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About The Author

George Wuerthner

George Wuerthner is an ecologist and former hunting guide with a degree in wildlife biology

27 Responses to Responding to Pro Livestock Advocates

  1. Heidi Hall says:

    If there is damage to the land(the bare ground in the photos)the cows need to be moved more frequently. My guess is that these cows are only changing their location if they want to. That is not regenerative grazing.

    I suggest you read the book Sacred Cow.

    • Jeff says:

      There is no such thing as “regenerative grazing” when it comes to non-native animals like cattle and domestic goats & sheep. These animals are all ecologically harmful by their mere existence. I suppose that cattle could be grazed in an ecologically beneficial manner in the plains states where the bison once roamed, but there’s no financially viable way to do that.

    • Jeff says:

      No such thing as “regenerative grazing” in the western U.S. This is nothing but rancher propaganda.

    • Jeff says:

      There’s no such thing as “regenerative grazing” in the western U.S., at least not the way in which ranchers mean it. It would be regenerative if done by NATIVE ungulates with the NATIVE grasses restored, the native predators restored, and no fences, but that’s about it.

  2. Jeff says:

    All the facts that George Wuerthner lists here are true and correct. Wuerthner is an expert in this area, and I often recommend his book Welfare Ranching to show people just how harmful cattle grazing is in the western U.S. (Another excellent book on this subject is Sacred Cows at the Public Trough.) The problems caused by cattle grazing are too numerous to list, and even more so in arid regions like the western U.S. or where forests are cut down for grazing. Domestic livestock grazing should not be allowed in the west at all, but removing them from public lands would be a good start.

    I’ve been advocating a beef boycott for decades, but I don’t see any environmental groups doing so — the Center for Biological Diversity at least raises this issue and advocates that people eat a plant-based diet — but so few people even know about this issue that there is no movement toward even decreasing the amount of beef eaten, let alone eliminating it. Kudos to people like George Wuerthner for continually raising this issue, maybe someday the general public will get a clue and stop eating beef or at least greatly reduce their consumption of it.

    BTW, the Pt. Reyes/cattle issue is especially egregious and outrageous. The ranchers at Pt. Reyes were paid a lot of money decades ago for their land, but they have remained there as tenants of the U.S. government. The reason for paying the ranchers was to get the cattle out and create a National Seashore as part of the National Parks system. The Seashore was technically created, but the cattle continue to do massive harm, even causing the deaths of the native elk and causing massive water pollution. The supposedly pro-environmental representative in Congress, Jared Huffman, has strongly supported the ranchers, and even threatened legislation as a way to keep them there.

    • Mark L says:

      I think the ‘don’t eat beef’ argument gets lost in granularity, as Ralph has commented on in a different thread. Having ‘some’ cows isn’t bad, having cows everywhere because we subsidize the industry is the problem. Having cows on an island where they consume rare ingenious plants is a tragedy, like in the Azores or Hawaii. Getting cows off federal land where the AUMs are cheap would be a good start. I understand why people would advocate for less beef (diet, ecosystem destruction, lots of corruption, killing/removal of indigenous persons, etc) but just saying “don’t eat beef” isn’t gonna get the job done. Cows aren’t going anywhere, the better strategy is to pick where they WON’T be and work towards that goal. Western cattle are a tiny percentage of the national beef market, but get an inordinate amount of subsidies. Stop the subsidies and let prices self-adjust (and please raise the AUMs to at least state levels). I don’t want to tell people what to raise on their private land (unless they are applying biosolids, etc. and not telling anyone) but at least charge a decent rate for cattle so it’s not so obvious that it’s subsidized ona national level.

      • Jeff says:

        I’m sure that people used to say that slavery wasn’t going anywhere too. That’s a defeatist attitude.

        Furthermore, I totally disagree that “some” cows are OK. How is some destruction of the natural world and killing of the life there OK? Cows are not naturally-evolved animals, and are thus not native anywhere. Therefore, they do harm wherever they are, if for no other reason that they take food from native ungulates. But let’s stick to the harm they do in the arid west. As George and others have clearly shown, in a nutshell cows have turned the western grasslands into deserts, again by their mere presence. (Sacred Cows at the Public Trough is also an excellent book on this subject.) Too many cows is more than zero, and even more so out here.

