Letter: Solar farms vs grazing: The energy the land can produce is now the higher public value

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Wind turbines, solar panels, and hog farms north of Milford on Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021.

Brian Maffly’s article on the proposed solar project south of Milford generously quoted rancher and long-time County Commissioner Mark Whitney’s angst about repurposing public land from grazing to power generation. If the solar project is ultimately approved and built, it will likely impact Whitney’s lifestyle.

But, that has always been true: public lands have been logged, mined and leased for ski areas. Public rivers have been dammed and diverted. All for the larger public interest. A few (usually poor, native and powerless) have had to change to accommodate the greater public need. Today, sustainable electrical power is that compelling public need.

A parallel argument is playing out in South Central Idaho, where local ranchers oppose the Lava Ridge Wind Farm, for reasons very similar to Whitney’s.

The data doesn’t support Whitney or the Idaho ranchers. We know that all the beef raised on public lands in the West is not a significant contribution to the national, or even international, beef supply.

Numerous serious writers (including Wallace Stegner) have documented how leased public grazing lands evolved in the West. The energy the land can produce is now the higher public value and priority use.

I have some sympathy for Whitney. My family no longer raises sheep and once held several leases of public grazing. We adapted and survived.

Ken Patterson, Star Valley Ranch, Wyoming

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