The Real Cost of a Hamburger

The cost of a hamburger does not reflect the cost of this cowbombed land in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. Photo George Wuerthner 

Do you know what a Big Mac costs? If you say $4.50 or whatever the current price posted at the McDonald’s restaurant may be, you are vastly under-estimating the real price. That’s because $4.50 does not reflect the genuine cost of production. Every hamburger price tag should include a calculation of animal suffering, human health costs, economic and ecological subsidies. None of these bona fide costs is included in the price one pays for a hamburger (or other meats eaten by consumers for that matter).

Cows trampling riparian zone in Upper Ruby River Drainage, Beaverhead Deerlodge NF, Montana. Photo George Wuerthner 

Unfortunately, assessing the real price of a hamburger is difficult because much of the overhead is hidden from view or simply ignored. Most people do not see the pain of the animals as they are branded, castrated, and slaughtered. Nor are most people fully aware of the multiple hormones and chemicals dumped into feed or directly injected into the animals. Nor have they considered how these high rates of hormone and chemical use may pose risks for humans through the creation of resistant germs and bacteria. While there is a growing awareness of the health costs – including high rates of heart attack, colon cancer, and high blood pressure, resulting from a heavy meat diet – even the best assessments of the health risks are far from complete.

But these costs, while real and significant, pale by comparison to the ecological cost of livestock production. There is no other single human activity that has degraded and destroyed more of the American landscape and perhaps the global landscape as well as our love affair with the cow and the meat-dominated diet.

The real cost of a hamburger should include the damage done to this stream by trampling and bank destruction. Centennial Valley, Montana. Photo George Wuerthner

If the real cost of a hamburger could even be minimally assessed, I am certain that every Big Mac is really priceless. How do you put on a price on degraded watersheds? How do you value endangered species that are driven to extinction? How do you account for the real value of top soil washed to the sea?

These costs are nearly impossible to calculate but they are a very real cost of livestock production. And I am certain that if the price we paid for a hamburger genuinely reflected its costs, the raising of livestock for food would be seen as foolish as trying to raise oranges in Alaska.

Cattle and sheep graze and damage nearly 300 million acres of public land.  Trout Creek Mountains, Oregon. Photo George Wuerthner

This Land Is Your Land,

This Land is Our Land…


The majority of public land that are grazed by livestock is considered “deserts”. Photo George Wuerthner 

Nowhere is the cost and foolhardiness of livestock production more apparent than on the public lands of the West. The American West is a grand landscape. It is also an arid, rugged, and unproductive landscape. Aridity is important to ponder. The West’s public lands are dominated by North America’s four or five major desert regions – the Sonoran, Mojave, Chihuahuan, Great Basin, and some include the Colorado Plateau as a fifth. Deserts are defined as regions with minimum precipitation and high evaporation – in other words, they are characterized by siring heat, cloud-less cerulean skies, minimum precipitation, and sparse vegetation. Now add in the fact that moisture roughly correlates with forage production – the less wetness a region receives, the more land it takes to support a single cow or sheep.

The majority of all beef and dairy is produced in the midwest and eastern US: where it rains. White River, Georgia. Photo George Wuerthner 

In the West, it takes a lot of land to raise one cow – and it takes even more of the public lands to provide enough forage to sustain a livestock operation. For instance, you can reasonably expect to raise a cow year-round on a couple of acres of land in someplace wet and relatively flat, like Georgia, but in the arid and mountainous West you may need 200-300 acres to sustain a cow.

Unfortunately, if you are removing enough forage to economically sustain a ranching business, you are not leaving enough to sustain the land’s native wildlife or ecological processes, nor to provide protection for the fragile soils and plant communities.

And therein is the problem. It’s ecologically impossible to economically sustain a livestock operation in most of the West if you consider the full ecological costs – statements by livestock advocates to the contrary.

Ranching glorifies dominating animals. Photo George Wuerthner

Ecologically Unsustainable = Economically Unreliable

Some may ask how ranching has survived for multiple generations if it has been destroying the West? The answer is complex. First, ranching isn’t surviving – it has been in decline for decades. There are fewer ranchers today than any time since the West was first settled. The land simply can’t sustain as many livestock operations, in part because overall productivity of western landscapes has declined due to the long-term degradation by livestock. And many of the ranchers that have remained in business have succeeded by taking on outside employment. The majority of small and medium size livestock operations today can more accurately be characterized as “hobby ranching” since the real income for most livestock operators comes from a job in town.

Every year hundreds of thousands of public wildlife, including bears, wolves, coyotes, prairie dogs, and cougars are killed to protect livestock using OUR public lands. Photo George Wuerthner 

Still, the reason ranching survives at all is because of huge subsidies – both economical and ecological. A western rancher can only really stand a chance of competing in the global market by transferring most of the costs of production on to the land, its wildlife, and the taxpayer. Taxpayers pay for things like predator control, weed control, disease control (in rancher’s livestock), drought relief, and costly reservoir and irrigation systems that benefit livestock producers.

There are other subsidies that are more subtle and less visible, such as the great cost of providing services to thinly populated and widely dispersed ranches. Taxpayers subsidize ranchers by providing power, mail, school buses, road maintenance, and other public services that frequently exceed the tax contributions of these land owners – in a large part because agricultural lands are often taxed at greatly reduced rates compared to other land ownership – representing yet another subsidy to this small group of business men and women.

This bighorn sheep is blinded by pink eye, a disease transmitted to wildlife from domestic animals. Photo George Wuerthner 

Other taxpayer subsidies are difficult to estimate since many financial assistance programs are hidden in multiple ways – for instance, when a federal agency like the U.S. Forest Service fences a campground to keep out the cows, the cost is charged to the “recreation” budget even though there would be no need for fencing in the absence of cows. Or take all of those miles of fencing along western highway right of ways designed to keep cows off the highway – who do you think pays for this? Not the rancher. Granting even these accounting difficulties, conservative estimates put the annual subsidy to just public lands welfare ranchers – who make up less than 1% of all livestock producers – at a minimum of a billion. If we were to include all livestock producers, the costs would be far higher.

Wholesale Subsidized Destruction

Despite its unproductive nature, virtually every acre of land that can be grazed by domestic livestock is leased by the federal government to a relative handful of ranchers known as permittees (about 1% of all livestock producers). These men (and a few women) are permitted to graze their animals on these lands for a pittance of the real cost, especially when ecological impacts are considered.

Cattle trampling riparian area, compacts soil reducing water infiltration, and breaks banks down widening creek.  Centennial Valley, Montana. Photo George Wuerthner 

Livestock hooves pound and compact soils, decreasing water infiltration in a land already deficient in moisture. Livestock transmits disease to wild animals, leading to local extirpation as with the demise of many bighorn sheep herds after contraction of disease from domestic animals. Livestock consume stream side vegetation and break down creek-banks with their hooves, destroying aquatic habitat for fish and many other creatures. Indeed, livestock are the prime factor in the destruction of these thin-green lines of water-dependent vegetation known as riparian habitat.

Cattle have eliminated streamside vegetation that 70-75% of western wildlife depend upon. The Nature Conservancy’s Silver Creek Reserve, Idaho. Photo George Wuerthner 

And since more than 70-75% of the West’s wildlife species are dependent to some degree on riparian habitat, the effect of livestock-induced riparian habitat losses cannot be understated. And this is no small impact. Some 300 million acres of public lands are leased for livestock production – that’s an area as large as the combined acreage of the eastern seaboard states from Maine to Florida with Missouri thrown in.