        Getting cattle off public lands is a starting point, not the end goal. Like the Natives here, I don’t recognize the concept of land ownership, and the land and ecosystems, along with the life there, take precedence over things like money and supposed ownership of land. As the name of the group says, Earth First!

      • Martha S Bibb says:

        Isn’t manure “biosolids”?

        • Mark L says:

          Yes but so are the pharmaceuticals, heavy metals and other products that are processed. You’d assume just manure but it’s other stuff too

  3. Nancy Orr says:

    Thank you for reprinting your article Mr. Wuerther. This should be more widely distributed.

    When I visited the National Grasslands in Kansas several years ago, there was a marked difference between areas grazed by buffalo and those where cattle were brought in to graze during spring and early summer. As you point out, limiting cattle grazing only diminishes the damage to native species. The only way to restore our Western grasslands is to end all grazing leases on public lands

  4. Rondi Lightmark says:

    Although I realize this is not going to change your mind, George, I nevertheless have to point out what you continue to miss in these sorts of articles.

    Taking your most recent one, from the top:

    Your first picture, showing a degraded landscape would NEVER be from a regenerative farm. Very misleading. Regenerative grazing allows land to recover, just as the passage of the buffalo did before there were fences. Any farm or ranch that treats their soil as you show in the picture is misleading to the max in terms of your argument against regenerative.
    You suggest that grazing might benefit some species and but not enough. But explain then why The Audubon Society now puts their seal of approval on grass-fed beef in supermarkets in 18 states with the label: No Cows, No Grass, No Birds?
    Regenerative only lives up to its promise if it continually manages land according to its ecosystem needs. Susie Creek watershed in NE Nevada is a prime example of restoration with appropriate management of cattle and the addition of beaver.
    https://www.tu.org/magazine/science/restoring-streamside-vegetation-using-grazing-and-beavers/
    Destroy soil and you destroy its ability to store water when it rains. Rebuild soil, using appropriately managed grazing and you mitigate drought. Don’t complain about water usage, complain about industrial ag and how it causes drought! https://www.nrdc.org/experts/arohi-sharma/how-regenerative-agriculture-can-mitigate-drought
    Your sentence: Livestock are one of the major sources of water pollution. Wrong. Regenerative grazing does NOT cause water pollution because living soil stores water, but you seem to want to lump everything in together to further your diatribe.

    6.The methane story was started by the fracking industry and people like Bill Gates, who would woo all of us to switching to his fake meat products, beginning about a decade ago. He has invested millions into selling us the “Evil Meat, Evil Cattle” story, while he relentlessly buys more and more land across the country–and is now the biggest landowner, ready to farm industrially to grow his investments. Meanwhile, scientists now know that methane from cattle is a “biogenic” cycle in relationship with microbes in the soil. What is bad is the methane that comes from the fossil fuel industry, which is not in a cycle, but which is a constant source of emissions polluting the atmosphere.

    In your Tom Kat Ranch put-down, you seem not to realize that
    “reduction in livestock impacts” is the essence of regenerative grazing. It mimics nature: Graze, Rest. Graze, Rest. Never graze if your decision destroys soil. And you ask how much improvement might there be if no grazing? Depends on whether the soil you want to “rest” is healthy. If it’s not, it needs restoring, according to the natural symbiotic relationship between grasslands and ruminants.
    You say hundreds of plants and animals are declining in numbers across the West. Well, about 50% of the planet is turning to desert and that’s why. Because the soils have been destroyed. And they do NOT regenerate on their own without microbial impact from ruminants, if they were originally grasslands.
    You dismiss the “good examples” of where livestock benefits the environment and negatively blanket statement the rest, where managed grazing is not being implemented.
    Bottom line: There is very little likelihood that the Federal government is going to release millions of acres of rangeland, to be returned to the wild, as much as you might wish. Furthermore, so much of those lands are badly degraded that they will continue turning to desert without restoration. Which should be subsidized by the Feds–but only if done correctly. Why? The biggest reason is that we are looking at the death of the planet unless we change where we put our money, choosing methods that are scientifically proven and are repairing soils all over the world. Savory.global

    • Jeff says:

      Hopefully no one here buys your pro-rancher BS. I’ve confirmed that the science hasn’t changed since I campaigned against cattle grazing in the 1980s, and that science shows that there is no way to graze cattle in the western U.S. that doesn’t cause great ecological harm. Your comments are just rancher propaganda.

