As the nation’s most successful and formidable promoter of livestock-free public lands, Jon Marvel has earned his reputation as a powerhouse of legal, political, ecological and historical knowledge of the western landscape. He’s been heaped with praise and condemnation, admiration and disdain, but no one can say that he hasn’t worked his heart out to end the destruction of our arid public lands by cattle and sheep.
Jon retired on February 28, 2014, at the end of nearly 21 years at the helm of the organization now known as Western Watersheds Project. Starting in 1993 with a few volunteers and a mission to reform Idaho’s state trust land law, he leaves a staff of thirteen dedicated full-time activists in eight states throughout the West. Jon and WWP have become, if not household names, at least very familiar to the decision-makers at public lands management agencies in most every field office and ranger district over 250 million grazed acres of public lands. The depth and breadth of WWP’s engagement is something Jon should be very proud of having created and enabled.
Still, Jon never hoped for institutional longevity, but rather success in the institution’s mission to restore western watersheds for wildlife. That success can be harder to quantify because, excepting the places where he achieved permanent grazing retirement, the yardstick is more often about things that didn’t happen– one less fence, water development, or road, a shorter grazing season or reduced stocking rates, a riparian area untrammeled, a wild predator unpoisoned or unsnared. We’ll never know all of the ways that WWP has improved things by preventing the further entrenchment of grazing operations in the West, but each of these impacts adds up to an unknowable benefit to our ecosystem, and our thanks to Jon Marvel for his efforts are incalculable. While these actions might seem small individually, collectively the vision and idea to shift the perception of value of the land away from industry and exploitive agricultural practices is significant. No one else has tried so hard, for so long, and in so many places as Jon Marvel.
Thank you, Jon, for your strong and committed leadership and your profound and influential legacy. We’re all going to miss you, but we’ll keep at it.
Until the cows go home.
From all of us at Western Watersheds Project,