Audubon Society Promotes Livestock Propaganda
Cattle grazing and production is one of the most destructive of human activities, if a full accounting of all the costs were considered. Photo George Wuerthner
I recently received a video titled Audubon Conservation Ranching: Hooves on the Ground, Wings in the Air from the Audubon Society. The video promotes beef production to save grassland birds.
The video is a slick production of happy talk featuring some urban cowboys. And it plays on the old, tired Condos vs. Cows argument. The idea being if you don’t want to see land subdivided, you must support cattle ranchers.
Housing and subdivisions are driven by amenities including jobs, outdoor recreation, climate and other factors. Ranching has never precluded urban growth. Photo George Wuerthner
The numerous ways that livestock production negatively impacts the environment, from water pollution to Greenhouse Gas Emissions to soil erosion and displacement of wildlife, are never mentioned in the video. Promoting ranching as a way to protect birds is like encouraging alcoholism as a solution for heroin addiction.
There is no doubt that grassland birds are declining for a host of reasons. But far more important is the conversion of grasslands into ag lands—a fact never mentioned in the film. In much of the Great Plains, grasslands are being transformed to wheat and corn crop production—both sustained by Ag subsidies. Urban growth is a significant factor in some parts of California, but so is the change from rangelands to ag crops.
Urbanism is often not the most significant factor in the loss of grasslands. Instead, the changeover of grasslands to vineyards and other higher “value” crops is the biggest factor in some California counties. For instance, the city of Santa Barbara occupies approximately 12,000 acres, but vineyards occupy 20,000 acres in the county.
In many parts of California, the conversation of ranchland to other agricultural crops has destroyed more grasslands than housing tracts. Photo George Wuerthner
Not mentioned is that pastures and hayfields occupy much more acreage of California than all the urbanism put together. Some 51% of California non-federal land is used for pasture and range. By comparison, only 5% of California’s land area is urbanized.
Hay and pasture for livestock feed account for 51% of the non-federal land in California, while urbanism is 5% of California’s land area. Photo George Wuerthner
A hayfield usually consists of exotic species like alfalfa that depend on irrigation. Irrigation for forage production to feed the cattle industry is the primary use of water in California.
Furthermore, if ranching is your primary conservation strategy, it sure hasn’t worked well. There is no evidence that ranching in the country has precluded subdivisions, but especially in California, where land values are among the highest in the country.
Erosion resulting from livestock grazing in the Santa Cruz Mountains north of Santa Cruz, CA. Photo George Wuerthner
Most of the urban areas in California, the Gallatin Valley where Bozeman is located, the Wasatch Front of Utah, the Front Range of Colorado, the Snake River Valley near Boise, or the deserts between Phoenix and Tucson were formerly ranch or ag lands.
Promoting ranching doesn’t preclude the demand side of the equation. In places with attractive amenities like ski resorts, universities, outdoor recreation, suitable climates, and other features, the value of land creeps so high that you cannot make a living and pay the mortgage and other expenses raising cattle. Unless you are already very wealthy, ranching is more a lifestyle than a profitable business—which is the problem with the Audubon video.
You almost never see cattle in the video. The ranchers are always on horseback since it appeals to American Cowboy Myth. Photo George Wuerthner
The main character featured in the film, Joe Morris, grew up in San Francisco but inherited a ranch. He looks the part of a rancher like you might see in a Marlboro commercial, wearing a cowboy hat and jeans, but his clothes are way too new and clean. Same for his wife, Julie Morris, who looks like she just stepped out of a clothing catalog. He seems genuinely concerned about protecting his land as a refuge for birds. Nevertheless, like most ranchers, he ignores the real ecological impacts of the livestock industry.
The film features Joe and Julie plus others riding horses. This use of the mounted cowboy is the same trick that Marlboro commercials used to sell cigarettes. You have people riding horses out on the range to connect people with the cowboy myth of freedom and being “close to the land.”
This is not by accident.
The modern cowboy rides an ATV. Photo George Wuerthner
Audubon is playing to America’s love of cowboys. But, of course, few ranchers ride horses anymore except in videos promoting ranching, since ATVs and pick-up trucks are the main transportation on working ranches. But that wouldn’t play well with the urban audiences that Audubon is trying to reach.
The problem with such productions is that nearly all of the ranchers featured by conservation groups are not “traditional ranchers.” Instead, they are urban converts, who want to play cowboy, and because they have sufficient funds from outside sources, they can buy a ranch.