      • Rondi says:

        https://www.audubon.org/news/national-audubon-society-announces-largest-market-based-regenerative-grasslands

        April 6, 2021, New York, NY – The National Audubon Society today announced the largest market-based regenerative grasslands partnership in the U.S. with Panorama Organic Grass-Fed Meats®, the nation’s largest producer of 100 percent grass-fed, grass-finished certified organic beef. The commitment will impact one million acres of certified organic U.S. grasslands and create individual habitat management plans with every family rancher in the Panorama Organic network through Audubon’s Conservation Ranching Initiative.

        “With 95 percent of grassland birds living on cattle ranches in the United States, and the bird population in steep decline, the connection between cows, birds and land conservation is a priority for Panorama Organic and the National Audubon Society,” said Kay Cornelius, general manager of Panorama Organic. In addition, Cornelius announced that Panorama Organic will further this commitment by doubling the rancher network, with a goal of two million total acres to be certified by 2030….Panorama Organic’s 34 independent family ranchers span eight states and nearly one million acres of USDA Certified Organic grasslands in California, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota, Colorado and Wisconsin.
        Read on, Jeff. Please.

    • Martha S Bibb says:

      I can only ask you to drive the West to see the terrible damage caused by cattle. To see how the sage steppe has been ground up to grow food for cattle. How all the upland water on public lands is impounded for cattle. How wealthy ranchers take over state governments to further their economic goals. Look at the politics in Idaho to see that conflict of interest corruption.
      Red meat is actually not healthy whether or not it is eating grass grown and watered for them.
      Idaho has 4 million pounds per day of cattle manure polluting the Snake River aquifer which has also polluted the Snake River, rendering it unsafe to even boat in.
      Cattle is a polluting agri-business.

  5. Turtle says:

    Hola y buen día Mr Wuerthner,
    we are a member of Dana’s “list-server” from the Methow Valley & saw your article there.

    We lived in the Methow for many years and before that CA & are very aware of the cattle grazing issue.
    as a result we stopped eating all industrially sourced meat back in the late 1980s upon reading John Robbin’s book Diet for a Now America detailing the issues of factory farming.
    Subsequently also became a member of North Coast & South Bay Earth First! during Redwood Summer.

    unfortunately, we note, along with the other commenters here, that you are not actually addressing “regenerative farming” methods.

    None of your pictures are from anything even close to regenerative ranching.

    We learned of these methods thru Permaculture Design, PCD, which lead us to Dr Alan Savory’s methods.

    As Earth Firster!s, we agree emphatically that uncontrolled grazing needs to stop & all grazing on public lands must either end or be strictly monitored with only PCD & Dr Savory’s methods allowed.

    Please review Savory’s methods and get back to us all.
    https://savory.global/

    Savory has apparently restored many hundreds or thousands of acres of native savanna and forest in Zimbabwe where he perfected his methods.

    His methods by default employ PCD Principles which when employed in human disturbed areas help improve biodiversity.

    we would ONLY advocate for cattle grazing when Savory/PCD methods are employed and enforced.

    We are aware of your years of work, having lived in the Methow & knowing Dana, however you seem to have missed the point of “regenerative farming”. 😏

    Also we suggest to Dr Savory that you also take a Permaculture Design Course & become a trained PCD teacher to add further credence to your work. You would plug in very well to the global PCD network…
    By our estimates PCD is humanity’s largest grassroots network that you never heard of! 😇

    Create a Great Future.
    Turtle of CA Earth First!

    • Jeff says:

      Savory is a rancher and his claims are BS. What don’t you get about a complete conflict of interests here?