The Desert Ranch Land Oxymoron

Livestock are also one of the major consumers of water in the West. How you may ask? Because nearly all of the West’s limited water is shuttled into irrigation ditches and sprinklers to produce livestock forage like hay or irrigated pasture. Even in California, where the vast majority of the nation’s vegetables and fruits are grown, irrigated livestock forage is the single largest crop by acreage.

The majority of water storage reservoirs in the West are built to provide water for irrigated livestock forage. Dams alter stream flowers and block fish migration (like salmon). Photo George Wuerthner 

The vast majority of water development (storage reservoirs), particularly in the West, is for irrigated agriculture – primarily livestock forage production. Indeed, in the 17 Western states, irrigation accounts for 82% of all water withdrawals from a high of 96% in Montana to 21% in North Dakota. Storage reservoirs for irrigation fragment watersheds; and withdrawals from streams reduce flows and change water quality – all of which are known to contribute to the decline in aquatic species from snails to trout.

Therefore, at least some percentage of water development species endangerment should be considered part of agriculture’s contribution to species losses.

Growing cattle forage in the Nevada desert by irrigation. Photo George Wuerthner 

But the economic subsidies pale by comparison to the ecological subsidies. Livestock production may well be the biggest single land use in the United States. Besides the 300 million acres of public lands grazed by domestic animals, there are another 400 million acres of private rangelands throughout the country utilized for livestock grazing. In addition, there are hundreds of millions of acres of agricultural lands that are used for livestock forage production.

There is 130 million acres of land in the US, an area bigger than the state of California, devoted to hay and alfalfa production. Near Howe, Idaho. Photo George Wuerthner 

In the past few years, for instance, we planted more or less 90 million acres to corn – with the majority of this corn going to feed cattle. Similarly, large acreage of soybean, hay, alfalfa, and other crops were grown for livestock forage. In reality, most of our farmland is devoted not to the growing of crops fed directly to humans, but for grain and other crops devoted to livestock forage. This means there are hundreds of millions of acres of land that are drenched in pesticides and fertilizers, that many acres of soil erosion, and that many aquifers are polluted by agricultural chemicals.

Fences are a domestication of the landscape. They block wildlife migration and sometimes contribute to the death of animals. Photo George Wuerthner 

This domestication and alteration of the natural landscape is not evenly distributed, however, and agriculture has not only contributed to significant species loss but has almost completely shattered some ecosystems. For example, 77 percent of Iowa is now cropland, as is 62 percent of North Dakota, and as is 59 percent of Kansas – essentially eradicating the entire tall grass prairie and most of the mid-grass prairie.

Overall, I estimate that approximately 70-75% of the U.S. land area (excluding Alaska) is devoted to livestock production in one form or another – either for the growing of forage crops, for pasture, or as rangelands grazed by domestic livestock. The ecological footprint of this industry is huge.

SOLUTIONS: Immediate and Long Term

The amount of land needed to produce food for direct human consumption is surprisingly small. We grow all our fruits, veggies and major grains like wheat on less than 100 million acres. Photo George Wuerthner 

The actual amount of land we need to feed ourselves is surprisingly small. All the vegetables and fruit grown in this country are produced on approximately 10 million acres. Potatoes and grains are grown on nearly 60 million or so acres of land – but some of the grains, including some oats, wheat, barley, and other crops, are fed to livestock. Obviously, if meat were eliminated from our diets, there would be a shift towards greater grain and vegetable production. Nevertheless, given the inefficiencies of grain conversion to meat by large animals – particularly cows – any increase in acres devoted to grains and vegetables would easily be counterbalanced by the more substantial decline in acres used for livestock grain production.

We already know that a vegetarian diet is healthier not only for people but for the land as well. There are numerous obvious solutions. Eating lower on the food chain is one of the single most important acts any person can do to promote global health.

In the absence of a widespread diet conversion from meat to vegetables, there are still options that can promote a shift in American diets and public land use. One option is grazing permit retirement.  Under this concept, a rancher is paid a predetermined cash payment If the grazing permit is permanently retired, and livestock are forever removed from the land.

Grazing permit retirement is one means of reducing the impact of livestock on public lands. Photo George Wuerthner 

Though grazing on public lands is a privilege and the American people have no obligation to allow livestock grazing on any of its lands, the political reality is that ranching will not be terminated despite all the damage done by cows.

This proposal is politically feasible and ecologically responsible. It will lead to a reduction of grazing on up to 300 million acres of land – an area the size of three Californias – no small amount of land. Still, removing livestock from public lands will not lead to a huge reduction in meat production, because only a small percentage of the livestock produced in this country comes off public lands.

Nevertheless, the permit buyout would start a movement towards healthier public lands. And once people see the benefits of fewer cows, the opportunities for greater reductions on private lands in the West (and elsewhere) are likely to be realized.

So what would our lands look like without domestic livestock? Well, we would see more bison, elk, bighorn sheep, wolves, grizzlies, pronghorn, sage grouse, spotted frogs, trout, and many other species that are currently negatively impacted by livestock production. Photo George Wuerthner 

Land of the Free, Home of the Brave?

So what would we do with all those cow-free acres? Imagine a West without fences with growing herds of bison, elk, antelope, and bighorn sheep. Imagine rivers running free and pure. Imagine wolves restored to much of the West. Such a vision is possible, but only if we eliminate livestock from much of the West. Fortunately, on the public lands, such a future is possible – if only we had the political will to implement such actions.


  1. Maggie Frazier Avatar
    Maggie Frazier

    The political will – ah yes. Also, the romanticizing of the “cowboy way”! Which is ridiculous in itself when the only reason these livestock operators are able to continue to use public lands, national forests & national monuments as their pastures is because we, the taxpayers, pay the bills! The $1.35 per month for each cow/calf pair does NOT cover the costs of this program, plus all the various subsidies they receive.

  2. Karen Davis Avatar

    Thank you for this informative article on the environmental, animal cruelty, and human health costs of raising cattle for human consumption and crops to feed the cows. I have a question about this statement:

    “All the vegetables and fruit grown in this country are produced on approximately 10 million acres. Potatoes and grains are grown on nearly 60 million or so acres of land.”

    If you could please clarify, it would be appreciated.
    Thank you!

  3. Rondi Lightmark Avatar
    Rondi Lightmark

    No argument, George Wuerthner, industrial animal agriculture has destroyed soils all over the planet for thousands of years. Nevertheless, I truly believe you don’t get that the only way to restore what has been damaged is through regenerative agriculture, which you don’t understand, but which is growing by leaps and bounds all over the world because it WORKS.

    It’s a fairytale to think that the 350 million acres of grasslands, in both public and private hands, would do well under the auspices of the National Park Service. But if ranchers are required to manage the land regeneratively, we won’t lose it to desert.

    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.
    GMO veggies sprayed with Roundup are not the answer!

    1. Mark L Avatar
      Mark L

      Hey George, can you do a similar article on the ‘true cost of a gallon of gas’? I think it would be enlightening for people to understand how we still pay for our grandparents using gas unwisely… leaded gas was finally outlawed, health issues with additives, need for silly street lights to stay on all night for no one (or maybe we fear the dark that much), parking lots never used creating mini deserts everywhere, etc.
      Just a thought

      1. Mark L Avatar
        Mark L

        Not to mention how 6ppd degrades in sunlight to 6ppd quinone and kills fish and mussels

    2. Maggie Frazier Avatar
      Maggie Frazier

      That article makes it sound really good – I thought at first it was more of Savory’s ideas, which really didnt pan out.
      I hope there is more investigation & research done in this area. It could save so much.

