These California Ranchers Welcome Trump’s Policies … Here’s Why

Sixth generation rancher Darrell Wood runs cattle near Vina, California.

Sixth generation rancher Darrell Wood runs cattle near Vina, California. (Lesley McClurg/ KQED)

This week marks the halfway point of President Trump’s first 100 days in office. During that time, he’s taken aim at environmental policies on air pollution, water pollution and climate change, inspiring many Californians to protest. On the other hand, some Trump supporters in rural parts of the state are cheering even louder now than they were during the election.

About two hours north of San Francisco I talked to many residents around the town of Red Bluff who are big fans of Trump. Although Hillary Clinton won California in a landslide, some four million people voted for Trump, and he won Tehama County by a landslide.

“He’s our only hope,” says rancher Wally Roney, who has felt that the Democrats have been increasing regulations at an onerous pace.

Roney grazes cattle on 100,000 acres of private and federal land. He’s the sixth generation of his family to run cattle on rolling grasslands near the tiny town of Vina. You can see the snowy peaks of Mount Lassen and Mount Shasta from his front porch. His tidy home with modern decor is at the end of a gravel road.

When I ask him how many cows he has, he won’t tell me exactly. “That’s something you don’t ask a cattleman,” Roney laughs. “We never have enough when it comes time to pay our bills and we always have too many when comes time to feed ‘em.”

Trump’s Business Sense Appeals to Ranchers

On a late afternoon a few hours before sunset, Roney takes me out on a tour of his property. We hop in his huge silver pickup. We bump along a potholed road beneath giant oak trees. Every few minutes we have to pause so he can swing open rusted cattle gates dripping from a recent rain storm.

He pulls over at a creek where his black Angus steers often lap up water. Roney cheered last month when Trump shelved a law that would have expanded the Clean Water Act. “He said he was going to do it and by golly he did it!” exclaims Roney.

The rancher thought the law might limit where his thirsty cows could drink. Blocking regulations that could hurt Roney’s livelihood is exactly why Trump earned his vote. He trusts the President’s business background.

“He hasn’t made a living as a politician,” says Roney. “He’s been in the trenches. I understand that world.”

Roney was relieved when Trump scrapped the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement in his first week in office. He worried cheaper beef from Mexico would have driven down his profit margins. Roney believes environmental regulations are weaker south of the border, making their beef cheaper.

“TPP would’ve killed us!” exclaims Roney.

Ranchers Argue They Need Fewer Regulations

Roney hopes Trump will build on these early moves by rolling back other environmental regulations. But he says some rules do make sense, as long as they don’t apply to him. For example, he supports the mining regulations on a gravel quarry on his property because he wants to prevent damage to the land. And, he’s in favor of the rules medical marijuana farmers must follow on the plots bordering his ranch. “Yeah, we need regulations,” says Roney. “They hate me.” He keeps a tight watch on the pot growers.

But, he argues, ranchers are different. They don’t need environmental rules to keep them in check. “The reason we survive is that we take care of the land,” says Roney.

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Darrell Wood runs about 1000 cattle near Vina, California. (Lesley McClurg/ KQED)

About fifteen minutes down the road another sixth generation rancher named Darrell Wood agrees that taking care of the land is inherent to his business. Wood is also a lifelong conservative who supported Trump from early in the President’s campaign.

Wood invites me to hop in an ATV to check on his herd. As we jostle along a dirt path, Wood’s cattle dogs race alongside. His cows are certified organic, sold under the label Panorama Grass-Fed Meats. No one in Wood’s family has ever used chemicals on his land. He says he’s motivated to farm organically because his beef sells for 25 to 30 percent more at market, but it also feels right. “The land is what gives life to everything,” says Wood. “We love the cattle, our dogs, the horses.”

Wood believes in market forces rather than government rules to protect the landscape from things like overgrazing.

“So my theory on this. that, ok, the more regulations you have on something is not good,” says Wood. “But let’s create an incentive based idea that if you’ve been eating this ground down to the dirt every year that’s not good for the eco-system. So, let’s create the incentive that makes them change their management practices.”

For example, he points to voluntary conservation programs sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They offer ranchers financial bonuses if they care for the land in a sustainable manner.

