Ranchers & Environmentalists: Why they're actually not Hatfields & McCoys.


Honest Beef Ranchers & Environmentalists

A quick Google search of "ranchers, environmentalists" yields the following headlines:

Environmentalists and Ranchers Clash Over Park Land Grazing 
-WSJ
-
Owens Valley ranchers and environmentalists brought together by drought
-LA Times
-
What do western ranchers and a southern environmentalist have in common? 
-Environmental Defense Fund
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Trump water directive cheered by ranchers, blasted by environmentalists
-Texas Tribune
-
Oregon ranchers, environmentalists brace for sage grouse listing decision
-The Oregonian
-

These two groups, "ranchers" and "environmentalists," are usually referenced as both distinct and opposing. Defining them will forever be subjective to whom you ask, but they must be given a definition nonetheless. 

A rancher, according to the Google, may be defined as someone who owns a ranch (good one, Google). If a gal had to give a little more detail to the term: an individual who oversees grass being turned into protein.

An environmentalist is defined as "a person who is concerned with or advocates the protection of the environment." According to this definition, what informed human being wouldn't be considered an environmentalist? However, the title is not normally attached to your everyday Jane. Instead, it is saved for scientists, authors, conservationists - individuals on the fringes who raise their voices, participate in demonstrations, and work for change.

The Differences

Are there poignant differences between ranchers and environmentalists? Yep.

Cattle producers live all over the United States, but are mostly concentrated in Middle America. Environmentalists also live and work all over the country, but are mostly on the coasts. This geographic difference is not only one of miles, it's a difference of culture, politics, values, and lifestyle.

Politically, ranchers lean right for a variety of reasons, the largest of which often have to do with smaller government and tax laws, which can have large impacts on land ownership and the passing down of assets to future generations. Environmentalists lean left, often advocating for bigger government to help regulate industry. 

For obvious reasons, there is not a lot of discourse between these groups; it would be a rare find to walk into a bar and see a rancher having an in-depth conversation with a scientist from Greenpeace, for example. They just don't hang out in the same bars. 

Hatfields and McCoys

America watches, listens, and reads about disputes between ranchers and environmentalists over pipelines, land use, water rights, and soil health. One group pits itself - or is pitted - against the other, each with apparently different ends and definitely different means to those ends.

Ranchers wave their fists at environmentalists for trying to influence change in ranching - a business about which 'they don't know anything.' Environmentalists criticize ranchers for what they perceive as indifference to the long-term impact of raising cattle.

Two groups of people have not misunderstood each other so tragically since the Hatfields and the McCoys.

The only difference is that they're actually not the same as the Hatfields and the McCoys. To both tribes: your goal is the same. You are both working to guard Mother Earth, your angles are simply different.

 

Don't say it to their faces, but ranchers are environmentalists.

Ranchers would probably not want to be associated with the title and its liberal-connections, but you won't meet more dedicated group of environmentalists.

Honest Beef

Ranchers would starve if the earth wasn't their first priority. Without healthy grassland on which to graze, cattle don't grow well. Because cattle are sold by the pound, fewer pounds equals fewer dollars, and in the cattle business, one can't afford to leave money on the table. So, ranchers put management practices into place to ensure the land not only survives the cattle, but thrives with them.

Land Management

Pasture rotation is implemented to let the ground rest and rebuild after having been grazed. A habitat is found in these pastures by animals other than cattle, including threatened and endangered species of mammals, fish, birds, and plants. Many ranchers collaborate with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to make sure turtles don't drown in water tanks, that fences are high enough for small animals to crawl under, but low enough for deer to safely jump over. Ranchers also keep invading plants such as thistles and cedar trees at bay to keep them from overtaking the natural grasses and landscape. 

Turtles on Connealy Angus

Alternative Energy and Water Management

Alternative energy sources are utilized in the form of wind or solar-powered pumps to bring water up from the ground into a tank. Rivers and streams are fenced off to protect both the cattle and the creatures that inhabit those ecosystems. 

Honest Beef - Water Management

Fixing a windmill on Connealy Angus

Methane Emissions 

While I'm here, let's talk about the scary numbers we've probably all seen that suggest cattle are causing the hole in the ozone layer. While cattle are the largest contributor (19%) of methane to the environment, methane only accounts for 10% of total greenhouse gas emissions, meaning cattle only account for about 2% of total GHG emissions according to the EPA

Is the industry perfect? Far from it - what industry doesn't need to take a look at itself in the mirror? But, significant improvements have been made over the past decade to mitigate beef's impact on the environment.

Middle Ground 

When environmentalists advocate for a cause, they most often have altruistic motives relating to leaving the planet in a livable and healthy condition for the next generations.

Ranchers, like environmentalists, are also parents and grandparents and share these motives. But they also have an economic motive wrapped up in their bottom line. They understand the importance of the earth's health for their children when they're gone, and know that their children and their business will suffer if they don't take care of the land while they're here. 

So, while environmentalists choose to care, ranchers have to care. Both groups advocate for the environment, but there is a deep-seated misunderstanding with roots that go beyond the issues at hand. 

What's the solution?

I don't know, and I'm not even going to begin to act like I do, but here are a few suggestions of which I also need to take heed.

Perhaps listening to one another is a good place to begin. Present arguments respectfully. Leave dirty names and loud voices at the door. Try to be blind to human differences that may be present but have nothing to do with the topic at hand. Read an article or publication that may not have otherwise been on your radar considering the source. Look at the numbers. Listen to the anecdotal experiences. 

Are these cliché suggestions to an incredibly complex problem? Perhaps, but clichés stick around for a reason. 


1 comment


  • Roger Hunt

    A very accurate account of the subject. I am a farmer in Iowa. I am also a retired Landscape Architect. I have experienced the environmental debate from several different angles and I couldn’t agree more with your comments. When I was with my previous employer, Trees Forever, (an environmental organization) we worked hard to bring varying ideologies together for the enhancement of a healthy and sustainable environment. We did a lot of listening and educating.

    Finally, this past Sunday I was privileged to meet your parents and tour some of their ranch, good people, good ranchers, good environmentalist. You must be very proud, I know they are.


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