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NPR Suggests Cattle Degrade The Environment

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In response to NPR’s negative article about cattle grazing and the planet, here are three ways cattle help the environment.

I was disappointed to read Eliza Barclay’s article, “How Your Love Of Burgers May Be Helping To Drive Wildlife Extinct,” which appeared in NPR’s The Salt recently. The article suggests that meat lovers are the real reason the environment is in such desperate shape.

"We need to see a drastic reduction in meat consumption to protect land, water and wildlife," Stephanie Feldstein, population and sustainability director for the Center for Biological Diversity, is quoted as saying in the article.

Feldstein blames cattle grazing on the decline of bears and wolves, as well as prairie dogs and elk. She must not have talked to anyone in Idaho or Minnesota/Wisconsin about declining wolf populations.

 

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According to the article, “Grazing destroys vegetation and damages soils and stream banks. And if you think grass-fed beef is a more ‘sustainable’ choice, think again. Grazing cattle on grass has more negative impacts on the land than any other land use, the group says. Instead, we could replace meat with plants, even one day a week. Meatless Monday, perhaps?”

If I had the chance to visit with these folks who dream of a utopic world untouched by humans, I would explain to them that grazing is not only beneficial for the land but it promotes a healthy wildlife habitat as well.

Vast herds of unencumbered bison roamed and grazed America’s Great Plains for centuries, and modern cattle grazing mimics that nomadic behavior. Just as bison did, cattle aerate and fertilize the soil with their hooves, which promotes moisture retention and new growth of grass. They also convert the forage located on land that is unsuited to crop production into tasty and nutritional beef.

According to explorebeef.org, there are several benefits to beef cattle production including:

1. Reducing the risk of wildfires.

“Grazing cattle can minimize the invasion of non-native plant species and minimize the risk of wildfires by decreasing the amount of flammable material on the land. Approximately 85% of U.S. grazing lands are unsuitable for producing crops. Grazing animals on this land more than doubles the area that can be used to produce food. Cattle serve a valuable role in the ecosystem by converting the forages humans cannot consume into a nutrient-dense food.”

2. Enriching the lives of wildlife.

“A combination of livestock and wildlife management on grazing lands has resulted in better species survival than when these activities are practiced separately. In the Eastern and Central United States, wildlife is almost entirely dependent on ranch, farm and other private lands; so, ranchers play an important role in the survival of native species.

3. Reducing our global footprint.

"Beef producers are experienced in using Best Management Practices (BMPs) to maintain air quality surrounding their operations. In addition, animal agriculture contributes minimally to the production of total greenhouse gasses. According to the EPA, the entire U.S. agricultural sector accounts for only 6.4% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and livestock production is only a portion of that total.”

These are excellent points with which to refute Barclay’s opinion piece on cattle and the environment, which is just that – opinion. To suggest that skipping a burger will save the planet is simply naïve and reckless. There are many other ways to reduce our carbon footprint, and going meatless is not one of them. What do you think about the article? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

 

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Discuss this Blog Entry 22

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 31, 2014

Please listen to Allan Savory: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vpTHi7O66pI

Tom Davenport (not verified)
on Mar 31, 2014
Calfdoc (not verified)
on Mar 31, 2014

The problem is this article is being read by people who know how silly and unscientific NPR is. The NPR article was read by the masses, the products of the public education system, who no longer have the ability to do any critical thinking. So when Obama has his EPA regulate methane production from cows they will all nod in agreement and one more aspect of animal agriculture will slowly die.

JRB (not verified)
on Mar 31, 2014

Good response Amanda. I agree the author hasn't traveled very widely or observed wildlife that we see daily on farms and ranches. There have been a number of negative articles about cattle raising again including methane issues.

on Mar 31, 2014

It seems to me that just using common sense would defuse cattle's negative effects on the environment. Commentators tell us that the cattle population is at levels not seen since the 1950's. If this is true and the environment is in decline, wouldn't that suggest we should actually increase the cattle population?

on Mar 31, 2014

I agree with the comment that the masses read the NPR article, while the knowledgeable read your article Amanda. This becomes more of a losing battle every day. And in the end, the American people will lose.

Gary Hooper (not verified)
on Mar 31, 2014

The greenies in Australia convinced the government to ban catle feeding in the Victorian High country and Mt Kosciusko National Park (NSW) because of the same reasons mentioned by the NPR. Danger to the environment and wildlife numbers declining (of course in our case Kangaroos, Koala, Wombats and Dingoes). So the idiot government listened to them and within 8 years the areas suffered the worst bush fires in history. Mt Kosciusko was on fire for 6 months because they couldn't get firefighters into the area. Now they are allowing summer grazing into both areas with limits and surprise surprise the fires are controllable, the wildlife is thriving and everyone is happy. Now the greenies are going after the wild horses and wanting them culled. I do wish people who choose to live in cities would leave those of us who choose to live in rural areas alone. :)

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 31, 2014

We are dealing with emotion instead of logic. Our only way to combat this is with facts such as presented by Amanda and in the comments submitted. All we can do is widely distribute the information/facts.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 31, 2014

Our management of the cattle determines whether cattle herds are harmful or beneficial. It's evident that cattle can be harmful to the environment, but it's true that managed properly, cows are an incredible tool in land restoration and health.

