Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to live and travel through much of western Nebraska, commonly known as the Sandhills. This extremely fragile environment that was once a region of shifting sand dunes has stabilized and is now covered by various species of native prairie grasses. Because of the landscape and the high-quality nutrients provided by native forages in the Sandhills, cattle thrive alongside diverse animal species such as deer, antelope, coyote, beaver, and grouse, as well as numerous small animal species and songbirds. Ranching dominates as the major economic driver for the region and cattle graze the grassy hills as far as the eye can see; the area has a reputation across the country for beef production. Ranchers in this area, much like ranchers across the country, take great pride in relying on environmentally-sound management practices to maintain profitability, and understand the devastating effects of overgrazing and mismanagement. They and are constantly pursuing the best strategies to improve the land and the environment. Improper management is devastating not only to the environment, but also to their livestock, and livelihood. Ranchers across the country recognize that taking care of the habitat resource is the foundation of longevity and profitability.
My objective is to empower readers with accurate information of how ranching affects the environment, and to shed light on true environmentalism. I’d like to expose ranching and ranchers for what they truly are: our best option for land conservation. True environmentalism takes a proactive approach in finding real solutions that assure both ranching and environmental sustainability. One great characteristic of beef producers is their agenda. They work to make an honest living, preserve a lifestyle, pass on a legacy, and prepare the next generation. The vast majority of beef producers take enormous pride in environmental stewardship and their role in preserving wildlife habitat, species diversity, and healthy plant and animal populations. Ranchers are at the forefront of environmentalism, and make more daily, consistent progress toward land conservation than all special interest groups combined. True environmentalism is not picketing, blasting social media with unsupported claims, or spreading false accusations in an effort to attack an independent and sustainable agricultural industry. Although the proclaimed objective of both ranching and special interest groups is land conservation, the way each goes about their objective widely differs. Special interest groups are formed by individuals who argue for the protection of species and landscapes without any changes to the ecosystem, or any form of resource development. These “preservationist” groups take a hardline approach which leads to an extreme interpretation of environmentalism, resorting to unconventional and sometimes violent tactics to prevent certain types of land use from occurring. This type of behavior is counterproductive and only creates friction between individuals with differing environmental views. I challenge that these special interest groups do very little for the actual proliferation of healthy ecosystems or preservation of the environment, and would argue they don’t fully consider the damage they do to the livelihoods of hardworking families and the stumbling blocks they create agricultural (food) production. In contrast, the cattle ranching community takes a science based approach that seeks for reliable solutions to preserve and enhance the land, support diverse ecosystems and wildlife populations, and allow for sustainability in agricultural production.
“Ranchers are at the forefront of environmentalism”
Beef producers are aware of wildlife species that call their property home, can name and regularly monitor forage plant species, and have a sense of stewardship for the natural resources entrusted to them. Stock water development funded by ranchers has had an enormous impact on the expansion and conservation of wildlife. This practice provides greater production efficiency for beef operations while benefiting every wildlife species as water is made more readily available throughout a greater number of locations. Water improvements have led to population growth in rangeland wildlife species, enhanced grazing distribution, and highly efficient land use. Further, stock water development results in decreased wildlife and livestock pressure on riparian corridors resulting in more robust river and stream systems. In addition to water improvements, ranchers implement appropriate stocking rates for grazing pastures. In this process, they determine the amount of grass available for livestock to consume without negatively affecting the growth cycle of the grass species. They account for wildlife consumption and plan for periods of pasture rest during the growing season where livestock are not allowed to graze. This practice assures not only the longevity and profitability of the pasture as a food resource for livestock, but also maintains a healthy plant life, improves plant diversity, grazing distribution, and minimizes overgrazing and erosion. Often these stocking rate strategies plan to harvest less than 50% of forage grown by the plant, leaving enough for wildlife to thrive, and allowing for grass root systems to fully recover and prepare for subsequent growth.
One core principle of environmentalism is the understanding of responsible harvest. A true environmentalist understands the science behind population diversity and how to manage those populations. This principle of responsible harvest applies to both plant and animal species. Cattle ranching practices are basically population management, and many of the principles used in wildlife biology and conservation are used in cattle management. Each year when the rancher markets a group of animals, a responsible harvest occurs. Beef producers closely monitor the number of animals they keep each year to ensure the land can sustain the population, leading to the responsible harvest of grass, which in turn assures a healthy soil system. Beef producers understand these dynamic ecosystems and how livestock interact with the environment, because they live and experience it every day. They understand that the core of environmentalism involves preservation and conservation, as well as a true understanding of responsible harvest. No matter the resource, whether its grass, timber, wildlife, or livestock, responsible harvest has a place in preserving and sustaining healthy populations and the environment.
Ranchers’ livelihoods depend on proper stewardship in preserving natural resources, maintaining prolific rangeland, and maintaining abundant wildlife habitat. I argue that there is no other group more invested, more experienced, or more involved in land conservation and sustainability than our beef producers. They truly participate in meaningful conservation on a daily basis, have a noble agenda, and understand responsible harvest. I appreciate their efforts in preserving and sustaining the environment along with producing a reliable protein source for my family and me.