Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Hasselstrom speaks out

Linda Hasselstrom is a Hermosa-area writer, rancher, and contributor to Writers on the Range, a feature of High Country News.

Excerpted from the Missoula Independent:

"E. coli contamination thrives in feedlots, but grass-fed livestock,
including beef, pork, chicken, sheep, elk, deer, antelope and other wild
meat animals, is free of this dangerous pathogen.

Range cattle roam freely, rarely spending more than a day in one spot. They must be branded to prevent theft and vaccinated against disease, but they are herded only briefly into corrals. Since cows live outside in all weather, their wastes are scattered and broken down by elements and insects. Pastured cattle never stand knee-deep in manure, because cows don't like to eat near feces. That's why, in winter, ranchers scatter supplementary feed onto clean grass. Buyers who cram cattle into feedlots for fattening waste resources and in the process make the animals—and those who dine on them—less healthy.

A 2002 U.S. Department of Agriculture study identified 358 million acres of privately owned grassland, pasture and range. The 2007 Ag census noted that only 656,475 farms and ranches are raising beef cattle, even as more U.S. residents consume more imported food every year.

Meanwhile, wild animals in national parks and popular wilderness
areas live precariously because public lands are increasingly crowded. Private land allows those species to breed and rest. Gary Nabhan,
the conservation scientist and writer, estimates that 80 percent of half of the country's endangered mammals, plants and birds are nurtured on private and tribal lands rather than in national parks or wilderness areas.

How can we enhance wildlife habitat in ranching country? We might
zone grazing lands so they can't be invaded by housing or commercial
developments. How about incentive payments for ranchers who shelter wildlife and protect open space—much like the "tax increment financing" given to businesses? Or we could lower taxes on ranch property, since ranchers feed many animals we consider public property.

As I write this, 40 antelope are grazing my pasture."
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