      “Regenerative farming” with non-native animals like cattle is nothing but a scam. If you want to know the truth about the great harms that unnatural large animals like cattle do, look to wildlife biologists and ecologists who work for environmental groups like Center for Biological Diversity, not to ranchers who have a great incentive to lie to you.

      When I was a campaigner in Earth First! in the 1980s, no one would have even listened to this utter BS. About half of us, including me, were opposed to all agriculture, because it’s totally unnatural and has caused massive destruction of our planet and killing of species over the past 10,000 or so years. And animal agriculture, like ranching, is the worst of this.

  6. Maggie Frazier says:

    I read several articles regarding studies of Savory’s
    attempts to prove his theory – years ago. As I recall, his theory didnt work out in Africa where he tried it. I’m sure regenerative grazing might work but it sounds very labor intensive – that in itself would likely not cause livestock producers to be enthusiastic about it. Using a grazing allotment, they can turn their livestock out on public land or forests at only $1.35/month for each cow/calf even though the grazing might be in an arid area – a less expensive & easier way of feeding them up – that might matter more. They have the Fed agencies removing/killing any predator that threatens their animals AND get to claim the allotment as collateral for their loans. And this is only a very small segment of the livestock industry – only 2-3% of what is produced. Then there is the matter of livestock feed which takes up so much of our agricultural areas.
    There really is no great benefit from cattle’s manure – with their several stomachs – what comes out doesnt return plant life or seeds to the environment as many other species do. And the damage done to riparian areas – polluting the water, eating the brush that shades the creeks/streams? Cattle will hang in these areas – where other species – horses etc – will drink & move on.

    • Rondi Lightmark says:

      Dear Maggie,
      Savory first shared his TED talk message about desertification in 2014–and it was followed by a blizzard of dismissive papers by academics and biased publication where there was zero knowledge about soil or regenerative agriculture. Since that time, Savory has been vindicated countless times, to the extent that General Mills is investing a million+ to shift its organic products to regenerative.
      There is a lot of information to be found on YouTube where you can see for yourself that ranchers that manage grazing have more time, make more money, grow soil that handles drought better than industrially grazed land, and improve ecosystems dramatically. This article: “These cattle ranchers are raising better beef, spending less — and reducing carbon emissions”
      https://www.cnbc.com/2022/03/19/regenerative-ranching-changing-how-cattle-graze-reducing-emissions.html is a prime example of the growing popularity of this approach.
      For the rest of your comment — I included a link as an example of a degraded riparian area restored by the management of cattle plus the addition of beaver.
      The biggest problem with George’s article and any negative comment about regenerative grazing — including attempts to debunk Savory, is that his main message is not about cattle, it’s about DESERTIFICATION.
      You must be aware of lakes and rivers drying up all over the world. We are approaching a time when there will be no crops for millions because of lack of water, caused by dead soil as a result of industrial agriculture and bad grazing practices.
      Nothing–and I mean, Nothing! is more important to focus on than this. Please read what I wrote and consider learning more. Your concerns are important but I hope you will be interested in going deeper.

  7. Maggie Frazier says:

    “Dan Probert, a rancher in Oregon and the marketing director for ranching collective Country Natural Beef, explains that regenerative cattle ranching involves herding cattle from one paddock to another on a regular, almost daily basis. The cattle eat the grass in the pasture where they are grazing, cutting it down low, then move on. Each paddock they cut down has a significant portion of time to rest and restore so it can grow back.

    “Those cattle are bunched, they’re kept pretty densely herded, and then they’re moved sometimes twice in one day. And then that land is left to rest and recover for a full year before the animals are back,” Probert told CNBC.”
    As I wrote in my earlier comment – this is very labor intensive! But in the West on grazing allotments – I really doubt this would be productive for all the reasons in the above article.

    • Jeff says:

      The only way that anything like this would work to restore the land to its natural condition by using non-native animals like cattle — which should be the goal; I don’t know what they mean by “regenerative,” but it sounds like a rancher scam to me — would be to emulate the natural conditions before the colonizers (or in some cases even the Natives) changed the ecology. For large ungulates, the only similar animals were tiny remnant bison herds who somehow wandered into and across the Rocky Mountains. So sure, if ranchers were willing to keep their herds to no greater than 7-11 head, move them around constantly, have no fencing, allow predation by native predators, and replace the non-native grasses that they’ve caused with native grasses and plants, then sure it could work. But this is not financially viable, so it’s not going to happen. Instead, we get the Savory scam and propagandists promoting it.

