All images taken in Point Reyes National Seashore by Skyler Thomas
I read two very different articles this week regarding grass fed beef; The first thoroughly debunked the glorification of “grass fed” as some sort of earth-friendly meat option . The other article discussed removing the cattle operations in Point Reyes. If you someone who currently enjoys eating meat and don’t want to give it up you’ll likely reject any data in article one regardless of merit, so let’s just skip to article two.
A location meant to serve as the poster child of “grass fed”, Point Reyes National Seashore instead provides a focal point for everything wrong with animal agriculture, even when it is "small, local, and organic". The damage, which is both scientifically and visually undeniable, has led to increasing public scrutiny as to why ranchers, paid millions for their land, continue to receive new leases within this national seashore. A few reader comments below the article expressed concern for where these grass fed operations would move to if they didn’t operate in the seashore. To me, this indicates that those with this concern are picturing the grass fed operations in Point Reyes as something they are not.
Look closely at the ground these cattle are "grazing" on
Erase the fantasy of cattle getting fat on grass and wildflowers. The bulk of the year the pastoral zone looks like brown, hammered shit, sometimes even resembling a demilitarized zone. The remaining portion of the year it improves to green, hammered shit. That last, and shortest portion of the year is the one from which the fantasy must be derived. Non-native, annual grasses are reseeded, plastered with manure, and grown briefly before the cattle hammer it back down to nothing. Sure, the cattle may roam the land, but much of that time they are walking on bare soil, manure, and a few species of noxious weeds that even the cattle don’t want. In these months the cattle are mostly fed at concentrated feeding areas with supplemental feed. This is the reality of ranching. This is the effect ranching has on native vegetation. This is the effect ranching has on habitat. This is why the cattle are often found outside their legal grazing boundaries, destroying what little native vegetation remains and polluting the water channels.
There are several lessons here:
What did it take to turn a perennial grassland into dirt as seen under the hooves of the cattle in these photos? Fertile soil and native vegetation reduced to sand!! The answer is generations of ranching and mismanagement. One might be tempted to blame the degradation on the high numbers of cattle in enclosed areas, which would be partially true, but keep in mind that these ranches are supposedly small operations. By that argument animal units at other operations only increase from here. Furthermore, the Tule elk are held in a reserve that is known to reach its carry capacity regularly, yet this area of the seashore looks like the garden of eden in comparison to ranch lands. If you want to blame the condition of the pastures on enclosure then how do you explain the far superior habitat of the elk reserve? One would expect animals that reached the carry capacity of their habitat to decimate the land and eat everything in sight in their struggle to survive. The elk reserve once again provided proof that native ungulates are vastly different than introduced livestock.
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