Mention “beef” to most environmentalists, and they react like you just uttered a four-letter word.
That’s because beef comes from cattle, and cattle are the enemy—if you believe the manifestos of the more-strident “conservation” groups, that is.
Take the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity, for example. Here’s their official stance on the use of public lands for raising cattle: “The ecological costs of livestock grazing exceed that of any other western land use. By destroying vegetation, damaging wildlife habitats and disrupting natural processes, livestock grazing wreaks ecological havoc on riparian areas, rivers, deserts, grasslands and forests alike—causing significant harm to species and the ecosystems on which they depend.”
According to the center, in addition to destroying vegetation, damaging stream banks and contaminating waterways with manure, cattle reduce “once-lush streams and riparian forests to flat, dry wastelands; once-rich topsoil to dust and [cause] wholesale elimination of some aquatic habitats.”
Wow. About the only thing bovines aren’t accused of is supporting illegal immigration.
Environmentalists also squawk about the fees paid to lease acreage on public lands for grazing, claiming that the relatively low costs amount to a “subsidy” for ranchers—as if food production isn’t subsidized across all sectors. Just the availability of irrigation water alone across millions of acres of range and farmland represents billions in so-called subsidies—but it results in an abundant, affordable food supply from which we all benefit.
The “ranchers are getting a free ride” rhetoric plays well with consumers, who never have to conduct a cost-benefit analysis regarding land use decisions. Three years ago, in fact, the center sued the government to reform (ie, raise fees) or eliminate the federal grazing program as a money waster. In 2011, however, the Obama administration refused to do either.
However, the real traction activist groups gain isn’t related to economic messaging, but rather the notion that if only cattle were eliminated from public rangelands, all would be well, environmentally speaking. Such a stance is powerful in its simplicity, but ecologically about as wrong-headed as it’s possible to be.
A sound, sensible alternative
Despite the doomsday scenarios eco-activists try to promote, Pima County (Arizona)—the epicenter of many land-use battles—has done an admirable job developing a comprehensive Multi-Species Conservation Plan (MSCP) that addresses several contentious issues, among them cattle grazing.