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Environmentalists, You Gotta Love Em’

It was a couple of years after the Endangered Species legislation was introduced to the Canadian public and I was giving a presentation to a group of environmentalists on the role livestock can play in managing biodiversity on Western Canadian Grasslands.

On this particular evening I was at the coffeemaker, drinking coffee and eating a doughnut when this cute blonde came up and introduced herself. Before I could introduce myself she started to explain to me how livestock grazing was destroying millions of acres of grassland in Western Canada and the government should pass a law to eliminate livestock from Western Canadian grasslands.

Although she awfully cute I have to be honest, I was doing my best to ignore her remarks. Nothing bothers me more than an “expert” who has seen a documentary or read a magazine article trashing the livestock industry and is just itching to display his/ her ignorance. I have very little patience to listen to this type of garbage.

The presentation itself followed the same pattern most of the presentations I have given for the past 17 years. It begins by showing the audience, the biodiversity associated with a typical ranch in southern Alberta. The presentation then explains how livestock can be used as a tool to maintain and enhance biodiversity. After the presentation there is the usual question period. In this case I try to focus on the economics of ranching and the economic barriers ranchers face when making range management decisions.

In the beginning it has always been my policy to give presentations to environmental groups who are supposedly “unfriendly” to the cattle industry. To prepare for each presentation I would always review the research I did for my graduate thesis paper (The Effects of Grazing on the Physiology and Physiognomy of the Mixed-grass Prairie and Fescue Grasslands of Western Canada). In addition I would always have a file on my laptop containing selected reference papers I could refer to in the event I was challenged by a member of the audience. You might say I approached each presentation as if it was going to be a knock-’em-down, drag-it-out, last-S. O. B-standing-wins kind of fight.

While there was some initial hostility to my presentation by the end of the presentation the mood of the audience always changes. Once the audience begins to realize I am not there to sell the cattle industry but to initiate an intelligent discussion on managing for biodiversity, the crowd becomes more receptive to my message. My message is a very simple one: livestock grazing is an important component in sustainable ecosystem management.

To make sure the audience knows the presentation is supported by peer-reviewed research I am not afraid to refer them to the research papers that form the basis of the presentation. As I have mentioned before I discuss both the ecological and economic aspects of grazing. By the time I have finished my presentation and responded to the audience’s questions I have provided a very realistic view of ranching.

I have been to meetings where the ranching industry is dragged over the coals by the audience. My experience with the groups I have dealt with is entirely different. The question period is pretty anticlimactic. It is pretty hard having an argument with someone who agrees with your comments. Hell, at one presentation just to see if everyone was awake, I mentioned ranchers should be compensated for the wildlife habitat they manage. I was shocked when everyone in the audience thought it was a great idea. As I have mentioned before, every presentation has an individual who approaches me at the beginning to tell me how the livestock industry is destroying the biodiversity of Western Canada. At the end of each presentation, these same individuals walk up to me, shake my hand, thank me for the great presentation and then tell me how I have changed their attitudes about livestock grazing.

Seventeen years ago I once told a rancher I was giving a presentation to an environmental group in Calgary. He told me, talking to an environmentalist was like pissing on a hot flat rock; nothing will sink in because they’re too stupid to learn anything. By giving my presentation to businessmen, students and environmentalists throughout southern Alberta I have had numerous opportunities to speak to the public about livestock grazing. There have been times when the discussion was lively. Never the less, in each instance the audience has always shown the desire to listen and learn about how livestock can be used as a tool to manage ecosystems.

HylandArmstrongisaretiredrancherfrom theCypressHillsAlberta.Hecanbereached at [email protected] or403-528 4798

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