wynne (not verified)
on Mar 31, 2014

NPR doesn't venture beyond the city limits of large populated areas and yet they want to tell the rest of the country what to believe. Anything they report I view with skepticism. If they want to see cattle and wild life co existing, then they are welcome at our ranch where gators, deer, black bear ,coyotes, wild turkeys, peacocks, snakes, horses, goats and cattle are live on the same land. Eastern rattlers are the only problem that we have. If NPR knew what they were talking about, it would be the vast tracts of farmland that are being sold and developed into sub-divisions. When people wake up to wildlife in their yards eating the landscape that they paid big money to plant, it should be a wake up call that they are the ones destroying the natural habitat of wildlife. It isn't cattle that destroys eco systems, humans manage that all by themselves.

chenhalljr (not verified)
on Mar 31, 2014

It's funny how for years they have talked about the decimation of the rain forests and now they are turning about and saying our cattle are destroying habitat. Also , how would NPR explain the coyotes in suburban areas eating pets ? The cattle drove them to it ?

Linda in Illinois (not verified)
on Mar 31, 2014

Great point, Wynne! I winter my small herd of cows and sheep in a collar county of Chicago (which will be sold to pay estate taxes as soon as the market comes back) and was just showing my 6-year-old grandson yesterday how many "farm for sale" signs we saw as we drove to pick up hay. I asked him, "Where will they grow the food when this land is filled with houses?" He is a typical city kid but I am trying to teach him!

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 31, 2014

Everyone here has done a nice job of contributing. I can only add that NPR is just another vessel for environmental groups to use to get out their misinformation for donation and income making purposes. The truth matters nor does the environment for that matter. It is the money and power that fear mongering creates.

Bob Callihan (not verified)
on Mar 31, 2014

Amanda, don't bother talking to Barclay, Feldstein or others who dream of a utopia world untouched by humans; that's a misdirected effort. Facts do not impress them. They and their fellow environment-worshippers have long ago learned that there are more effective ways to use their time and resources talking to you and me. They have learned to use the media, the courts and the political system. Until we learn that, we should expect to continue to be on a defensive retreat.

Ken J (not verified)
on Mar 31, 2014

I think a good way to educate these people would be for them to go to a third world country for a couple of years. Let them work the land, they may see that some land is better suited for animal agriculture. They will be happy to get any meat in their hungry bodies with their vegetables.

Andy (not verified)
on Mar 31, 2014

When we started high density grazing on our ranch in Zimbabwe, the whole environment improved as the soils and vegetation responded to the cattle impact. The wildlife from large antelope to insects increased dramatically in number, and the dry spruits (creeks) began to run with water again, as opposed to an area a few miles away where the land was cleared and all trees, plants, wild animals etc were destroyed to grow crops under irrigation.

on Mar 31, 2014

Amanda, I'm an environmentalist, but I appreciate the moderate tone of your article. I'm not sure if I agree (I don't know enough to have an opinion), but your arguments certainly give food for thought.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Apr 1, 2014

Lots of opinion presented here, but where is the science (beef) ? I have walked more shrub steppe than anyone I know and I have seen how cattle decimate the range. I have done vegetation transects comparing grazed and ungrazed lands and ungrazed areas meet habitat needs of sagegrouse and grazed lands in most areas do not. Show me the data to support cattle grazing and healthy native plant populations and native biodiversity. I think there are places where cattle can be grazed with minimal adverse effects but the dry shrub steppe is not one of these. Your case of cattle being a substitute for historical grazing of buffalo is lame, there were no fences and buffalo were unhindered in a move to ungrazed areas. Cattle grazing in most cases is in conflict with healthy vegetation communities. I have looked for information to support grazing as a tool, but it is not out there. Savory is appalling.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Apr 1, 2014

Am not sure of where you are referring to as "shrub steppe" but here in the western plains there have been several studies involving the Greater Sage Grouse. Not only do they show that these birds thrive in grazed environments but they actually follow the cattle movement. The largest instance of mortality is in fact due to West Nile Virus followed by predation. There have been many times and many places that grazing has been stopped and it was proven that the vegetation suffered from lack of grazing. Your perception of Buffalo lightly grazing and moving on is a fairy tale. I don't know where you have looked for information on grazing as a tool, but there are a large number of published studies that support grazing as a tool. Your first sentence says it all for you. Your last sentence shows your inability to accept something that is proven science that simply doesn't fit your agenda.

on Apr 6, 2014

When you make the claim "there are a large number of published studies that support grazing as a tool", you really should back it up with two or three references to these studies,citing author, name of paper or article, the name of the publication, and the volume or date of publication. This way, we can look them up.

tedonald (not verified)
on Apr 2, 2014

I raise cattle and I think the NPR folks are just dumb. There are too many facts that state how beef is good for you. The NPR does not know what they are talking about. They need to get out of their recliners and go outside and see the world as it really is and quit gripping about everything they know nothing about.

Avatar (not verified)
on Apr 2, 2014

They're not going to get out, and most of what is said here is just preaching to the choir.

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A fifth-generation rancher from Mitchell, SD, Amanda grew up on a purebred Limousin cattle operation in which she and husband Tyler are active. She graduated with a degree in agriculture journalism...

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