different fire policies so that the public could understand the rational behind how fires are attacked.
So too, you are perhaps not aware of the huge increase in metal thefts on agricultural properties in recent years. All sorts of metal such as copper, aluminum, bronze and steel are being stolen from farm fields to be sold to recyclers to finance, among other things, drugs. Our local Rural Crime Task Force has been very busy in trying to solve thefts of metals, chemicals, farm equipment and fruits and vegetables. Cattle rustling is still occurring occasionally as well. The Rural Crime Task Force, supported by our Sheriff’s Department, meets quarterly with ranchers and farmers to discuss current and resolved investigations. It is a wonderful vehicle for both parties to work together to resolve crime issues on our ranches and farms.
As for pests, our farmers and ranchers have waged war for generations against disease and crop loss with the help of pesticides, herbicides and antibiotics. These days, it is politically correct to advertise your agricultural product as “free” of all sorts of things which, in the past, kept your fruits and vegetables looking good as well as keeping in one piece during shipping since most of these items came from some distances away. As some of the residual effects of certain chemicals and other practices became evident, it became important to ban or control applications of these things to the food we consume.
Most people who are not in agriculture are not aware that the chemicals they can buy at any home improvement store, for the people in agriculture a permit is required. Not only that, but people in agriculture must be tested and then licensed to even buy those products. The tests are quite difficult to pass and require advanced skills to understand the questions or even pronounce the products being discussed. Application rates, reporting requirements and reentry times to fields information must be thoroughly understood and complied with due to food safety.
An absence of knowledge of the rules that farmers and ranchers must comply with has led, I fear, to a blanket condemnation for some people of all pesticides, herbicides or vaccinations for humans or animals. It is unfortunate that such misinformation has been allowed to persist because there is a lot of benefit to many of these products if used properly and certainly safer for a licensed individual than for the average homeowner who may not even read the label. It would be ideal if we could raise alfalfa without the weevils showing up to eat the entire crop but it is not realistic. It is also not going to be the case that weeds will stop growing just where you don’t want them. If you apply water in an arid area like the Valley, weeds are going to appear along with whatever you have planted. Perhaps you have the hours or help to remove them before they set seed for the next bigger generation from your garden but multiply that by a couple of hundred acres and you see the need for herbicide. Since methyl bromide is being phased out of California, I don’t know what the strawberry farmers are going to do as there is no current replacement for it. Does this mean fewer berries, fewer jobs or an impact to the local economy? It certainly does for the Santa Maria Valley and other strawberry growing regions. What chemical will be restricted or eliminated next? Are you aware that allowing a vineyard to be built within a mile of alfalfa fields means that certain chemicals can no longer be used? We have already lost our last local dairy due to the impacts of that. Do you understand what the radicals among us are doing to the people who are trying to safely and cheaply feed you? It is nice to have food available to us that is grown locally but it is not possible to (1) keep all crops available year round and (2) feed all of us locally. We must bring food items in from around the country. For a variety of reasons, which I shall try to cover in upcoming issues, we have begun to import a lot of our food from other countries. I have repeatedly warned that this is not a good thing for safety reasons but of course, I am only one voice.
Ag Tourism and the UN
I’ve been reading some frightening but encouraging information in a new publication entitled “Standing Ground” produced by the American Land Foundation and Stewards of the Range, two groups dedicated to preserving American private property rights. Did you know that there was a move to designate a portion of San Luis Obispo County a United Nation’s World Heritage Site? The result of this would have been, had it been successful, to place that portion of the county under the regulatory authority of the United Nations! I don’t know how many of you have been impressed by the overall job the United Nations has been doing, but I for one, don’t even want it to know we exist. I am sure it would just love to get its hands on some of this beautiful Valley, and I am sure that there are some residents here that would just love that too but it will never happen. It will never happen because there are too many of you here who love this Valley and who know all too well what would happen should some organization take control of us.
In fact, there are a number of us wondering why our local leaders are so gung-ho to promote agritourism here when we have such a lively agricultural community already in place. I don’t know too many ranchers, maybe just a couple, who are at all interested in bed-and-breakfast operations or carriage rides around their place. Does this mean that we’re going to have helicopters buzzing our homes and animals (who hate them) showing tourists how beautiful the Valley is? I know from spending time in Hawai’i how awful the noise is and how intrusive they can be on your peace and quiet. The increased activity of the firefighting helicopters gives you an idea. We all certainly love the firefighting ones but tons of tourists? How about the big balloons flying overhead? What do you think of them? I know one rancher who was trying to get them reestablished here in the Valley just like they are in the Napa/Sonoma vineyard areas. Did you know that the ranchers ran them out of the Valley 20 years ago after they landed anyplace they liked, putting horses and cattle through the fences, scaring dogs and cats and people alike, cutting fences to let themselves out of pastures, creating huge fire dangers in the dry grass with their burners and landing in residential neighborhoods? I don’t think we need to revisit that nightmare again, do you?