I’ve seen this “movie” many times before. Peggy Dulany, a Rockefeller heir, owns the JBarJ ranch in Montana’s Centennial Valley lauded as an environmental rancher by Audubon, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, and other conservation organizations. Though we don’t hear much about the Malpai Borderlands ranchers anymore, they were funded by Drum Hadley, who is now deceased but was heir to the Busch beer fortune. Brian Bean of Lava Lake Land and Livestock in Idaho is a San Francisco investment banker. A Silicon Valley hedge fund billionaire, Tom Steyer owns the TomKat ranch north of Santa Cruz, California.
I give credit to some of these folks like Tom Steyer for his commitment to reducing climate change, but ironically, he seems to have a blind spot when it comes to livestock’s contribution to Greenhouse Gas Emissions.
While I would agree that in most instances, these individuals do a better job of managing their property than traditional ranchers, they are hardly representative of the “average” rancher’s attitudes and values because all grew up in urban environments. Plus, they have the financial resources to do things that other ranchers cannot afford to do.
But the promotional propaganda like the Audubon video never makes this distinction. Instead, Audubon’s video suggests that these kinds of wealthy ranchers are “representative” of what ranching is about.
Livestock is the source of more water pollution than any other non-industrial factor. Photo George Wuerthner
Worse, the Audubon video has some questionable assertions about livestock production. For instance, the opening statement of the video suggests that livestock production helps maintain “clean water.” Yet, nearly every study of livestock and water has demonstrated that livestock is one of the West’s major sources of water pollution. Indeed, one of the streams that drain Point Reyes National Seashore (which should be renamed National Livestock Park) has some of the worse pollution found anyplace on the California coast.
The narrator says livestock protect “clean air,” ignoring that livestock produces a significant amount of methane through its digestion which is one of the biggest sources of pollution.
Cattle grazing on Audubon Preserve near Lake Isabella, CA. Grass grazed to near golf course putting green height negatively impacts far more birds than it helps. Loss of cover, loss of plants birds depend upon, and the trampling of nests of groundnesting birds, are only a few of the issues ignored by the happy talk Audubon video. Photo George Wuerthner
It goes on to say that “cattle graze the habitat birds utilize.” That could only come out of the mouth of someone who doesn’t know much about bird ecology. Grazing does favor a few bird species that benefit from the near elimination of vegetation like the mountain plover. Still, most birds need the cover provided by grasses, the riparian vegetation destroyed by cattle, and the plants consumed by cattle. For instance, if you are a sage grouse chick, you feed on forbs (flowers), which cattle remove in grazing. If you are a ground-nesting species like lesser nighthawk or mourning dove, you need tall grass to hide the nest from predators.
However, that is just the beginning of the misinformation and mythology that Audubon promotes. One has to wonder how much these ranchers donate to the Audubon Society to make them sell out the environment for a contribution.
The video goes on to list four benefits of ranching. They include maintaining wildlife habitat, increasing plant diversity, capturing carbon, and providing a livelihood for rural communities. Unfortunately, while there is a grain of truth in all these assertions, most of it is hyperbole.
Partial list of wildlife endangered species for Arizona where livestock production is the major factor in decline. This lpage only includes part of the birds, and none of the mammal species and nn plants species impacted by livestock production.
For instance, far more wildlife is negatively impacted by livestock production than is helped. Several reviews of endangered species in the West find that livestock production is the number one source of endangered species status. Predators like wolves, coyotes, bears and cougars are regularly killed by livestock producers.
Much of the native grasslands in California have been replaced by exotic species like wild oat. It may look nice, but it supports far fewer native insects, fungi, and other native species. Photo George Wuerthner
The increase in plant diversity is often a consequence of livestock production, promoting exotic plant species that thrive on disturbance. For instance, cheatgrass, a typical annual found in many parts of the West and thrives on the destruction of soil biocrusts created by cattle hooves.
As for capturing carbon-this is yet another questionable assumption, especially if you do a full accounting of the carbon cycle since methane emitted by the cattle gut fermentation process is one of the most significant contributors to global climate warming.
Agricultural workers are among the lowest paid and have some of the worse working conditions in society. Suggesting rural economies “depend” on ranching is a huge exaggeration. Photo George Wuerthner
As for providing a livelihood for rural communities, numerous studies have documented that ranching largely depends on the economic opportunities in rural communities rather than the community dependent on ranching. In other words, for most ranchers these days, it is the alternative job opportunities provided by a town, whether driving the county snowplow or working at the local bank or school, that keeps most ranchers financially afloat.
