Recently I had the opportunity to visit an elementary school in Medicine Hat to give the school a donation for one of their projects. During our conversation I asked the principal about the school’s science and math programs. As we talked about these programs he explained how the school was taking a different approach to learning. It seems the teachers present the students with a problem and they are given the opportunity to find the answer themselves. He also mentioned that while textbooks and the library still play an important role in this process, the students are encouraged to find the answers by using the Internet. On the way home I began thinking what if the one of the science teachers asked the class to do a project on the impact livestock grazing has on the environment; what type of information would they find on the Internet.
To satisfy my curiosity I logged on to the Internet and typed “livestock grazing” into the search engine. I got over one million responses (1,600,000 to be exact). So I conducted a short random sampling just to see what was available. The results were mixed; for every positive article it seemed there were three negative articles. Rather than going through all 1,600,000 results I tried a different approach. I decided to go to the websites of a couple of well known environmental groups (The Sierra Club and Greenpeace) and Canadian livestock organizations (Alberta Beef Producers, Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, The Western Stock Growers’ Association, and others) to see what they had to say about livestock grazing.
I was surprised to see Greenpeace had very little to say about livestock grazing. On the other hand, the Sierra Club ( http://www.sierraclub.org/grazing/livestock/ecological.asp) had a great deal to say. Much of this website’s comments about grazing centred on three main issues: biodiversity, riparian areas and landscape ecology. After reading this information two things were very apparent: 1) the Sierra Club is opposed to livestock grazing on public lands in the Western United States, and 2) they have done a very poor job of researching the scientific literature, i.e., their information is garbage.
Given the important role livestock grazing plays in the Canadian cattle industry, one would expect the cattle industry would take relatively proactive approach to this issue. As an individual who has dealt with this issue not only as a rancher, but as a graduate student and a member of various environmental groups, I was expecting an in depth presentation that would address the issues raised by the environmentalists.
I was shocked. Despite the blatantly false and erroneous comments, The Sierra Club has done a better job of presenting their case than any of the livestock organizations I visited in my survey. I know you may argue the Sierra Club is an American environmental group and grazing public land in the Western United States is an American issue. However, consider this. It has been my experience that most of the environmentalists I have dealt with use information they have obtained from groups like the Sierra Club when they discuss the impacts of grazing. You also have to consider that there are a large number of you out there that own a grazing lease or place your cattle on a community pasture administered by Public Lands. Over the last decade that there is a segment of society who question the presence of livestock grazing on public lands in Western Canada and these people are becoming increasingly vocal in their opposition to grazing on public lands.
Perhaps it is time the cattle industry in Canada woke up and began dealing with the issue of livestock grazing in a proactive manner. The first step is for groups like the Alberta Beef Producers and the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association to develop a comprehensive program to update and enhance their websites. By doing so, their websites would address the environmental impacts of grazing on western Canadian grasslands in a comprehensive and scientific manner.
For much of society, the Internet is regarded as a reliable source of information. Schools are using it as an inexpensive addition to libraries and textbooks and therefore rely on it to as a valuable resource. Unfortunately, a great deal of the information that is presented as fact is in reality biased opinion. If the cattle industry wants the public to obtain the facts about grazing and the real role grazing plays in the sustainable management of our resources it had better take the time to create websites that address the issues in a scientific fashion. After all, how else are those elementary science students going to write an unbiased report on livestock grazing?
HylandArmstrongisaretiredrancherfromthe CypressHillsAlberta.Hecanbereachedat [email protected] or4035284798