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Grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, coyotes, cougars/ mountain lions,bobcats, wolverines, lynx, foxes, fishers and martens are the suite of carnivores that originally inhabited North America after the Pleistocene extinctions. This site invites research, commentary, point/counterpoint on that suite of native animals (predator and prey) that inhabited The Americas circa 1500-at the initial point of European exploration and subsequent colonization. Landscape ecology, journal accounts of explorers and frontiersmen, genetic evaluations of museum animals, peer reviewed 20th and 21st century research on various aspects of our "Wild America" as well as subjective commentary from expert and layman alike. All of the above being revealed and discussed with the underlying goal of one day seeing our Continent rewilded.....Where big enough swaths of open space exist with connective corridors to other large forest, meadow, mountain, valley, prairie, desert and chaparral wildlands.....Thereby enabling all of our historic fauna, including man, to live in a sustainable and healthy environment. - Blogger Rick

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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Co-Author of the ground breaking LANDSCAPE OF FEAR PARADIGM, Biologist John Laundre is with us today tackling a controversial topic................. In our world of 7+ Billion humans needing food to eat and clothing to wear, "CAN LIVESTOCK BE AN UMBRELLA SPECIES FOR CONSERVATION?"...........John makes a case below that "on an ecological scale, grazed lands are below non-grazed native vegetation but are by far, superior to cropland"----I am interested (as John is) to hear your comments and feedback on this point-of view........As he puts it: "Before someone takes away my conservation card, let me explains".....................Our "Western States might be unique in the world where we actually might be able to make a choice between native vegetation and grazing"................."But for the rest of the world it will either be grazing or crops",,,,,,,,,,,"And, I would rather see grazing"..... "People have to realize where their tofu comes from"............John's position below through his "lens of pragmatism"

Domestic livestock as an umbrella species?

Before we start, just so we are all on the same page, in conservation biology we define an Umbrella species as a "species selected for making conservation-related decisions, typically because protecting this species indirectly protects the many other species that make up the ecological community of its habitat".  Having defined this, let me proceed with the seemingly impossible task of considering domestic livestock, mostly cattle, as just such an umbrella species

 I say seemingly impossible because are not cattle considered to be the bane of conservation efforts?  Are not there studies showing that cattle actually reduce biodiversity? Is not native vegetation, especially in the tropics being converted to pasture lands for hamburgers? Is there not a growing vegetarian movement partly based on the idea that eating meat, especially cow meat is bad for the planet?? How can a conservation ecologist in their right mind actually propose that cattle could play one of the dominant roles, an umbrella species, in conservation?  Well, before someone takes away my conservation card, let me explain.

First, we need to separate out the kind of domestic livestock I am talking about.  There are the intensively raised livestock, for example cattle in feedlots, and there are the extensively raised ones, animals allowed to graze on the landscape.  In the first case, as many have pointed out, how we intensively raise livestock today is a sin and a totally whole other issue.  What I am talking about here are the livestock, again, mostly cattle, that are allowed to roam and graze over large areas of what is called pastureland, land that has some form of permanent grass andforb cover. Approximately 25 percent of the land surface of the world is devoted to these pasturelands for grazing livestock.  This represents about 65-70% of all agricultural lands in the world.  So grazing livestock dominates lands devoted to growing food for humans.

It is true that grazing livestock on such lands CAN be hard on biodiversity of these systems.  However, studies have shown that this negative impact can be reduced IF livestock grazing is done correctly.  But just grazing cattle right still does not justify them for umbrella status for these habitats.  What does justify them for this status is the alternatives to grazing livestock on these lands.  

What happens to the land IF we pull domestic animals off of current pasturelands? What becomes of those lands?  In some areas, for example the western U.S., where much of that land is publically owned, removing cattle would likely be a beneficial thing.  Though there are studies that show even in these cases, IF done right, cattle can actually increase biodiversity.  But what about the rest of the world?  In many cases, removing livestock means converting these lands to growing more intensive agricultural crops.  For example, in Africa, from 1980 to 2000 the percent of pasturelands decreased from 31% to 29.6%, representing over 41 million hectaresDid these lands revert to more natural states, supporting native plants and animals?  No, most of that land was converted to more intensive forms of agriculture to grow human plant food.  And the pressure to make that conversion is intensifying.   In fact a common argument made against cattle is that the same area used to grow x number of cattle could feed many times more people if the land was used to raise people food directly.  

Intensively farmed, e.g. tilled, agricultural land normally has close to zero value for conservation and biodiversity. Sure there are efforts to maintain biodiversity within the intensively farmed landscape by providing shelter rows on the margins of fields but, as the name indicates, this is marginal at best!  The majority of the land is tilled, planted, cropped, and tilled again yearly and is basically worthless for native plants and animals.  I lived in southeastern Minnesota for several years and watched as the plow followed the soybean combine, leaving 10's of thousands of hectares of bare dirt for nine months of the year.  And when the crops were there, they were dowsed with chemicals to kill any biodiversity that dared step foot on these lands.  So which is better?  Having those 10's of thousands of hectares of lifeless dirt so we can have more tofu? Or have those same acres covered in diverse species grasslands for livestock, and oh by the way, all the other species that can live in these grasslands but not in dirt?
As long as pasturelands stay pasturelands, they are conserving the biodiversity that can live there. Granted it might be less than what was there originally but it will still be many times more than what would replace it.  And the main reason to keep them in pasturelands is to graze domestic animals on them to grow meat for humans to eat.  THAT is why domestic livestock are an umbrella species.  By maintaining (protecting) these species, we indirectly protect many other species that make up the ecological community of its habitat… pasturelands.

Again, before anyone used this as an unconditional endorsement for grazing, I again stress that it has to been done right.  Any ungulate, domestic or wild can overgraze an area and cause declines in biodiversity.  We are currently seeing this with excess deer numbers in eastern forest in the U.S.  As I have stated, many studies have shown there is a right way and a wrong way to graze livestock on pasturelands and fortunately, the right way to do it economically is also the right way to do it ecologically.

In ending, I personally would rather remain an omnivore with a healthy meat diet, e.g. range grown beef, thus supporting themaintenance of biodiverse pasturelands than replace that meat in my diet with plants from ecological worthless croplands.  I know this might anger a lot of people but we all need to educate ourselves as to how our diet is affecting biodiversity and then make our own personal choices.  Mine is to continue to support livestock as an umbrella species.
John W. Laundré has studied cougars for more than twenty years in both the United States and Mexico. As vice president of the Cougar Rewilding Foundation, he advocates the return of cougars to their former territorial range.


by JW Laundré - ‎2010 - 
Abstract: "Predation risk" and "fear" are concepts well established in animal behavior literature. ..... bison: reestablishing the "landscape of fear" in Yellowstone.

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