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Title: "Conservation on the Northern Plains: New Perspectives'

Publisher: Sioux Falls, S.D.; The Center for Western Studies, 2017

The 12 essays in this book cover a variety of subjects, including grasslands, national parks, pig farms, range cattle and hunting.

They suggest three theories of how Americans have regarded the Northern Plains: 1) They are vast open places that need to be improved upon, 2) because of their emptiness, they need to be filled up with something or other, or 3) they are a vast area of resources that will never run out or be used up.

An example shows that the Midwestern Com Belt has shifted westward resulting in more than 1 million acres of grasslands of western Minnesota and eastern South Dakota plowed under from 2006 to 2011 to grow com. Beginning in the '50s through the 1980s, the diversified family farm went from "a way of life" to big business, which requires more capital and bigger, more expensive equipment.

Com, mostly used to produce ethanol, is king, but it exacts a high toll on the land and water and does little to reduce the nation's dependency on petroleum products.

Several farmers and ranchers recently formed The Grasslands Coalition in cooperation with the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service to save the grasslands. One essay tells how ardent "Earth First" environmentalists, in efforts to save the planet, advocated driving through remote ranching areas to cut wire fences in hundreds of places in South Dakota and Wyoming range lands in efforts to save the land from cattle.

One sees their mantra on bumper stickers, "Save the planet Stop eating meat!" They did not realize that sustainable ranching may be one of the best ways to protect the planet — grasslands, water, wildlife and pure air. On the other hand are ranchers who raise calves to be sent to feedlots, whose owners buy grains grown in America and therefore consider themselves being beneficial to Americans. Much of one essay deals with the adverse effects huge feedlots have on animals and the environment.

Several essays deal with wildlife: elk, wild horses, bees, bison, pheasants, prairie dogs, deer, wolves and coyotes. Controversy exists on how these animals effect ranching, wheat farming and tourism, combined with the businesses of game guides and outfitters.

In the section on national parks, the author Barry Stiefel states: "While the emphasis of the first established national parks, Yellowstone and Banff in the United States and Canada respectively, soon refocused on unique geological formations, majestic alpine terrain and tourism, it was the Great Plains that continued to serve as the catalyst for environmental conservation within a 'park' or 'preserve' framework in both countries."

Native Americans who were once banned from national parks are now welcomed for their expertise and reverence for the land. Our North Dakota/Canadian Peace Garden also received mention.

These essays make the reader aware of many special interest groups that must learn to work together, as obviously land, air and water resources are not expendable. Big money, national and local politicians, farmers and ranchers, large meat producers, petroleum interests, the public and the conservationists have a huge stake in the future of the Northern Plains.

Virginia Luger lives in Bismarck.