      1. cindy Avatar

        There are many reports and solid data dating to at least 1940 on the destruction of lands/ecosystems caused by livestock.

    3. Carola Avatar

      “Is grazing animals good for the environment? Regenerative animal agriculture, explained”

      “Eat more beef to save the planet.” – a seemingly contradictory statement given what we are continuously being told by scientists and environmental campaigners. And yet, so-called holistic grazing or regenerative animal agriculture is becoming more commonly discussed as a way to combat climate change. With the latest Netflix documentary Kiss the Ground also claiming that grazing livestock animals is beneficial for the planet.

      Holistic grazing is an idea popularised by Allan Savory, a Zimbabwean born livestock farmer.

      Holistic grazing is the notion that by mimicking the rotational patterns of wild grazers and intensively grazing large numbers of animals, we can reverse desertification, increase the health of soils and sequester carbon.

      Savory boldly claims that if we took just half of the world’s grasslands we could absorb enough carbon to return the world’s atmosphere to pre-industrial levels.

      But what does the science say?


      1. Maggie Frazier Avatar
        Maggie Frazier

        The article”Regenerative Rainmaking” doesnt sound like Savory’s Method. And I disagree with Savory’s method. The WILD grazers patterns are one thing – domestic livestock is quite another! Putting more livestock “out there” really sounds like an environmental disaster. Savory’s methods were found to NOT work.

        1. Rondi Lightmark Avatar
          Rondi Lightmark

          Dear Maggie,
          I’m wondering where you read that Savory’s methods don’t work. The only scientific papers that dismiss it are nearly 8 years old and meanwhile, the regenerative ag movement is mostly based on it, although there are different names for it. Holistic Managed Grazing, Mob Grazing, other terms as well, are how it is described now. It was when people began to realize that destruction of soil is the big issue that they began to pay attention. Because ruminants evolved with grasslands 55 million years ago, the management of livestock to mimic how they grazed, in bunches for protection from predators, always on the move, never staying in one place to destroy the land. But when herding and fencing began, also eons ago, cattle were kept in one place and the degradation began. The Sahara desert is one prime example of what happened.

          Some scientists who have dismissed his work base their opinions on the fact that it’s not “replicable.” In other words, they’d like it if all land, soils and weather were the same so that they could create a formula for it. And of course, Nature has no interest in being so convenient. So each farmer or rancher has to constantly test his choices for how to rebuild degraded soil, whether with cover crops, with livestock, or with rest. They are therefore called “Artisans of the Grasslands.”

          The Las Damas Ranch is indeed an example of Savory’s method. 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.”

    4. steve wilson Avatar
      steve wilson

      what an amazing shill for beef. Also, I kind of do think George Wuerthner does understand ‘regenerative agriculture’ and its claims. Just like he understands wild fires.

      what you may not understand, without me casting aspersions of numbskullery, is Einsteins famous quote ‘Insanity Is Doing the Same Thing Over and Over Again and Expecting Different Results.

      free market ranching has never worked, and has only decimated the earth.

      also, who has said ‘GMO veggies sprayed with Roundup are not the answer!’? You?
      also , here is an article on how many earths we will need for everyone to live the good life eating meat:

      1. Chris Zinda Avatar
        Chris Zinda


        Lightmark was part of this project:

        She’s doing damage control.

        “In our increasingly polarized world, where it’s all or nothing, this book is here to introduce some much-needed nuance. If you’re an ethical omnivore concerned about the environmental impact of your food choices, this site is for you. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan but are considering eating meat again, this site is for you. If you’re familiar with how cattle can be part of a regenerative food system, but still worried red meat will kill you, this site is for you. If you’re open to science, then this site is definitely for you.”

        1. Rondi Lightmark Avatar
          Rondi Lightmark

          Chris, I just wrote an article for Sacred Cow, that’s why you found my name. The subject was partly in reference to the battle over use of Point Reyes public land in California. It’s a complicated issue, because the elk are important, small, well-managed and humane ranches and farms that do not pollute and damage the environment should be replacing Big AG, plus there is an indigenous tribe there that is also weighing on their rights to manage the lands and ecosystem that they lost.

          There’s no easy answer when each party has much to give to that part of California. And these issues exist everywhere now, as so many of us are becoming better educated and increasingly concerned about the Rights of Nature, as well as those of tribal peoples.

          Here’s a link to the article, should you care to read it. It expresses mostly my big concern with how Fake Meat propaganda is obscuring the true issue, which is the dying of soils around the world due to industrial ag, as well as the fact that 60% of our population has chronic diseases–also from industrial ag and our horrendous food system.


          I don’t really want to fight with people, just trying to share some facts that don’t come through very often with so much money at stake.

          1. Mark L Avatar
            Mark L

            Rondi, are you saying the elk in Point Reyes are well managed? And ‘small’ as in size (comparably?) or small in number? There would be more if there was access to more water and food, but that’s reserved for dairy cattle(by no accident, btw). Or are you saying dairy cattle do a more efficient job of regeneration on the land? I’m certain there are other locations that dairy cattle could regenerate than in a national park where tule elk have been living for millennia. Yes? Or are you actually arguing for the AG industry that’s behind the push to restrict elk access to resources? I wish there was a more subtle way to ask this, but I can’t find one, so apologies.

            1. Rondi Lightmark Avatar
              Rondi Lightmark

              Dear Mark, since I am not deeply knowledgeable about all of the issues going on with the Point Reyes lawsuit (although I’ve read a number of different articles with different opinions), I cannot honestly make a fully informed statement. So all I could say about the issue is that it is emblematic of what is going on today.

              People want to heal land and ecosystems. Indigenous people want to be recognized and given respect for their own ways of managing land over the centuries. People also want to get rid of the poisonous, ruinous practice of industrial ag and they want small farms with humane treatment of animals and farmworkers. And they want to eat the healthier products of those farms rather than those of factory farms.

              And as it happens, all of those significant and worthy desires are crowded into Point Reyes. I did read one article that quoted a farmer saying, “Can’t we sit down together and work this out?” I read another article that described manure lagoons and pollution of streams. Which made me think that if that is the case, that farm, or maybe more than just one farm, was not being managed regeneratively, because the principles of regenerative is that you don’t pollute, but manage to constantly improve Nature, not degrade it. And I know nothing about the history of the indigenous tribe that maintains that they stewarded the lands before and, if I heard it correctly, are asking, suggesting, petitioning, to manage the Tule elk.

              Then I read another article that described how an originally small herd of Tule elk became exponentially larger and larger, to the extent that they had grown beyond the capacity of the land to feed and water them. Which meant, because they have no natural predators, that they would need to be culled. And I know this would need to happen whether they were managed by tribal people or the park service. And it would need eventually to happen even if all of the farms were disappeared and Tule elk were given the whole peninsula. That’s Nature’s way, right? Without predators, they would become destructive to the land and they would develop diseases and there would be a public outcry, just as there is when wild horses are rounded up and culled.