The evidence suggests that promoting livestock production will not alter the downward trend in grassland bird populations. Audubon promotes a false narrative that somehow ranching is benign land use.
The single best way to preserve grassland habitat is to eliminate livestock from public lands where the bulk of grassland habitat in the western states is located. Beyond that, state-wide zoning can protect grasslands. In Oregon, for instance, the entire state is zoned. One cannot subdivide Ag land that is located outside of the urban growth boundary. A third approach would be to tax ag land for its real value (most Ag land is highly undervalued in tax formulas) but reduce the tax based on the percentage of lands put into a conservation easement.
In other words, there are many alternatives to simply promoting cows as a solution to the decline in grassland birds. The message promoted by Audubon does a disservice to conservation.
George Wuerthner is an ecologist and former hunting guide with a degree in wildlife biology
33 Responses to Audubon Society Promotes Livestock Propaganda
Subscribe to Blog via EmailJoin 968 other subscribers
- Grizzlies Get A Win On Upper Green May 26, 2023
- Senator Daines Ill-advised Forest Management Advocacy May 25, 2023
- Save Our Sequoias Act–A Stealth Attack On NEPA, ESA and Our Sequoia Groves May 21, 2023
- Oregon’s Eagle Creek Wildfire–Six Years Later May 15, 2023
- Voluntary Grazing Retirement Could Reduce Wildfire In The West May 10, 2023
- Jeff Hoffman on Senator Daines Ill-advised Forest Management Advocacy
- laurie on Grizzlies Get A Win On Upper Green
- Ida Lupine on Grizzlies Get A Win On Upper Green
- Jeff Hoffman on Grizzlies Get A Win On Upper Green
- Ida Lupine on Grizzlies Get A Win On Upper Green
- Ida Lupine on Grizzlies Get A Win On Upper Green
- Jeff Hoffman on Grizzlies Get A Win On Upper Green
- Maggie Frazier on Senator Daines Ill-advised Forest Management Advocacy
- Ida Lupine on Tribal Bison Slaughter Illegal?
- Jeff Hoffman on Save Our Sequoias Act–A Stealth Attack On NEPA, ESA and Our Sequoia Groves
- Ida Lupine on Save Our Sequoias Act–A Stealth Attack On NEPA, ESA and Our Sequoia Groves
- Jeff Hoffman on Save Our Sequoias Act–A Stealth Attack On NEPA, ESA and Our Sequoia Groves
- Maggie Frazier on Save Our Sequoias Act–A Stealth Attack On NEPA, ESA and Our Sequoia Groves
- Ida Lupine on Save Our Sequoias Act–A Stealth Attack On NEPA, ESA and Our Sequoia Groves
- Ida Lupine on Save Our Sequoias Act–A Stealth Attack On NEPA, ESA and Our Sequoia Groves
Thank you for the piece, right on every point. I objected to the video clip as well. In addition, it is very poorly made, just shots of cowboys! Yes the Marlboro Man comparison is right on target. Disappointed with Audubon.
And we now have an ex-employee of Audubon who is the head of the BLM – the agency watching over & caring for the livestock producers who graze our public lands. Which makes me worry about our Wild Horses & Burros, wolves, mountain lions, and oh yeah the birds who need the grass & brush to live.
Are you sure about Stone-Manning’s employment by Audubon? I can’t find confirmation on the web. She was, though, associate vice president for public lands at NWF.
I humbly apologize – it was NWF! I had a feeling that wasnt correct after I posted that! I remember seeing her former job & thinking not a good pick! Still hope I’m wrong.
Thanks for the correction, Mike
Magie, we once had an exec from REI co-op, Sally Jewell, as Interior Secretary. She, too, compromised the wild and wildlife.
It is as good as it gets in this society.
Some recent court opinions on Equus have been favorable.
Ask the Desert NPS, BLM, and FS managers, and you will find a bit of enmity toward the Equidae in the US.
THey DO differ from pythons in florida on their effect.
After exploration of Pliocene and of the cognitive and social adaptation in Africa, a little more generosity is acceptable
Horses came norht in the 1500s with Coronado’s expedition. And actually Longhorn bovids did , too. the latter also successfully adapted to xeric nature, though the domestication industry (what else can animal agriculture be termed?) swept up the incipient new inhabitants.
The Amerind indigenous worked out a different relationship with the Spanish Equids, an interesting variation from the Euroamericans.
We know that desert bighorn, desert pronghorn , shot out by Euroamericans, lived in the same habitats as wild horses do here now. Fewer guns trained on the latter.
