Nebraska Farmers Oppose Keystone XL Pipeline
Recently a colleague of mine Malinda Frevert had the opportunity to travel around the state of Nebraska and speak personally to local farmers and landowners who are concerned about the potential Keystone XL pipeline being routed directly through their farmland. Below is her emotional account of these personal conversations.
–“I am a self-admitted city slicker. Born and raised just south of Omaha, I became a die-hard urbanite. So when I heard landowners in central Nebraska were being threatened with eminent domain by TransCanda, the gravity and emotion of the situation was initially lost on me.
When you grow up in a two-story house with a 30-year mortgage in the middle of suburbia, the concept of owning land is pretty lost on you. I’m still a college student, so owning property in general isn’t something I could immediately relate with. It took a trip to the Sandhills for me to understand how deeply connected these ranchers are with the land.
The Sandhills are not just a place and the residents are not just people who live there. Their connection is much deeper and far more intimate. The ranchers nurture the land, and in turn, it provides life.
If there is such a thing as true love, you can see it when these landowners talk about the Sandhills. It is their everything. It is the legacy that was left to them and that they hope to leave to their children and grandchildren. No one knows this loosely populated and overlooked landscape as completely as these ranchers.
The Keystone XL pipeline would be a permanent scar on the face of this majestic ecosystem and the livelihood of these landowners. It would not just be a nuisance during construction. It is a permanent threat to their way of life.
The Sandhills are an incredibly delicate system. For the most part, they are prairie grass precariously holding down sand that just barely sits above the Ogallala Aquifer. It doesn’t take much to tear up the grass and permanently scar the land with a huge blowout. You can still see blowouts from 50, 60 and 70 years ago where the grass has never grown back over the sand.
In such a vast landscape, it’s easy to take the open space for granted. But nothing is wasted here. Every inch of land is used for a purpose. Every square foot of land lost is a permanent loss of productivity to these families.
On my trip to the Sandhills, I was lucky enough to meet a variety of individuals. First there was Teri Taylor, a grandmother who owns one of the largest cattle herds in Holt County and has ranch land in two other counties. On the opposite end of the ranching spectrum was Jerry Gotschall who runs an organic, grass-fed beef and dairy operation. These two probably don’t agree on much on any given day of the week. But they are vehemently opposed to the Keystone XL.
You cannot stop your heart from breaking when Teri talks about her fear that a leak could ruin the ranch her family has worked so hard to build and that she wants to leave to her children. And when Jerry talks about his sons moving out of state to try and earn a living ranching elsewhere, you become infuriated at the politicians who have abandoned economic development in Holt County.
It takes a special kind of people to stay and make their living in the Sandhills. Not everyone who wants to live there can (Jerry’s sons are proof of that). Not everyone has the tenacity to get up every day, even on Sunday, and feed the cattle before noon. Ranching here is more than a job; it is a way of life. The people here are more than just landowners; they are the heart of this land. It lives in them, and they are rooted deep in it.
The pipeline is not just a nuisance to some landowners and a threat to some grass, birds and the aquifer. It is a dagger pointed at the heart of this place. I may be a city slicker who doesn’t understand much about roping or cattle drives, but I have seen the indescribable love that these people have for the Sandhills. It’s something worth protecting, no matter where you’re from.”