Animal Ag in Our Own Backyards

Did you know that public parks - cherished wild spaces - are actually suffering ecological damage from overgrazing cattle?

This past Sunday, FFAC was proud to partner with Wild Oakland and Climate Healers to host an educational walk at the Wildcat Canyon regional park (El Cerrito, CA) on the effects of overgrazing on ecosystems. Sailesh Rao, the executive director of Climate Healers, led our discussion, which was facilitated by Constance Taylor, the executive director of Wild Oakland.

With the temperature nearing 100 degrees, California's drought was on everyone's minds. We saw firsthand the "terracing" caused to the hillside by grazing cattle. The animals take a meandering route up the hills, grazing on their way, and form what looks like staircases on the landscape. The pressure from their hooves packs the land and makes it less possible for any much-needed rainwater to penetrate.

About 15 people joined the walk, including a tule elk docent from Point Reyes national seashore and representatives from Millahcayotl in San Francisco, who brought various perspectives to the conversation. We learned that our public parklands are leased to ranchers for livestock grazing and we escaped from the heat in a shady grove among much evidence (those euphemistic "cow patties") that a herd has done the same.

While it is a sad reality that our public parklands rely on the funds generated from these grazing leases to stay open and public, grazing is altering the natural ecosystem in drastic ways. We learned that cattle require five times more resources than our native ruminants (elk). In addition, cattle prefer to graze on native perennial plants with deep root systems, leaving nonnative annuals with their more shallow roots, thus irreparably changing the landscape and altering its naturally established balance.

Animal agriculture is altering landscapes in dramatic ways, both locally and globally.

Sailesh was surprised by how much the landscape of the East Bay hills resembled areas he has visited in India, where demand for meat and dairy has exponentially increased. In both India and the Middle East, the land cannot support the increased production. He spoke about how once cattle have cleared land of the plants they graze on, goats are brought in. The goats will strip the land of all plant life, causing desert to continually encroach on what had been pasture.

While it is disturbing to see the environmental damage animal agriculture is wreaking in our own backyards, there is some good news. Studies have shown that removing grazing animals is the best way to repair damaged land. While native habitats can never fully be restored, kicking out cattle can have dramatic impacts, increasing vegetation and wildlife, and decreasing soil erosion, as the photos from Conservation Magazine below demonstrate.

Before (left) and after (right) photo pairs showing the impressive ecosystem recovery following the end of grazing. Photo credits: images on left via Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge; images on right via Jonathan Bachelor. Source: Conservation Magazine



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