Bison once had lived in every grassland valley far into the Sierra Madre Orientale, as did the wolf, down into Queretaro.
Neither habitat nor ecosystem are truly static, stable. Animals evolved to appear and vanish ephemerally, transiently. This is why legs exist, after all.
When questioned, I have refused to indicate to land managers even approximate location of burro sign, as they eagerly make expedition to capture.
While I am one of those who supports DNA manipulations to restore Mammoth phenotypes to the cold regions, I also do understand the value of preservatino of species we have murdered off.
Feral parrots have coalesced into nut-tree raiders in an area i know, and because some of the nut trees are my favorite species, I am torn.. THEY do strip entire massive trees of their mast.
Feral pigs, imported tp the US for hunting, along with wild boars.
While this is regarded as problem to be resolved in some states by unregulated hunting, i don’t know.
I prefer the Wolf, who dares to test even the bison, who SHOULD be freed to the west (see Buffalo Field Campaign for their work to just allow limited winter migration from the Yellowstone Plateau,a fierce habitat.
Having also a bit of fmailiarity with the big Mongolian wolf phenotype, so now at risk for human habitat conversion and other reasons.
These guys have none of the fear and reticence of North American wolves concerning the perissodactyls of the Asian Steppe, and observing a big wolf or two testing the fierce horse stallions here, I am confident that humans could and should just keep their grubby helicopters, ORVs , and guns/nets, etc. completely OFF public lands.
The wolf COULD balance, and efficeintly restore ecosystem health.
As to the desert watersheds, the Jaguar, once roamed the dense riparian zones up to the Tehachapis, and thus all AZ below the Mogollon rise, and all the Sky Island streams would benefit from a full complex of fauna.
The land itself NEEDS to be bought back into the Public Domain, from ravaged commercial Redwood forest to Southeast pine plantations. and everywhere in between.
Biologist E. O. Wilson put forth the proposition of 50-50 human exploited and not, eagerly jumped on by many wildlife scientists.
Yet, convincing case is made by some ecologists that we need to ourselves abandon all exploitation of 67% of Earth’s surface, to natural system recovery.
My position would make me unpopular with realtors as well as gold-diggers (I have had personal differences with some of the latter, while realtors are just a virus I would like to see eradicated entirely, even as I would LIKE to see such useless metal as gold left forever in the ground, rather than grubbed after by armed Alaskan fools and billionaires.)
Nevertheless, compromise is in order, so long as there remain those who speak for the wild, self-willed beings so vulnerable to our sociocultural hubris.
Don’t stop speaking for them. Exhausted and often misanthropic, I am heartened by those , who refuse to countenance the fake environmentalists who themselves step into rivers to rip the mouths of tiny salmonidae – trout, as if doing so is “peaceful”, “recreational”, praiseworthy.
Eat, we must, like Wolf. play, in child and adolescent is inevitable. But Culture, without adults who caution the child to recognize and develop empathy for mortality , death, injury, in others is ALWAYS Urgent AND Important.
Cattle ranching promotes a monoculture of grass, often made up of non-native species, which is the antithesis of biodiversity, the hallmark of rich native rangeland ecology and the best provider of wildlife habitat.
Thank you for articulating this conflation , which is either inadvertently corrupt, or deprioritizes reality itself in the intent to remain politically acceptable to the many who accept a few bird species, while violently, explosively, firearmingly, feject others, like the Arctic goose genus.
Ranchers actively desire extreme diminution of Aleutian and Canada geese, herbivores who feast on grasses in temperatee North America. When those species, come south these past couple centuries, they have been met with such a barrage of fire, one would think they were involved in some “lebensraun” takeover of slavic eastern Europe in 1941
ALL herding cultures have both hated the Golden Eagle, as “competitor”, as the larger females tend to strike ovid lambs (although they HAVE tamed females enough to teach them to attack wolves. This appears to have been the original beginners of “falconry” in Central Asia. The Canis lupus and human bond that created dogs, is too deep in preagricultural history to resolve, though boy with wolf and torch sign occurs 25-30 thousand years ago. This original relationship was unknown to have been coeval with domestication of herbivores, far to the east and south, a phenomenon with no evidence until thousands of years later).
So many ranchers and their “cowboys” have “recreated” by shooting at “varmints” for my lifetime and the couple centuries before in the Plains and West, that i fast developed an extreme distaste for that Taxon, before adulthood.