  8. STG says:

    Check out the American Prairie in Eastern Montana. They are trying to use best available land practices to raise buffalo. The political and social blowback and vilification they are getting from conventional ranchers in Montana is appalling! Apparently some Montana ranchers don’t think other interests should have property rights or be eligible for grazing permits. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. I would like to see cattle off public land, but I don’t think this is going to happen. I live in a small Montana town where the attitude is entitlement to public land for raising cattle. Conventional agricultural interests have the political and cultural power to do whatever they want in Montana! Encouraging and rewarding better land stewardship is better than the status quo.

    https://www.americanprairie.org/

    • Jeff says:

      I’m sure that slave-owners felt entitled to own slaves too, and that people said that abolition of slavery would never happen. You have to work for what you believe in in order to have a chance of getting anything good. If you just give up and settle for a compromise that doesn’t fix the problem — how about if we put a limit on the number of slaves you can own? — then you never get a good result. If you keep fighting, you never know what might happen, regardless of how unlikely a good result seems. I’ve fought ranchers and won (locally), and I fully understand what we’re up against, but that doesn’t mean we should give up and just accept a lesser evil.

      • STG says:

        Jeff,

        I don’t view this situation as involving either-or/binary choices. You can litigate and legislate to get cattle off public land. Individuals, organizations or land trusts can also purchase land as an act of restoration. At the same time, support organizations that want to graze native buffalo instead of cows. You can do both: Have the ultimate goal of cattle only on private land, but encourage better land practices that can impact the land now.

        • Jeff says:

          You said that you “don’t think [getting cattle off public land] is going to happen.” Well, I ran a campaign to get cattle out of a state park near where I live, and it was successful. What you said is a defeatist attitude.

          Humans have bad feelings and attitudes toward the natural world and the life there and that’s what needs to be changed. This is a long-term goal, because these bad feelings and attitudes have been building for millennia. While we’re fighting for immediate Band Aid solutions to specific symptoms, we also need to be trying to win people’s hearts & minds to fix the root problems. Merely fighting individual environmental battles is being sucked into a whack-a-mole situation that will never be successful.

          To be clear, native bison are exponentially better than non-native unnatural cattle, but the big issue is animal agriculture v. wild animals. “Raising” bison is just more animal agriculture, which is very ecologically & environmentally harmful and bad for animals (not to mention that wild meat is healthier). If you want to restore the native prairie, grasslands, and marshes, the bison need to roam wild, not be “raised” and fenced, and they need to be subject to native predators so they move around adequately and don’t harm the land or riparian areas. I’m not sure what this project is doing, but saying that they’re “raising” bison raises a huge red flag.

          Better is obviously better than worse, but I’d much rather that humans stop ALL unnatural/harmful activities. Cattle are not naturally evolved animals, let alone native anywhere. Therefore, they do harm by their mere existence and presence. Therefore, I want them removed from all land. Getting them off public land is just a start. I realize that this is also a very long-term goal that will almost certainly not be achieved anywhere near the end of my life, but it’s what’s worth fighting for.

  9. Rich says:

    Rondi,

    Regenerative farming is akin to perpetual motion schemes – they look good on paper and many people have been snookered by the promises but it just doesn’t work in the real world. Here is a rigorous study (8/31/2022) regarding water pollution from cattle ranching at Point Reyes National Seashore. It is difficult to understand how regenerative farming could suddenly change everything, protect the seashore from pollution, the elk from government shooters and starving and thirsting behind fences, the fisheries, other marine life and human visitors from bovine feces and urine. It just works against physical laws and reality.

    • Jeff Hoffman says:

      The Point Reyes situation is especially outrageous (I did some work on it). The ranchers were paid for their land long ago and were supposed to get out, but the government agreed to let them stay temporarily as renters. Well, “temporary” turned into permanent, and not only have they ruined the land, but they’re now killing native elk to aid their cattle.

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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