Why should we care that so many people want to see cattle ranching restricted or eliminated in Washington State in order to make room for more wolves? Isn’t eating red meat bad for you anyway? Why should we allow individuals to profit from grazing cattle on public range land? Don’t all those cows pollute rivers and streams as they strip the earth of vegetation? Don’t cattle create billions of tons of greenhouse gases annually? Wouldn’t we be better off getting rid of all those cows in favor of more wildlife?
The simple answer is we should care. And no, none of the above anti-beef propaganda is true.
There are currently around 2,000 wolves in Idaho, and between 8,500 and 10,000 in British Columbia depending on who’s doing the counting. So why can’t Washington State support thousands of wolves as well? Can’t we just “coexist” with wolves? Do wolves really threaten our economy and our food supply?
Let’s look at the geographical and economic facts. To begin with, Washington State is much different than either of its neighbors. Let’s just compare our state with our northern neighbor for starters.
British Columbia comprises a huge land area of 364,764 square miles. It is one of North America’s most mountainous regions. Two thirds of the Province is covered by forest. B.C.’s economy is based on the export of natural resources, with timber ranking first in importance within the Provincial economy. Only three per cent of the total land area is considered arable or potentially arable. The current human population is just over 4 million, of which some 90% live within a hundred miles of the U.S. border.
By comparison, Washington State has a land area of 63,582 sq. miles. That’s one fifth the size of British Columbia. Washington’s human population of seven million is nearly twice that of our neighbors to the north. Our State economy depends on agriculture, with total agricultural production exceeding 6 billion dollars annually. Agriculture use covers about 1/3 of the total land area of Washington State, or about 1/2 of all private land in the state. There are nearly one million acres of pasture land and 6 million acres of range land which support the state’s 1.5 billion dollar livestock industry.
Obviously, Washington State and British Columbia are vastly different topographically, geographically, and economically. The climate, topography, and vast size of British Columbia make it ideal for supporting an abundant ungulate prey base (primarily deer, elk, moose, and woodland caribou). That large prey base is able to support a significant population of wolves. However, Canadian game managers still strive for an annual reduction of 30% to 35% in the wolf population in order to keep wolves from totally decimating the ungulate herds. Unfortunately, as is happening all around the world, the wolf population is currently out of control in British Columbia.
Cattle ranching in B.C. is much less significant to the economy than it is in Washington, but listen to this radio program where representatives of the B.C. Cattleman’s Association describe the economic peril they are facing as wolf livestock depredations reach unprecedented levels:
In Washington State, we are blessed with a wide range of diverse ecosystems. However, our deer and elk populations are much more limited in available habitat than their antlered relatives to the north, which makes our ungulate population extremely vulnerable to wolf predation. Indeed, Washington wildlife experts are now anticipating a rapid decline in state game populations due to the astonishing influx of wolves.
Wolves colonize areas extremely fast. Last year we had two wolf packs in the state. Three months ago we had five. Two weeks ago we had nine. Today, game managers estimate we have 12 wolf packs in the state. By doing simple math, we can see that Washington simply does not have the habitat or the prey base to support very many wolves. As the ungulate population becomes decimated, the increasing wolf population will have no alternative but to prey on livestock.
Environmental groups are now pushing the most controversial aspects of their agenda. Ungulates, especially elk, if they have any chance at all against wolves, especially during the winter months, require vast tracts of land in order to escape from the predation pressure exerted on them by wolves. “Rewilding” requires opening up huge tracts of land for wildlife “corridors”.
Rewilding entails the establishment of the wolf as a “keystone” predator species, the elimination of livestock grazing on public land, and severe restrictions on the ability of private land owners to protect their property from depredation. Cattle ranchers in B.C. are already considering abandoning historic grazing ranges because there are too many wolves to contend with. As far as the environmentalists are concerned, cattle simply take up too much space, and the surest way to eliminate them is through unchecked depredation and the resulting bankruptcy of livestock producers. The public testimony presented in Olympia by several pro-wolf advocates at the Washington State Fish and Wildlife Commission on Oct. 5, 2012 indicated as much. (See previous post or click here.)
So what does this mean for you and me? Will we still be able to buy beef in the supermarket? Sure, if you consider sky high prices for an inferior product to be an acceptable alternative. An article published in the Premera Blue Cross newsletter, makes it very clear that pasture raised beef (at least to 6-700 lbs.) is better than beef raised on massive unsanitary feed lots and fed a diet of grain and/or GM corn.
[Please note: Nearly all beef is finished with grain to add weight and the proper amount of marbling to the meat. “Pasture” raised in this context means the beef was not exclusively raised on grass, but primarily raised on grass before being finished with grain and sent to the processing plant.]
“When it comes to grass-fed versus grain-fed beef, the grass-fed version is the healthier, more environmentally friendly (and many believe), tastier option.”
“Regardless of whether cattle are raised sustainably (grass-fed) or conventionally (grain/corn-fed), beef is a nutrient dense food and a tremendous source of high biological value (HBV) protein, iron, vitamin B12 and zinc. Beef has the capacity to facilitate the absorption of fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.”
Nutritional Differences Between Grass-Fed and Grain-Fed Beef
- Total and saturated fat: Grass-fed beef is 25 percent lower in saturated fat
- Omega 3 fatty acids: Grass-fed beef contains two to five times more anti-inflammatory, HDL-cholesterol raising omega 3s
- Antioxidants: Grass-fed beef contains seven times more beta-carotene and three times more vitamin E, two important antioxidants with disease fighting benefits.
- Hormones and Antibiotics: Grass-fed cattle are raised without the use of hormones and antibiotics.
Bottom line: Grass-fed beef is the healthier alternative to grain-fed or corn-fed beef and can be enjoyed in moderation as part of a heart healthy, plant-based diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins.
[“Grass- or Grain-Fed Beef…Is there a Difference?” by Alison Acerra, MS, RD August 20, 2012 edition Premera Blue Cross News]