It seems that Wuerthner has chosen to take on the false self-serving narratives of nearly every exploiting grou. What we who have lived in rural areas with clear eyes recognized has not before been tackled by any who value truth above fictional heuristics.
The Audubon Society, was formed, by the way, for the eponymous man who eagerly shot every bird he could, in order to stuff its carcase and paint it, before photography was , uh, developed.
This hagiographic “Society” DOES include some notable antiwildlife people, and pretenders to privatization, “ownership” of land, or land as to be preserved for the “benefit of our grandchildren.”
I have ALSO vehemently disagreed with the hagiographic iconization of Harvard-trained eager wolf-killer Aldo Leopold.
A closer, more correct reading of this pleasure/trophy hunter DOES illustrate the cognitive difference between pretending to care for a “mountain” instead of each living individual organisms.
This is the IDENTICAL valorization occurring of Stalin, Mao, and others who erroneously believe that the greatest good is the human ingroup who agrees with “me”, though it be the rhetorical source for Environmental preservation by the US – “for our grandchildren”, who happen to be the most pathologically deceptive and social-dominance oriented social species, excelling Pan, whose members tear apart and eat members of “foreign” tribes, and Baboon, who lethally create coalitions for the usual mating reasons.
I repeat, perhaps ad nauseam to you:
EVERY valley in the Mountain West, all watersheds, are claimed for priority human usage, fenced and lethally excluding seasonally migratory native animals, who have been here so long that their cognitive adaptation to this seasonal migration is obligate- they have NO place to go, other than to the traps and bullets of Montana governors and the myriad of lovers of death (to others) by gunfire.
Wuerthner is dealing with the most psychopathic culture to which I have ever been exposed, and i have been exposed to it all my life, since my crudely brutal grandfather performed the same lethal exclusion common to ranchers and agriculturalists everywhere insofar as I know.
The Russians who went on group wolf hunts, the Kazakhs who still chase them to death by gunfire “just for fun” on snowmobiles, the Canadians, the US colonials who gathered their long guns in the 1660s to radiate out, turn and fire for tens of miles and more to terrify indigenous animals into a “killing ground” at the center (where the term came from), where the men fired and loaded (you can load even old blunderbusses by popping powder, then ball, then striking but on ground, almost as quickly as you load a bolt-action rifle) while the desperate animals, surrounded by fire in its holocaustic sense, had nowhere to go.
Wuerthner seems the only human these days involved in science and preservation. Conservation biologist Michael Soule’ died some time past.
The others, who DO involve themselves remain in philosophical Departments, and present only the direct research with milder, tiptoeing expression, certainly avoiding Weilgus’ fate.
(Rob Weilgus , once running WSU predator lab, was ejected once he was sufficiently identified as target, in corrupt political/ Cattlemen’s assoc. collusion – the rural west’s most important product)
Yet we STILL have Dave Mech, who decided that lethal violence toward naturally self-limiting apex predators was Canon, and by probably MOST students who enter wildlife departments at universities- have been there I have only anecdote of the vast preponderance of lethal-exploitation-oriented students who seek degrees and go on to become “Game Commission” members.
I could name names of both the relative minority of wildlife biologists who found that the reality differs substantially from the typical “North American Model of Wildlife Conservation” norm, which fiction still enables wealthy psychopaths to extinguish all medium to large species. But what would identification accomplish in an issue so fundamental as culture? Which see below for its ultimate nature, though I will not here explain evolution’s processes in cognition.
Barbed wire only received its invention and patent around the 1870s, , yet it is a war toy/tool used to exclude, entangle and extinguish.
The cowboys and ranchers I have known from Wyoming and even far north MN, to the Pacific, DO include some, who like Leopold, spout pretentious rhetoric about being conservationist, as do the Audubons in official positioning.
While the latter HAVE done some good in the massively overbloomed world human habitat conversion catastrophe (termed erroneously the Anthropocene epoch, when in fact it is a mere extinction event, one stacking up to rival the Permian), some adjustment to our culture is essential.
Culture is really nonconscious in the adult human, who models inchoately, behaviors, priorities, relationships, to the extremely young, whose brains still retain contingent dendritic connections, pruned and pruned a during the early developmental years, until they can no longer even understand variation (along with developmental psychologists, I identify ages 9-12 and both the final open window of the pruning forebrain in which minds still have a chance of accepting novel, different culture. Some cognitive limits remain, though, another discussion entirely, which I have even less ability to communicate colloquially what occurs), whether of language sound or of behavioral and emotional relationship norms differing from those modeled to them.