              But if predators like wolves are introduced, then there’s the problem of endangerment of humans if they roam. And there’s the problem of disemboweled elk freaking out hikers….

              As I mentioned in my article, people are doing studies to figure out how to take care of the health and needs of the wild, not instead of, but including the needs of humans, incorporating the two in some way.Things like wildlife corridors are one example.

              It feels like we are just waking up to so much that we should have thought about decades ago. What excites me is the amount of heart that’s in these discussions as well. It gives me hope. But it’s tough when it seems like the politics of the times are a huge roadblock…

              1. Mark L Avatar
                Mark L

                Yes I agree. That’s a pretty good summation also, except for the wolf part….they aren’t a threat to humans per se, only to livestock (non-indigenous), pets (non-indigenous also) and humans that overreact to perceived threats (please don’t be one). Disemboweling of elk will happen regardless of which animal eats it, whether it’s seen by hikers, or a hunter with gut piles (possibly attracting predators) or butchered ina processing plant like cattle. Some entity has already spoken for every animal mentioned…..even us, just a matter of who gets it and how. Nature’s way, right?

                1. Rondi Lightmark Avatar
                  Rondi Lightmark

                  Yes. Not easy for our culture to accept though!

      2. Rondi Lightmark Avatar
        Rondi Lightmark

        Dear Steve,
        Since I was rather rude in my comment about George’s article, I guess I did leave myself open for name calling. I regret approaching the issue in that way.

        But truly, I’m not a shill for beef, but for soil. Now if there’s a way to restore all of the damage done by bad grazing practices, without turning around and instead using ruminants in the right way, regeneratively, I’d be all over it.

        But the more I read about the management of public lands in general by the Feds, the more I understand the widespread frustration with the status quo.

        I read that only 10 percent of public lands managed by the BLM is protected for wildlife, conservation or recreation and the other 90 percent is open to oil and gas leasing, with most wells fracked. Talk about a methane problem that totally eclipses anything that livestock put out.

        I also read that only 3 percent of cattle producers use public lands–but so what? If they are damaging the lands, that’s 3 percent too many.

        And I read that the most successful restoration example is funded by private donations along with some help from the US Fish and Wildlife Service–that’s the American Prairie Organization in northern Montana. I guess that private funding is the only way to get anything significant done, sadly.

        Finally, I read a 99 page transcript of a 2014 House hearing, 113 Congress, titled “Increasing Carbon Soil Sequestration on Public Lands”. Main takeaway: lots of great testimonials from scientists and ranchers, demonstrating the recovery of desertifying lands with regenerative grazing practices. Along with the sad admission that there are huge and abiding roadblocks to going anywhere with such practices through government mandate.

        There was also a reference to some other methods to restoring soils and water tables and ecosystems. Small scale, not followed up on by BLM.

        So that’s 7 years ago. Very sad. But clearly the political will is not there when the Feds are making so much money just leasing–whether to fossil fuel or livestock operations. Expect this to get a lot worse if Trump gets in again.

        Don’t blame livestock–they, like the buffalo and all other ruminants, know how to take care of soil. Blame greed and entrenched belief systems that refuse to change their practices from exploitation to healing.

      3. Ralph Maughan Avatar
        Ralph Maughan

        “also, who has said ‘GMO veggies sprayed with Roundup are not the answer!’? You?”

        I live in Pocatello, Idaho, and the media has been full of warnings/alerts/notices, etc. that local people who have been exposed to Roundup should immediately be checked for Parkinson’s Disease and if they have it, to sue.

        1. Mark L Avatar
          Mark L

          Curious if there’s a chemical that can render it chemically inert fairly quickly

          1. Rondi Lightmark Avatar
            Rondi Lightmark

            Given how widespread its use, I can’t imagine adding another chemical would help!

        2. Rondi Lightmark Avatar
          Rondi Lightmark

          Ralph, I lost my sister and my brother-in-law to Parkinson’s, so I’ve been following not only the toxicity of Roundup for years, but also issues like mercury in dentistry.

          Here’s a link from an organization I trust:

          If you Google “Roundup Parkinson’s lawsuit”, you’ll see two entire webpages full of lawyers looking for clients to add to major class action lawsuits. Same deal with Paraquat!

          Roundup is banned in more than 20 countries because the herbicide has been linked to an increased risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and other types of cancer. Roundup is not banned in the United States, although some states have prohibited or restricted its use.

          So the reason I said “GMO veggies sprayed with Roundup are not the answer” should therefore be obvious, but would add that Big Food is perfectly happy to shame people for eating meat while selling a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle based on processed foods or fake meat which are industrially grown with pesticides, fake fertilizer and Roundup.

          There is also this, since the herbicide is also used to dry wheat, rice, etc in crops before harvest:

          Increased use of Monsanto’s glyphosate herbicide (trade name Roundup) could be the cause of the epidemic of “gluten intolerance”, according to a compelling new peer-reviewed report from two U.S. scientists. Farmers are now using glyphosate not only to control weeds but also to dry down wheat, rice, sugarcane and other crops just before harvest, resulting in higher residues in the foods we eat. The abstract from the paper “Glyphosate, Pathways to Modern Diseases II: Celiac Sprue and Gluten Intolerance” is below.

      4. cindy Avatar

        The data has been collected since at least 1940 on how livestock has destroyed this planet

        1. Rondi Lightmark Avatar
          Rondi Lightmark

          Yes. And now the data since 2013 is accumulating about how livestock is finally being managed AS NATURE INTENDED to save the planet.

        2. Lisa G LeBlanc Avatar
          Lisa G LeBlanc

          I need to stress HOW important this is:
          Once the desert’s native plants are decimated, the notion of them returning in any appreciable fashion is almost non-existent.
          These plants evolved to make the most of scarce resources – sometimes it rains like Hell, sometimes it doesn’t rain for a year or more. The plants grow low and slow and live for a century or better. Even reproduction is a slow process for these plants.
          Cattle and sheep evolved in lush green lands with unlimited precipitation; they haven’t even begun to adapt to the West’s desert environs without considerable assistance. These lands have evolved with grazers who are resource-efficient and who either move on after a quick nibble or roam for miles a day, grabbing a little of this and a little of that. Natives don’t just graze for nutrition – many of the plants utilized are medicinal (wildlife and wild equines rarely acquire internal parasites or contract bone diseases, just to name a few).
          Once these plants are gone, they are likely gone for a generation; in plant-speak, one of their generations could be two or three of ours.
          The amount of forage cattle and sheep require is water dependent & artificial in a desert environment.
          If there is any hope of recovery for Western ranges, foreign livestock must be eliminated from Public lands. What stock owners do on private lands is their affair. What they do on our lands is becoming irreparable.

          1. Rondi Lightmark Avatar
            Rondi Lightmark

            Dear Lisa,
            Two articles that document where you are wrong–both are science-based with references. The first is from a group of scientists looking at the phenomenon of restored soils in the Chihuahuan desert in northern Mexico:

            Turns out that healthy soil MAKES RAIN! There is wealth of evidence in this article that shows that a single ranch in the Chihuahuan desert of 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.

            The second is from a 2014 House hearing about doing managed grazing on public lands–while also acknowledging the great amount of resistance to the idea, even though its success is well documented:


            from a Gila County, AZ supervisor:
            I inherited land managed by the Federal Government, who took over shortly after
            my pioneer family arrived, and continues today.

