By Margaret Hage Byfield
Our story began 30 years ago when internationally acclaimed western artist, Jack Swanson, unveiled an original oil painting representing western ranchers as the original Stewards of the Range.
Jack, who was friends with my dad, Wayne Hage, often brought colts he was training to our Pine Creek Ranch in Nevada where he became aware of the property rights battles ranchers faced. He saw first hand how radical environmentalists, in partnership with the federal land management agencies, were driving ranchers out of business.
Jack was first to encourage Dad to write a book covering the erosion of the western historical grazing rights, which he did, publishing the first edition of Storm Over Rangelands in 1989. When my parents, Wayne and Jean Hage, filed the first federal lands grazing case in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in 1991, Jack began sketching out the way he could help. The resulting oil painting captured the scene of two cowboys moving a small herd of cattle and a pair of elk, out of an aspen grove.
The unveiling became the official beginning of the new property rights organization, which adopted the painting’s title as its name: Stewards of the Range. The group’s first task was to raise funding for the landmark Hage takings case. The second priority was to develop strategies that could help America’s landowners protect their property, while making a productive living from the land. As Wayne and Jean’s third daughter, I became the organization’s executive director, launching the cause out of my home in Idaho. Raffle ticket sales of the painting netted over $100,000 dollars and signed limited edition prints were sold across the nation.
Before painting Stewards of the Range, Jack was best known as the western artist Ronald Reagan favored. The President hung Jack’s painting “Vaquero’s Moving Camp,” in the Oval Office. But today, he is remembered by ranchers as the Charlie Russell of our day who used his talents to defend the western rancher. You can still purchase some of his prints through RANGE Magazine, a publication he championed along with the editor, C.J. Hadley.
In 1993, Stewards received support from an unexpected source out of Texas: The Farm Credit Property Rights Foundation, chaired by Mike Dail and directed by Dan Byfield. The Hage’s and Dail’s quickly became close friends, and the two organizations began teaming up for special projects, such as the launching of the Liberty Matters News Service, which installed the first “faxback” system for the grassroots, credited with stopping several early attempts by environmentalists to establish their radical agenda in American policy.
Mike and Dan changed the name of their organization when it transitioned out of the Farm Credit System and broadened their mission. American Land Foundation quickly expanded its reach, reputation and help nationwide.
After many years working together, the two groups merged in 2009, under the new banner of American Stewards of Liberty. The merged entity brought together my federal lands background, with Dan’s work in private land’s states, establishing us as one of the oldest property rights-focused organizations that was uniquely capable of handling issues in all 50 states.
American Stewards of Liberty’s (ASL) mission is to protect property rights and the liberties they secure. This is accomplished by challenging policies at the national, state and local level that seek to undermine American’s ability to produce the food, fiber, energy, and minerals the nation needs.
Whether in rural America or in national forums, ASL helps citizens protect their land and protect our country. Some of the most important battles we fought and won include:
Defeating the $80 billion Trans Texas Corridor that would have created a superhighway connecting China owned ports in Mexico to Canada.
Developing the local government “Coordination” strategy, the only tool that exists today giving counties, cities, and special districts the ability to insist their priorities are incorporated into federal and state plans.
Launching a delisting campaign that works to remove species from the Federal Endangered Species list that do not warrant protection.
Defeating several radical environmental policies, including the National Heritage Act that would have federalized most of the rivers in America, and the Conservation and Reinvestment Act, an earlier federal land grab.
Organizing western counties to file a lawsuit challenging the Obama Administration’s revised planning rules for the management of the federal lands under the Bureau of Land Management, which would have elevated the role of radical environmentalists, while decreasing meaningful coordination with local governments.
During our first 30 years of fighting the anti-property rights agenda, ASL has confronted and won some of the biggest battles the movement has faced. Our success is largely because we’ve experienced these challenges personally, employing a unique approach to every issue we fight.
ASL has a long-term commitment and vision, which continues to be advanced through our leadership and Directors who helped launch the effort 30 years ago. Mike Dail, a retired Farm Credit System Branch Manager, and currently a farm and ranch realtor in Mason, Texas, continues to serve as ASL’s Chairman, a position he has held since 1993. Phillip Martin, an Alabama dairy farmer, is another original board member from the Texas organization that continues to serve as a Director for ASL. Carolyn Carey, a California rancher and dear friend of Jack Swanson was at the unveiling in March of 1992, and soon after joined the Board of Directors. She continues to help lead American Stewards, serving as Vice-Chairman.
But what may be the greatest testament to the role American Stewards has played in protecting property rights in America, is the long-term commitment of the membership. Thirty years is a long time to support an organization, but ASL is blessed to have 98 current memberships who have been supporting this work since our founding.
They are the true American Stewards who deserve the credit and thanks for every victory won by ASL over the past 30 years.
God has blessed our organization, our leadership and our members. May God continue to bless American Stewards of Liberty and this great Land of Liberty!