This is neurological, psychological FACT, This is how the young of brained organisms with post-egg social nurturance develop.
The Wildlife News does not reach major media, and Wuerthner is or certainly would be attacked by EVERY ingroup in human society for his raw exposure of reality.
I write this in attempt to turn critics to examination of the science supporting Wuerthner, as should his work ever reach the exploitative, dominance-oriented public on any scale, it must not be buried by marchers, manipulators, and aggressively violent individuals and groups seeking profit from further quashing of reality in favor of ingroup interests.
Uncorrected emotionally impulsive draft. Look for the literature supporting rather than at the commenter’s failings.
” Mitigation allows projects to move forward while providing certainty for industry allowing economic development while ensuring conservation. It’s common sense.”
The above is from a piece on the Audubon website entitled BLM Brings Back Policies that Help Birds and Business.
It’s not common sense; it makes no sense at all. It is a tragedy in the making- a once vital organization that fought the hypocritical policies of government agencies now joins them.
Excellent rebuttal of Audubon’s support for ranching.
Also birds are killed by mowing of hay fields for cattle.
Well if you think building condos on end around rangelands is a better way to preserve the and its ecosystem, then allow me to use this analogy. That would be like giving a cancer patient with lung cancer a pack of cigarettes a day to smoke and tell him that it would help them recover from cancer faster. No I’m not saying that cattle ranching preserve the environment either, Wildlife? Absolutely, especially if it’s managed properly.
This is what worries me too – also, I can’t imagine what we would end up feeding our multitudes, so it is always going to be an issue. I don’t eat beef or red meat, but many, many others do.
But it is correctable, maybe manageable? Developments are permanent and do permanent, immoveable damage. Even when you see defunct shopping malls today – they are still there, and the animals and vegetation removed are not allowed to come back. If they are not being used, get rid of them?
Planting trees vs. allowing them to return naturally, I don’t know. Sometimes it ends up looking like an office park.
I still think development is worse. It’s like we have to choose between the lesser of the two ‘evils’.
I absolutely agree that George Wuerthner brings up issues that few would address in ‘big media’. I think that’s fantastic and hope he continues well into the future. I do think we can help him hone his craft by being ‘devils advocates’ and challenging his ideas here before they are sent towards a larger audience. That’s probably aiding GW in the short term, and us as readers in the long term as we can disseminate that info to other groups in an effective way (it’s already happening btw). These ideas might have gotten him labeled a ‘subversive’ 60 or so years ago. Fortunately times have changed, even if the same problems (and peoples) are still trying to be impediments to change. So be it….Aububon delenda est (at least as we know it)
Ida: When the “urban interface” creeps up next to private ranch land, it does NOT keep the ranch land from being consumed by urban sprawl development. The ranch land is sold for development and the cycle continues. Even in the State of Oregon which has quote “Urban Growth Boundaries”, when the land on the city side of the “Urban Growth Line” is filled with Development, the county governments simply MOVE THE LINE to accommodate more growth. This is why in the Western U.S., it is so important to protect our PUBLIC LANDS and biodiversity from being spoiled by private businesses like cattle/sheep ranching.
There are a lot of oversimplifications, false comparisons, false assumptions, and factually incorrect statements in this article, but the one I’ll comment on is the claim that cattle grazing inherently decreases plant diversity and degrades wildlife habitat.
North America’s grasslands evolved with large populations of grazing ungulates for millennia. Without grazing, the plant communities change. Often, aggressive grasses (even native ones) come to dominate without the pressure from grazers, thereby decreasing the diversity of plant species and habitat structure.
Cattle grazing is one method that can restore or sustain that diversity. One common practice of rotating cattle into different pastures creates a mosaic of vegetation that is tall, medium height, and short, which benefits a wide array of plant and animal species. Ranching doesn’t inherently overgraze all acres.
What you write is generally correct, and I have heard it many times. However, I know from lots of experience that cattle grazing on public lands (BLM and Forest Service) are rarely conducted with diversity in mind, nor does it occur by accident. Ranchers feed the public your message, but they don’t practice it on public lands or usually their own lands.
“Cattle grazing is one method that can restore or sustain that diversity”
Evan – for the past 30 years, I’ve lived close to mountainous areas where public land grazing is the norm, for a chosen few ranchers who hold grazing leases (on these public lands) AND have held them for decades.
Thousands of cows go up, early summer and they don’t come down until late fall… just on my road.
Lots of unique meadows and gentle hillsides are available annually to these ranchers, who if you didn’t know, need their cattle out of the way so they can reap a hay crop on their private acreage… for winter fed.
