Episode 3: Peter Warren
The Malpai Borderlands Group is a coalition of ranchers and environmentalists who manage over 75,000 acres of grassland in Southeastern Arizona. Does that sentence look odd to you? The American West isn’t known for friendly hobnobbing between ranchers and environmentalists and often they work at cross purposes, wasting little love on each other. Their cultural division is mirrored in the landscape: ranches are populated almost exclusively by cattle while natural preserves often ban grazing. Two groups, two philosophies of land use, two different economic goals. Nothing to talk about. Deadlock. Antagonism.
That’s where Malpai comes in. It’s the story of enemies extending hands in cautious friendship and engaging in a small version of The Conversation. To learn more about Malpai, I spoke to Peter Warren of The Nature Conservancy, one of the partners in the group.
The discussion on communal action among ranchers brings to mind Elinor Ostrom, 2009 Nobel Prize winner for economics. Elinor studied communal land rights for ranchers in the Swiss Alps. Seeing the traditions those people have (no doubt similar to the Maasai or Mongolian ranchers) led her to author a paper on common pool resources. She argues the tragedy of the commons is wrong. It’s more apt to call it ‘The significant problem of the commons that can be solved with local choices ‘. One key point Elinor makes is the communal action is best when is comes from the local level – not when it’s imposed by a higher government.
Here’s a good interview with Ostrom. Skip to 2 minutes in.
So a follow up question for Peter Warren – were the ranchers who participated with the Malpai group more motivated by fear of loosing what was left, or eager to maximize access to the best water source? In the same way, did he find people acting out of altruism, or was stigma from others in the group more motivating?
I would love to hear more about conserving people groups across America as a valuable tradition and voice and a means to preserve land. John Day and I believe Grant County (I’m from the boonies in Oregon) actually have laws that mandate ranches must be worked and cannot be bought by people who do not intend to use the land. This has prevented several large ranchs from being bought by celebrities, but because the general reasons were based on jobs for the ranch hands and the beef is now competing with larger and larger corporations, that seems likely to change with people being allowed to sell to retreat centers and vacation home developers.