            I call it 100 years of failed Federal policy. As bad
            as it is, though, based on my personal experience, it is not
            too late to reverse this trend. Some 25 years ago, my sister,
            her husband, and I decided to experiment using cattle to help
            restore badly degraded land, and we picked some of the worst we
            could find in Nevada: the banks of an old cyanide leach pond
            from a gold mining operation. The ground was virtually sterile.
            But using cattle to incorporate organic matter into the soil,
            we got amazing results in just a year. You have the pictures in
            my written statement. It was pioneering work then; it is now
            routinely being used around the world.

            Bottom line: ruminants created the soils of the world and when they are managed as Nature intended, even the worst, most depleted ecosystems are restored.

            Check out, a private and partly government funded organization seeking to acquire and restore land, buying up ranch leases, linking together thousands of acres in northern Montana. Good thing they have the money. And note that in their literature, they state that they are using carefully managed ruminants to restore the soils.

            1. Mark L Avatar
              Mark L

              The Chihuahua desert example is not exactly science based, Rondi. Basic principles of meteorology will apply here…..locations don’t ‘create’ their own weather, unless there are absolutely NO prevailing winds and no cloud movement (highly unlikely in a hilly desert region). It’s possible to affect downwind areas with biotic changes, but not same location. That’s fiction

              1. Rondi Lightmark Avatar
                Rondi Lightmark

                If you look at the bottom of the article, Mark, you will see a series of citations about the phenomenon. There is a relatively new understanding about the relationship between trees and rain and also soils that are moist and rain, based on the new research about microbes.

            2. Chris Zinda Avatar
              Chris Zinda

              Like Wilber, anyone who says cattle can make it rain has told you all you need to know about the morality – much less sanity – of their position.

              “God speed the plow. … By this wonderful provision, which is only man’s mastery over nature, the clouds are dispensing copious rains … [the plow] is the instrument which separates civilization from savagery; and converts a desert into a farm or garden. … To be more concise, Rain follows the plow.”

              1. Chris Zinda Avatar
                Chris Zinda


                God speed the cow. … By this wonderful provision, which is only man’s mastery over nature, the clouds are dispensing copious rains … [the cow] is the instrument which separates civilization from savagery; and converts a desert into a farm or garden. … To be more concise, Rain follows the cow.

                1. Rondi Lightmark Avatar
                  Rondi Lightmark

                  Love it! Of course, what I wrote is “healthy soils make rain” and of course, “cows make healthy soils.” But one could just as easily write “musk ox, buffalo, giraffe, elk, sheep, goats, camels…” There are around 200 species of ruminants that evolved with grasslands and have a symbiotic relationship that involves the microbes in their saliva getting on the grass, which then mixes with the microbes in the soil.

                  from a study called “Applications of the Soil, Plant and Rumen Microbiomes in Pastoral Agriculture”:

                  Soil biology is the “engine room” that recycles plant material, either from direct inputs (leaf fall, root senescence), or secondary deposition (animal manure, urine) (114). The nutrients in these materials are either recycled within the biosphere, or mineralized into the geochemical matrix of the soil (114).

                  Here are the references about “rain-making bacteria” at the end of this link I posted:


                  Potential Sources Of ‘Rain-Making’ Bacteria In The Atmosphere Identified — ScienceDaily
                  ‘Rain-making’ bacteria found around the world | Nature

                  Evidence Of ‘Rain-making’ Bacteria Discovered In Atmosphere And Snow — ScienceDaily

                  Surprising Find: Live Bacteria Help Create Rain, Snow & Hail | Live Science

                  Radical ideas: Bacteria controls the weather – BBC Science Focus Magazine

            3. Lisa LeBlanc Avatar
              Lisa LeBlanc

              Dear Rondi,
              Nothing charms the soul or encourages a True Believer like being told they are “wrong”.
              Particularly when that potential convert currently lives in the middle of the environment in question – touches the mummified remains of sagebrush, watches the encroachment of cheatgrass and tumbleweeds as they try to choke off what little remains of native plant life struggling to recover from over a century of ruination.
              European cattle and sheep do not belong HERE. They must consume 5 times the desert forage to meet their nutritional needs as they would in the grassy meadows where they evolved.
              Insisting that an arid environment can be somehow terraformed by and for foreign livestock is a cruel and multi-generational process that conveys responsibility onto the animals that either struggle to survive or must be given considerable assistance to do so while denying the native plant life its right to exist.
              Decades of non-use in places where the cattle used to feed have shown no appreciable recovery; this isn’t study-based but eye witnessed by me.
              I’m not wrong, Rondi. What I am is furious.

              1. Rondi Lightmark Avatar
                Rondi Lightmark

                I apologize for insulting you, Lisa. I did not respond appropriately to your frustration and sorrow. But tell me, what is your solution? Do you really think that if all animals are removed from the lands you describe, that the lands will recover? The links that I shared widely throughout this discussion, including the one from the House hearing, tell of the degradation and the sagebrush and cheatgrass and more. And they also tell of soil restoration with livestock, which have been bred over thousands of years to survive in arid lands. Such livestock cannot be compared with European cattle in that sense–because such would never make it. Livestock run by the Masai in Africa in the deserts are not European cattle either.

                I’m trying to separate the issue of eons of worldwide overgrazing and ruination of soils, and also the issue of what is clearly a negative relationship with ranchers, from the fact that what is important is to restore the soils. And I haven’t read in any of these responses an understanding of how this is going to happen if there are no ruminants managed to restore them.

                So what’s your suggestion? I promise you, and can show you, that leaving the land to “rest” will make it worse, not better. Soil is a living organism that has a symbiotic relationship with grazers. Grazers built the soils of the world. Humans destroyed that relationship with their ignorance. And now, lands like you describe, are being healed with cattle, with sheep, with other ruminants, all over the world. If you spend time reading any of the links I shared, you might see that I’m not a bad person, nor do I care what kind of ruminant is doing the grazing. I just care about the restoration of the soils, and it requires a different kind of management to make that happen.
                I should also add, however, that I am dead set against industrial agriculture and passionate about getting rid not of livestock, but of ranchers who are unwilling to learn to manage them correctly.

              2. Rondi Lightmark Avatar
                Rondi Lightmark

                Dear Lisa, this excerpt is from the 2014 US House hearing titled,”Increasing Carbon Soil Sequestration on Public Lands”

                Statement by Tommie Martin, Supervisor, Gila County, AZ

                Ms. Martin. Chairman Bishop and Ranking Member Grijalva,
                esteemed Members, thank you for having me here.
                In addition to being a Gila County Supervisor for the past 10 years, I am a rancher, and have been a consultant on ranch management and rangeland improvement efforts here in the United States, in Mexico, and East Africa over the last 30 years.

                Over 130 years ago, when my great-grandparents first settled in what would become Gila County, this process of capture, convert, and collecting carbon that we are talking about today was functioning with high efficiency.

                My great-grandmother described to me land that was open, rolling, grassy hillsides with stringers of trees in the upper elevations. She called it Pine Savannah. Today it is a tree brush thicket with little to no grass. She said there may have been 30 trees to the acre. Today there are up to 3,000. She describes streams that were perennial and full of the native brown trout. Today we have lost 1,000 miles of those streams and the trout within them. Much of the wildlife she discussed–wolf, grizzly, clouds of wild canary–are gone entirely. We now know that this landscape was a grazable woodland, sequestering
                vast amounts of carbon in the soil.