What I’ve also noticed over the years, is most of those local ranches “groom” (brush) their own fields (spreading out thousands of pounds of cow manure) in the spring before their hay crop has a good chance of coming up (only have to kick over an old cow pie to notice that 🙂 while their cattle are off, elsewhere, at a much cheaper grazing rate, on public lands, yet no one seems to be addressing the fact that thousands of pounds of cow manure, are being deposited on these public lands, annually, for the past few decades……..
Not to mention the awful degradation around small stream and creek beds, after months of “cattle” being there, who don’t move around like native wildlife.
But fact is, the human species LOVES beef – burgers, steaks, etc. – regardless of where it comes from or the damage it does to environments.
Amen to your comment, Evan. To which I would add that this article is all upset about a video, without noting that Audubon’s main effort is to put a seal of approval on grass-fed beef in supermarkets in 9 states now. With the slogan “No Cows, No Grass, No Birds.”
Grass-fed beef that is holistically managed (as in, NOT industrially raised but regeneratively raised), and which restores habitat for birds and other wildlife because the grass is not eaten down to nothing, the watershed are kept pure, and wildlife is incorporated into the plan. Utter ignorance or unwillingness to understand or promote the concept of appropriately managed livestock, as Evan outlines. All about furthering an agenda of rage directed towards ranchers. Some of which is justified from over the years. But there’s 350 million acres of grasslands out there that need to be restored and protected–the government is surely not going to do it. Ranchers incentivized by organizations like Audubon will.
So Evans assertion that a single species of ungulate forced upon us will adequately replace a diversity of ungulates that serviced the land for millennia?
You DO know that cows can’t digest all grasses, and feed differently that some other ungulatez, right?
Sorry -‘differently than some other ungulates’. Not to mention cattle farming tends to restrict omnivores like bears, which also eat vegetation
Here’s why this discussion is so off the mark. Once the buffalo and beaver were slaughtered and fences were put up throughout the wilderness, the lands, grasslands and river valleys especially, were doomed to degradation. And cattle ranching has played a huge role in that degradation. Because of privatization of the lands. And fencing. There are now 4 million acres of grasslands in the National Park System. And 350 million in private hands. 40% of those grasslands, INCLUDING on federal lands, are turning to desert because of mismanagement.
When you have fences, whether with cattle or with wild ruminants, there will eventually need to either be predators to deal with overpopulation, or there will need to be culling.
Most people know what happened in Yellowstone–when wolves were eliminated, the ecosystems suffered because wild ungulates were overpopulating and ruining watersheds with their grazing — just like cattle! Wolves were brought in and the problem was fixed.
No one can tell me that the 350 million acres that is presently in private hands–as well as whatever is leased on federal lands, is going to be well cared for by the Feds. It’s going to continue to become more and more desertified unless there is an incentive to graze it so that the land regenerates.
This is Audubon’s work.And check out:
So what does everyone want to have happen with all of this angry posting? You want the damage to stop, right? Or do you just want to exercise your hatred for cattle ranching?
That’s not going to take care of 350 million desertifying grasslands.
No, no need to exercise hatred for cattle ranching….I have none. It’s absolutely necessary in some scenarios, just depends on where and when.
I think we agree that fences and overgrazing have been huge problems on public land. The ‘bottom five percent’ of the cattle industry are dragging down the middle of the pack with stupidity and poor practices but since they are a tight knit group most are hesitant to speak up about their problems and break rank (sound like anything political?).
Also, I think you are misinterpreting discourse as angry rhetoric. We beat up on ideas here, not people (for the most part), and people show passion for what they believe in. That’s not hatred….it’s how -some people- communicate . Others are more reticent.
Well spoken, Mark, and mostly true. I did get the label “shill” in another post.
For a great example of a partnership between a fishery biologist and ranchers, check out https://www.martinezbeavers.org/wordpress/tag/beaver-restoration-in-susie-creek/
Inspiring YouTubes on this subject as well!
It probably offers a lot, but the photos and video does not show up when I click on it.
https://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/battle-born-beaver-tale/ Ralph, here’s another article, and you can also find videos on YouTube about this.
To say about methane: with ruminants, it is part of the natural carbon soil and becomes CO2 in about 10 years. Think about the huge numbers of buffalo, as well as extraordinary numbers of herds of wild ruminants all over the world that existed (and about 25 million still do) that were burping methane and the climate did not collapse. Because of the 10+ year cycle, whatever amount that is in the atmosphere now from grass-fed ruminants is going to stay the same, if the amount of ruminants is the same. Also, there is a bacteria in the soil call methanotrophs that is part of the soil, acting on the methane.