A Seat at the Table

Wood hopes Trump’s administration will listen to ideas from people like him—to create more incentive based policies rather than more regulations.

“Not just a group of people in Washington D.C. sitting around the table and deciding what’s best for me and my land,” says Wood. “I want to be at that table.”

A lot of people I talked to in Tehama County felt similarly: that the environmental conversation hasn’t included their voices.

Wally and Billy Roney ranch on nearly 100 thousand acres near Vina, CA.
Wally and Billie Roney ranch on nearly 100,000 acres near Vina, California. (Lesley McClurg/ KQED)

Billie Roney said it best. She’s the wife of rancher Wally Roney.

“Is there anybody, anywhere who I feel like-minded with who might be a little less radical?” asks Billie Roney, who feels liberals dominated politics for too long. “I’ve just felt disenfranchised for a long long time.”

Billie Roney says she empathizes with people who are scared right now by what they’re hearing from Trump. She says she used to feel like that when Democrats talked about tightening gun control, expanding the government’s role in health care and legalizing undocumented immigrants. She is especially worried about the recent addition of the wolf to the endangered species list.

“We had fears too,” says Billie Roney. “All those visceral fears you’re watching with people, that would be me in the fetal position watching some of the things that happened under the Obama administration,” says Roney.

Now, Billie Roney says, listening to Trump is a welcome relief after eight years where she felt like her way of life was not only ignored, but despised by the other side.

“The progressive party looks at people like us as though we are the devil,” says Billie Roney. “It makes it really hard to find common ground.”

Most everyone I talked to in Tehama County said the only way to bridge the divide in California—and the nation—is for everyone to be at the table.

  • Parque_Hundido

    Like other ranchers, they love the subsidies that they get from the feds, but they don’t want the regulation.

    The EWG lists these two as among the recipients of the $64 million in agricultural subsidies that Tehama county has received in the past 12 years.

    This is another portrait of a corporate welfare recipient whining that people want something in exchange for the handout we give them.

  • Brent Showtime

    This line in the story says it all and why these people don’t get it. “Roney hopes Trump will build on these early moves by rolling back other environmental regulations. But he says some rules do make sense, as long as they don’t apply to him.” so as long as the laws dont effect him he don’t care. Just like every other republican. As long as the laws don’t effect them they could care less about the outcome of those laws. Sad People these folks are.

  • Compassion HQ

    Millionaire welfare recipients right here. If not for a stipend from the government they would graze their land into the next dust bowl. Of course they like operating without regulations. But keep an eye on those marijuana folks. Fools.

  • Maureen

    They love government subsidies, and want more, more, more! And before you put down those “liberal progressives”…. got news for you: they are the ones buying your organic grass fed beef…. over the cheaper stuff! If they start boycotting you… you’re done!

  • Robert Thornhill

    They don’t mind environmental regulations as long they don’t affect them. That says it all. With millions of dollars in subsidies, they overgraze the land until it’a dead, let their cattle destroy streams and pollute the water, they fence off public lands for private use and prohibit anyone else from access, and they never, ever stop the constant complaining and whining. Yet they all have thousands of acres, all drive giant gas-guzzling $60,000 pickups and so do their kids, not to mention fine homes and any kind of expensive machinery they want. Talk about selfish, small-minded, mean-spirited, hateful people. I say to hell with them all.

  • Roy Jordan

    What will become of all these cattle ranchers after beef becomes too expensive to eat & former non-wealthy carnivores change their diets?
    Became an herbivore in 1989 after reading the book: “Diet For A New America”, which explains the whole relationship between a meat based diet & the environment.

  • jaworskirob

    As I heard this on the radio this morning, I wondered, who are the customers for the organic beef that Mr Roney raises? Could it be the left leaning, progressive people of the Bay Area? Could it be the elites that shop at upscale supermarkets that charge more than a premium for the product raised partially on public lands? A quick look… Yes indeed, available at Whole Foods Markets, first on the list.
    http://www.panoramameats.com/our-products/markets
    Well, I’m glad to be part of your economic family, Mr Roney. Let us not forget, we’re all in this together, sir.