                So, why the change? Simple. A change of managers. She
                inherited land managed by the native people of the time. And don’t kid yourself, they did manage it. I inherited land managed by the Federal Government, who took over shortly after my pioneer family arrived, and continues today.

                One result is an unprecedented wildfire fuel buildup. In my county, and much of the West, we live in this virtual sea of gasoline. I call it 100 years of failed Federal policy. As bad as it is, though, based on my personal experience, it is not too late to reverse this trend.

                Some 25 years ago, my sister, her husband, and I decided to experiment using cattle to help restore badly degraded land, and we picked some of the worst we
                could find in Nevada: the banks of an old cyanide leach pond from a gold mining operation. The ground was virtually sterile. But using cattle to incorporate organic matter into the soil, we got amazing results in just a year. You have the pictures in my written statement. It was pioneering work then; it is now routinely being used around the world.

          2. Ida Lupine Avatar
            Ida Lupine

            Great post, fascinating. The trouble is humans do not and cannot manage anything the way nature intended. Our own interests preclude it.

            I can’t imagine how we are going to get people to rethink their approach to food and meat in the future in the hope of managing our population and resulting changes to the climate. We can’t even get everyone to wear a mask or get a vaccine in a pandemic, even to have consideration for others, only their own ‘rights’.

            I won’t go back to eating red meat again becaue I feel it would by hypocritical of me. Luckily, I didn’t grow up wealthy shall we say, so a lot of red meat was not on the menu very much. I know I don’t need it, and the terrible suffering that goes along with it.

            1. Rondi Lightmark Avatar
              Rondi Lightmark

              Not true, Ida, but you’re right in the sense that for thousands of years, humans have destroyed much of the planet because of ignorance about management of animals and soils. That’s changing but industrial agriculture in all forms has got to go if we are going to survive.

              For some hopeful news, visit, an organization that is restoring three million acres of prairie in northern Montana, buying up grazing leases and rewarding ranchers who enter their “Wildlife-friendly programs.”


              1. Rich Avatar


                With all due respect your comments in this conversation are getting more and more speculative with increasing anecdotal writings by you and others promoting and supporting cattle and sheep grazing but very little solid independent peer reviewed scientific studies.

                Simply insisting that non-native cattle and sheep are required to restore the areas they have previously trampled and destroyed, doesn’t make much sense and just is not happening on our public lands. With a simple casual observation of the millions of acres of public lands that have been destroyed by invasive cattle and sheep grazing the results are difficult to dismiss. If you are really interested in restoring the land, perhaps it time to allow the native grazers to do that.

                By the way I support the goals of the American Prairie Reserve organization that is working to rebuild the natural habitat of the American prairie lands and the native wildlife populations that once called it home. That includes bison, prairie dogs, grassland birds, cougars, swift fox, pronghorn, and black-footed ferrets among others. That goal is anathema to some of the nearby ranches and explains why APR is trying to partner with ranching operations around American Prairie’s edges to try to increase tolerance for native wildlife, reducing the amount of wildlife kills and the region’s habitat fragmentation.

                However there is considerable opposition by cattle and sheep ranchers nearby. This article says it all:


                Alison Fox the CEO of APR says: “This requires removing the livestock that have grazed the area for more than a century and replacing it with species like elk, antelope, prairie dogs, pronghorn and bison — animals that once roamed the land.”

                “But for longtime rancher and landowner Deanna Robbins, a third generation Montanan and a member of the United Property Owners of Montana, the reserve is non-negotiable.”

                “Robbins feels the APR’s vision of an American Serengeti is an assault on her business, culture and those living and working within the bounds of the planned reserve. She’s now leading an effort called “Save the Cowboy” to halt the project.”
                “Wild species such as grizzly bears, wolves and free-roaming bison, she says, would be a threat to cattle on her property. Plus, the glut of elk and deer would make stiff competition for grass and other forage.”

                Unfortunately the goal for too long has been to extirpate those pesky native wildlife species in favor of domestic cattle and sheep, not only on private lands but on our public lands as well.

                1. Rondi Lightmark Avatar
                  Rondi Lightmark

                  Rich, since I have provided ample links to show where there is success in soil restoration with well managed livestock, it’s not speculative, but clearly some on this thread have no interest in following up to see what’s actually working.

                  What’s clear to me is that people want cattle gone and ranches gone and all public lands to be rewilded. I agree that’s ideal, but is it really achievable, especially given the capitalistic greed of the federal government? And in any case, were all livestock eliminated, is there the depth of understanding of how to manage wildlife to restore the soils on millions of degraded acres? Given the history, I’d say no.

                  So if you want to talk speculative and wishful thinking, that’s what I’m hearing.I hear pain, frustration, anger, but I don’t hear any solid, achievable goals that have a prayer of being realized.

                  Except with private funding, like the American Prairie organization. And no surprise they are getting pushback, because change is hard. Still, I bet they’ll make it. Their mission is clear and they seem to be moving ahead. They also are partly using cattle to restore soils, by the way.

                  So please hear me: the soils MUST be restored. The only way I can see that happening is to incentivize ranchers to manage their livestock regeneratively. As more and more land is healed, the anger and frustration and battles will subside.

                  And not only this, there will be more rain and water tables will be restored.

                  I’ve got all the evidence, worldwide, to show how this works. Are you willing to take a look, or is your position too fixed?

                  If you have a better idea, let’s hear it.

                2. Rondi Lightmark Avatar
                  Rondi Lightmark

                  I forgot to respond to your request for peer-reviewed studies:


                  There’s a bunch in the above link. For example:

                  Impacts of holistic planned grazing with bison compared to continuous grazing with cattle in South Dakota shortgrass prairie
                  Paper assesses Holistic Planned Grazing outcomes in shortgrass prairie of the Northern Great Plains of North America. Researchers compared key ecosystem functions on the ranch of long time Holistic Management practitioner Mimi Hillenbrand who grazes bison, with those on neighboring cattle ranches using using set stocked light continuous (LCG) and heavy continuous grazing (HCG).

                  Resilience on the Prairie Edge: The 777 Buffalo Ranch (2010)
                  The health and resilience of the 777 Buffalo Ranch is directly related to the abundance and diversity of its plant and animal species. On the ranch, plant diversity is increasing having many species of native cool and warm season grasses, flowering forbs, shrubs and trees. Deer, elk, antelope, mountain lions, coyotes, bobcats, foxes, badgers, prairie dogs, porcupines, ground squirrels and many other animals share the range with the bison as they have for thousands of years. The ranch is also home to a variety of birds and raptors such as golden and bald eagles, red tail hawks, ferruginous hawks, prairie falcons and many others. Rare grassland birds such as the Baird’s sparrow and Long- billed curlew are found in abundance.

                  Effect of grazing on soil-water content in semiarid rangelands of southeast Idaho, K.T. (Keith) Weber, B.S. Gokhale, Journal of Arid Environments
                  This papers shows that soils under a grazing method called “simulated holistic planned grazing” (SHPG) have the highest percent volumetric-water content (%VWC) of soils tested under three different grazing methodologies that also included “rest-rotation” (RESTROT), and “total rest” (TREST). The values for volumetric-water content were 45.8%, 34.7%, and 29.8% for SHPG, RESTROT, and TREST respectfully.