It’s a totally different deal with industrial cattle raising though, when they are not on grass and when their manure is stored in huge pools–not the deal when cattle are managed in their original environment, which has been that way for 55 million years.
But the other part of the story is that fracking is far worse in terms of methane emissions–because it is not part of a natural cycle. And the amount is worse than with cattle. But in order to cover up the real problem, the corporate game is to shift attention to livestock.
Rice, by the way, is also a big methane emitter, but not as bad as industrially raised livestock. Wetlands, even termites and shellfish all emit methane. But who would know when the focus is on eliminating livestock and selling fake meat instead?
# cows x ~115lbs manure per day x 365 days per year
400 liters/day x #cows=# liters methane per day x365 days per year
Idaho has over 2,000,000 head of cattle. You do the math.
How can this be beneficial for any species of bird or anything except livestock owners?
It is important to recognize that scientists are beginning to speak out loudly that methane is far surpassing CO2 as the greenhouse gas causing the most trouble in the short run.
Please see my note about methane above–although I see it has some typos…Basically, on grass, methane is part of the natural carbon cycle and is converted to CO2 by the action of microbes called methanotrophs in about 10 years. As opposed to CO2 that stays in the atmosphere for as long as 1,000 years.
All ruminants, including bison, antelope, giraffe, impala, and many other kinds, which exist on every continent except Antarctica, emit methane and birds exist in the same ecosystem. It’s not a gas like you might imagine, nor would you smell it when you walk into a pasture. But you would in a swamp, where the odor from fermentation is much more pronounced.
Industrial cattle raising is bad methane-wise though, but not as bad as methane from fracking.
This discussion needs to shift from the open range to the boardroom of Audubon members where it’s obvious its leaders are selling its environmental ethic to the donor with the largest contribution disregarding the science supporting preservation and conservation for all types of ecosystems. The question to ask of Audubon board members representing large “environmental” non-profits should concern their ethical principal underlying their environmentalism, because for those Audubon board members who allowed for the funding of this video displaying ignorance of the fundamentals of environmental science leading their unsound conclusions. The science supporting this article clearly indicates cattle grazing destroys ecosystems.
For those willing to look deep into what this is all about, check out this article by Allan Williams of the Soil Health Academy, a regenerative agriculture consulting company with worldwide scope.
Turns out that healthy soil MAKES RAIN! There is wealth of evidence in this article that shows that a single ranch in Northern Mexico, which is the only ranch in the area that is managing its livestock to heal the degraded soils, actually gets more rainfall than its neighbors, due to the relationship between microbial life in healthy soil and the atmosphere.
This is where political will and financing needs to go, to heal the systems of the earth, restore the soils and water tables and ecosystems and to get rid of ALL industrial agriculture.
The Las Damas Ranch in northern Mexico is an example of grazing done right, thus showing why Audubon is taking the path of healing of soils and ecosystems. The West indeed is still sustaining horrific damage from industrial livestock practices. And regenerative ag is healing the land and soils, all over the world.
Here’s the link:
from the link: “Carrillo’s ranch, Las Damas Ranch, is an oasis of bird life. Carrillo, who has holistically managed Las Damas Ranch since 2006 after leaving a successful career in IT, now works with bird conservation groups to create habitat for the endangered birds. He and several other ranchers who practice Holistic Planned Grazing have established research and conservation partnerships with organizations including the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory, the American Bird Conservatory and Mexico’s Pronatura.
Central to their efforts is using cattle to build soil so as to ensure that rainfall remains on the land as opposed to evaporating or running off, thereby supporting the growth of grasses. “We’re seeing the land rebound so that there is plenty of grass for cattle, our cattle are healthy, and we’re able to tap in to the growing market for grass-fed beef,” says Carrillo. “Others, including our neighbors, complain that there’s not enough rain. But those of us who manage holistically somehow seem to have plenty of rain.”
Interesting article by Ted Williams:
Shocking to read, that above (or should I say below?) and beyond hunting into cruel visciousness is ignored and by ignoring it, implies acceptance.
Apparently Oregon is unhappy with the new ruling. But this kind of thing would be done anyway, regardless of ESA status, IMO:
One thing that needs to be recognized about the Audubon Society is that there is the national organization and a large number of local organizations which are almost completely independent. Criticism and praise should, I think, clearly distinguish which is being talked or written about.