    On another point that was mentioned already, I’m in agreement with Mr Roney: I’m all for rules, regulations and laws, unless they affect my three favorite people: me, myself and I.

    From a former resident of Butte, Merced and Fresno counties, here’s to you, rural California!

  • Louie

    These people make me sick. She feels so disenfranchised when her and her husband get to make a living feeding their cattle off federal lands for free. I can only imagine their outrage if someone wanted to open a rent-free business on the land that they use for free.

  • Rick Steele

    A lot of this comes from a concept I learned at UC Davis, called “agrarian fundamentalism;” the belief that agriculture is such a basic and pure salt-of-the-earth endeavor that it must be kowtowed to and saluted and allowed whatever it wants, whenever it wants. For me, I’d rather my grandchildren have clean water to drink than to have his goddam steers have all the right places to drink. The problem with farmers and ranchers is that the above concept entitles then to be above all the economic laws and theories which the rest of us must abide. They bray on and on about “free markets” and “healthy competition” until said markets and competition knocks on their rusted metal gate. They have to sink or swim like the rest of us.

    • david karchem

      9 I strongly agree with the need for regulations ensuring clean air and water for myself, my children snd my young grandchildren. I’ve supported progressive regulations for 60 years. Trump is a disaster.

      ALSO, NOTICE THAT HE REFERS TO WATCHING MARIJUANA FARMERS, BUT IGNORES RICE FARMERS ENORMOUS WATER CONSUMPTION.

      ALTERNATIVE VIEWS WORTH UNDERSTANDING. [NOTICE THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN INDIVIDUAL PROPLE AND BIG CORPORATIONS LIKE EXXON, MOBIL, MONSANTO AND DAPL].

  • Jennifer Carchietta

    Regulations are needed, as long as they don’t apply to me. So typical. Trump has been in the “trenches”? What trenches? He was born a millionaire.

  • Rich

    Anyone who says trump is a “business man” that understands the working man is completely insane. trump inherited wealth from his father and declared bankruptcy 7 times. He is a rich man’s son who was bailed out by his father. He has invented nothing, created nothing and lives off conning people….The rubes can be easily fooled!

  • tyler

    So many comments from tolerant liberals on this article. Totally understanding of another’s point of view and willing to see things from outside their insular, one-size-fits-all political bubble. I’ve worked in environmental policy for 5 years. None of my colleagues talk to ranchers, farmers, or fishers. They just try to impose what “they think is best” for people they’ve never met in places they’ve never been working jobs they’ve neither considered nor understand. I 100% empathize with the Roneys here. They need a seat at the table and the enviro crowd needs to be more understanding, i.e. stop demonizing them.

    • surfgeezer

      Well they do “have a seat at the table”! They just want a MUCH bigger say compared to the tiny % of people that agree with them. Again huge chunks of the land they claim to “need” a say on IS public. The public IS in fact subsidizing their lifestyle and most would argue OUR ability to have clean water IS a big deal. They unfortuntely think because they were lucky enough to inherit the great endowment of land the “public” needs to let them do as they wish. We don’t buy it. I do agree incentives matter- how ever those are the carrots, the public also needs sticks and those are called regulations, precisely because human greed and sense of entitlement can easily run amuck and override incentives.

  • Dom

    Ranchers take care of the land like they take care of the animals they exploit, by killing them. These ranchers are the worst for the environment, they use toxins, GMO’s, round-up, antibiotics, ect excessively. The nature of their business is to destroy natural environments for wildlife for their special interest use of our public lands that is subsidized heavily with our taxes. This welfarist rancher lifestyle also contributes heavily to global warming by 51% from the methane gasses that the cows produce. Their antiquated lifestyle is not a natural or ethical one, and is reflected by their opinions of domination, white nationalism and backwards rational to believe that their business of killing innocent animals for a living is a normal narrative over someone growing a plant that has immeasurable medicinal properties.

Author

Lesley McClurg

Lesley is a radio reporter covering medicine, space and environment for KQED Science. Her work has appeared on Marketplace, Latino USA, and NPR's Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Previously, she covered food and sustainability for Capital Public Radio in Sacramento. She began her media career at KCTS Television in Seattle. You can find her on Twitter at @lesleywmcclurg.

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