                  Soil Carbon Sequestration in U.S. Rangelands
                  This Environmental Defense Fund issues paper from 2009 recognized the magnitude of rangelands as a global ecosystem (up to half the land surface area of the planet) and of rangeland soils as a carbon sink suitable to mitigate global warming through proper management actions (“protocols”). It states that on the 761 million acres of rangelands in the United States, 198 million tons of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) – or 3.3% of US fossil fuel emissions – could be sequestered into newly formed soil each year for 30 years. Several actions for soil improvement on rangelands are presented, the number one of which is “Conversion of abandoned and degraded cropland to grassland.” Some other recommended actions include avoiding conversion of rangeland to croplands in the first place, extensive grazing management and adjusting stocking rates.

  4. LL Avatar

    Hi George, Thank you, such an excellent article. What a disgusting abuse of we Americans and our hard-earned tax dollars!!!

    Would you write an article on the actual and truthful pros (if any) and cons of Regenerative Agriculture? Does it really create rain?

    1. Maggie Frazier Avatar
      Maggie Frazier

      Yes I would like to see George look into this.

    2. Maggie Frazier Avatar
      Maggie Frazier

      The link in the above comment is not for regenerative AGRICULTURE but regenerative rainmaking. Seems completely different.

  5. Lisa LeBlanc Avatar
    Lisa LeBlanc

    Here in Nevada, there’s been desert destruction to accommodate livestock forage – non-native and water dependent.
    You look at some of Mr. Wuerthner’s photos and wonder how any stockman could, in good conscience, put his animals out on land so sterile, nothing will grow even under the best of circumstances.
    My other, and more painful, point is that tearing up these landscapes is pretty much a guarantee that biome will never recover. Where I live – N. Nevada between Reno & Fernley – there are relic pastures where cattle once grazed that still produce tall grasses. But nobody here – deer, Big Horn, wild horses – will eat them. And even after decades of non-use, the desert won’t take them back.
    155 million acres of Public land are managed by the BLM for grazing leases. 27 – 31 million acres (depending on which circular you read) are allocated to wild horses. This mean 124 – 128 million acres are devoted exclusively to cattle and sheep. Torn up, decimated, rarely allowed to rest – those lands will need generations to recover.
    If they recover at all.

    1. cindy Avatar

      Exactly…”If they recover at all”…how can we bring the end to cattle and sheep grazing? 124 – 128 million acres put to rewinding COULD possibly heal.

  6. Rondi Lightmark Avatar
    Rondi Lightmark

    It’s pretty much guaranteed that any discussion of regenerative agriculture is going to include some vilification of Allan Savory. But here are some facts:

    1. He is not a “livestock farmer,” he is university trained in ecology and resource management and actually worked in the Carter administration in that capacity when he first came to the US.

    2. His principal interest and focus has always been about the fact that 2/3 of the planet is grasslands and that 70% of those lands are turning to desert. The more desert on the planet, the more the Earth’s systems break down. Why? Desert is boiling hot during the day and freezing cold at night. No more temperate climate. More droughts. Like what’s happening in the West right now. The earth has only half of the green it used to have and it’s getting worse as soils continue to be destroyed around the world.

    3. Savory is attacked for making erroneous claims about carbon sequestration, claims that he NEVER MADE! Again, HIS PRINCIPAL INTEREST IS IN HEALING SOILS FROM DESERTIFICATION!!!!

    Here is the actual transcript of the LAST PARAGRAPH of his TED talk:

    Savory: “I believe I’ve shown you how we can work with nature at very low cost to reverse all this. We are already doing so on about 15 million hectares on five continents, and (NOTE THE REST OF THIS PARAGRAPH) “people who understand far more about carbon than I do calculate that, for illustrative purposes, if we do what I am showing you here, we can take enough carbon out of the atmosphere and safely store it in the grassland soils for thousands of years, and if we just do that on about half the world’s grasslands that I’ve shown you, we can take us back to pre-industrial levels, while feeding people.

    Savory received the Banksia International Award and also commendation from the Buckminster Fuller Challenge. The Savory Institute’s Land to Market program is partnered with brands like Eileen Fisher, Patagonia, Burberry, Timberland, UGG, HD Wool and numerous bison ranches in addition to grass-fed beef enterprises.

    Furthermore, General Mills EPIC Provisions brand is also partnered with Savory’s work via WHITE OAK PASTURES, a famous regenerative farm ( Georgia. They funded a study that validated that its beef production reduces atmospheric carbon:

    We all want the same thing: healing of lands, ecosystems, and no more abuse of animals, whether wild or domesticated. Regenerative agriculture AND Savory’s work is taking us down this healing path. Please be open to learning how fast this movement is growing and why we need to support it!

  7. Rich Avatar


    I’ve visited, hiked, camped and driven through thousands of square miles of public lands that have been devastated by cattle and sheep grazing leaving a trampled landscape with very little vegetation, no wildlife and trashed polluted springs and waterways. These areas continue to be hammered by cattle and sheep grazing year after year in a downward spiral. That is a problem resulting in a loss of habitat essential to the survival of our native birds and other animals, plants and fish. While you may be able to find a handful of farmers doing the right thing on their own private land, that simply is not occurring on our public lands. What percent of our public lands in the arid west in states like Utah, New Mexico, and Nevada are being treated like the Las Damas Ranch? Simply conflating cattle and sheep grazing on a well managed ranch with what is happening on our public lands makes no sense.

    1. Rondi Lightmark Avatar
      Rondi Lightmark

      I completely agree that industrial ag is destroying land all over the world. All I can say is that this is a political issue that needs to be addressed with a change in practices, not with elimination of livestock–IF the lands are in arid areas of the country, which is a vast area, 350 million acres. It needs to become law to manage the grazing to heal the soils.The UN has said that we have only 60 years of healthy soil left, so much has been eroded and blown away and poisoned.

      The people who are making a difference are those that are out there teaching farmers and ranchers how they can have a real living, treat animals humanely, and restore the areas where they are present. This movement is only about 8 years old, but it already has worldwide scope.

      We can’t agitate about the present, we have to agitate for the future. Because there is ample proof that managed grazing works.

      Fortunately, mega-corporations like JBS, the world’s second largest beef exporter, have been feeling the heat from consumers. This June, it announced a target of zero illegal deforestation of the Amazon by 2025 for its secondary suppliers in South America, in addition to an earlier commitment it has already made to the Amazon. It has also announced a commitment to invest $100 million by 2030 in R & D “to assist producer efforts to strengthen and scale regenerative farming practices.”

      You all know as well as anyone that wildlife has to be managed these days too, or they also destroy lands and riparian zones without predators or culling. Who’s going to do that the way it should be done–while also healing the present damage?

      This is a Big Picture issue. Down with industrial livestock ranching, fight for regenerative!

      There are now 50 training hubs around the world, teaching ranchers how to shift their practices, including this one for California and Nevada:

      1. Mark L Avatar
        Mark L

        What happens if regerative isn’t the answer in some areas, or some biomes? Do you support elimination of cattle (or other domestics) in those scenarios? And if we don’t want them on public land?

        1. Rondi Lightmark Avatar
          Rondi Lightmark

          Dear Mark
          Since regenerative is defined as healing, restoring, renewing soils, water tables, ecosystems, and insect/bird/animal life, as well as bringing back communities, dealing with animals and farmworkers humanely, and avoiding all use of chemicals or pharmaceuticals, what’s not to like?

          Regenerative does not have to mean livestock, however. It is all about management though, which starts with the overall goal and also a realistic assessment of the best way to get there. Check out this astonishing 10 minute video of the restoration of the 4 million acres of the Loess Plateau in China. No livestock there–all human labor!

          So then what’s realistic?, a private organization that is buying up and retiring grazing leases along the Missouri River in northern Montana, stitching together more than 400,000 acres so far, to return them to prairie, with buffalo. Amen, I say. Forget the livestock. The money, focus and will is there.

          But your last question, “what if we don’t want them there” is the wrong question. We’re talking millions of acres that need to be healed–and livestock, properly managed, can do it better than any other method, realistically.

          This last link is a fascinating read if you are really interested in getting a more accurate picture. It’s from a House hearing back in 2014 and the title is:
          “Increasing Carbon Soil Sequestration on Public Lands”

          Some inspiring stories about using livestock regeneratively. And some sad ones about government obstruction.

          It’s 99 pages. But easy to skim.

          Thanks for reading what I’ve written, Mark!

          1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
            Ralph Maughan

            And we really need to go after feral and invasive pigs, hogs, especially in Texas, Louisiana, California, and many other states. Idaho, where I live, is one of the few that have none (and very likely never will). Hunting is a not an answer unless, of course, it is coupled with planned killing of the rest of the hogs.

            1. Mark L Avatar
              Mark L

              Oddly, Ralph, what I see in western La and eastern Tx is about an 90/10’split on people supporting and oppsosing hog hunting. And some support it while quietly supporting releasing them also….more to shoot. There’s WAY to many hogs for EVERYONE to be openly hunting them constantly, even at night, scopes, legislators openly supporting the hunting, money moving around. Lots of variables in there as to who benefit and who is ‘genuinely’ oppose hogs.

        2. cindy Avatar

          Say no to regenerative agriculture and cattle and sheep. Our planet is in peril. Now. Not some time in the future. Code Red is the reality.

          1. Rondi Lightmark Avatar
            Rondi Lightmark

            Hi Cindy: Read about the book you share. I agree with the author’s assessment of all of the damage done by overgrazing and the insanity of how our government manages our public lands.

            But here’s where the author fails, with this:
            “So, what to do? Ketcham does not offer any comprehensive blueprint but does have some general suggestions. At the top of his list is a “cow exorcism,” for ridding the West of cows would lead to “an ecological recovery the likes of which has never occurred in modern history.”

            Here’s where he shows his ignorance, by not explaining how exactly all of those degraded lands are going to recover. He evidently knows nothing about soil, especially in arid regions of the country, if he thinks they will recover on their own.

            Or, if he wants to rewild the West, that’s great. But who’s going to subsidize all of the work to heal millions of acres? The Feds won’t, they just like to sell oil and gas shares and lease land to ranchers–exploiting the land for profit.

            But, as I’ve said in other posts, the only way to rewild, or regenerate or restore the lands is either with private money (and we’re talking millions of acres–unlikely), or be incentivizing farmers and ranchers to change their land management to restoring/regenerating the soils. I’ve posted a lot within this thread. It’s the future. It’s being done all over the world. And it’s the only way, given the current state of politics and greed.

  8. Steve wilson Avatar
    Steve wilson

    For George weurthner,

    Although you are right ‘These costs are nearly impossible to calculate but they are a very real cost of livestock production.’ David simon has done some calculations, these are from his book:Meatonomics. (Which is exceptional.)

    Each Time McDonald’s Sells a Big Mac, We’re Out $7
    Posted: August 15, 2013 in Posts
    Tags: Big Mac, externalized costs, Meat

    The average retail price of a Big Mac in the United States is $4.56, but that’s just a fraction of the actual cost. When we add in all the hidden, externalized expenses of meat production, the full burden on society is a hefty $12.00 per sandwich. The extra $7.44 above the retail price is borne by American taxpayers and consumers. In other words, rich or poor, omnivore or herbivore, you incur a share of the hidden costs of each and every Big Mac sold in this country.
    Curious what you’re paying for? The externalized costs of each burger include:
    * $0.38 for cruelty.  A total of $20.7 billion in cruelty costs is imposed on Americans each year. (Extrapolated from a study in which auction participants bid to end cruel farming practices.)
    * $0.67 in environmental losses.  This is a small piece of the $37.2 billion in annual environmental costs related to U.S. animal food production each year. The figure includes the costs of soil erosion, climate change, damage from pesticides and fertilizers, devaluation of real property, and manure remediation.
    * $0.70 in subsidies.  Toss in a few coins from the $38.4 billion in government subsidies that American taxpayers pay to fund the meat and dairy industries each year.
    * $5.69 in health care costs. The biggest slice of the pie is a chunk of the $314 billion in health care costs incurred by Americans each year to treat those cases of cancer, diabetes heart disease, and food poisoning related to meat and dairy consumption.
    With “billions and billions” sold, the social costs add up fast. The total externalized costs of U.S. meat and dairy production are over $414 billion each year. Under a financial burden of such staggering dimensions, the only ones “lovin’ it” are shareholders in the McDonald’s Corporation.
    * * *
    Source: David Robinson Simon, Meatonomics: How the Rigged Economics of Meat and Dairy Make You Consume Too Much—and How to Eat Better, Live Longer, and Spend Smarter (San Francisco: Conari Press, 2013) (costs of fish production excluded).

    1. Rondi Lightmark Avatar
      Rondi Lightmark

      Dear Steve, The author you quote is dead wrong on several counts, so let me begin by saying that it’s not generally noted that there’s a lot of big money interested in getting blaming livestock in order to shift attention from the methane spewing from fracking, and the poisons going in our air, land and water from industrial agriculture, and now, the huge fake meat industry. Bill Gates owns a lot of shares in Monsanto, in synthetic fertilizer, and also in the Impossible Burger, for example. Don’t kid yourself — there’s much more to be seen when you read a book, or see a movie vilifying the beef industry.
      But let me repeat, I am TOTALLY against industrial livestock ranching.
      However, these are the facts re what you posted:
      1. Cruelty: yes, but nothing compared to the chicken and hog industry. At least cattle get to spend most of their lives on grass.
      2. Environmental losses: that list should, above all, include industrial agriculture, which is as much or more responsible for soil erosion, climate change, pesticides and fertilizers (livestock is NOT responsible for these two). Speaking of subsidies, we taxpayers subsidized veggie growers too–nearly 40% of their income. Land degradation and manure, yes, bad.
      3. Dead wrong on healthcare costs: there are ZERO peer-reviewed studies that prove that meat causes cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. But there is a huge agenda coming from the grain and processed food industry that wants to shift the blame to livestock. Our food pyramid committee is riddled with self-interested corporate and religious entities. Meanwhile, our military can’t make its quota because recruits are too fat. Sixty percent of the population has a chronic disease–do you think Big Pharma cares? Watch the TED talk with DR Sarah Hallberg: Reversing Type 2 diabetes starts with ignoring the guidelines: People have been eating red meat for thousands of years–and millions still do, because they can’t grow crops where they live. No epidemics of chronic disease there, until the food industry got perverted. Watch the documentary FAT FICTION. Eye-opening!


George Wuerthner is an ecologist and writer who has published 38 books on various topics related to environmental and natural history. He has visited over 400 designated wilderness areas and over 200 national park units.

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George Wuerthner