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Valley Views

Home on the range: Cattle, climate, conservation are connected

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One headline in the Salt Lake Tribune has stirred up the agricultural community across the West. It proclaims that hamburgers and cows are the culprits behind the droughts, and by eating fewer burgers, Americans could save the environment. Sound familiar? Last spring Ireland made international headlines with a plan to slaughter 200,000 cows to combat climate change.

The farmers and ranchers in the mountain west know that cows can change landscapes, and if they’re responsibly grazed, they can change those landscapes for the better by building up soil resiliency and helping to promote biodiversity on ranchland. While cows have been the most recent environmental scapegoat, they can actually be unsung heroes. 

RC Carter of Carter Ranch Near Ten Sleep, Wyoming, is pleased with the results of using targeted adaptive grazing this past year to encourage cattle to forage on plants within a sectioned area, especially to forage on invasive and less palatable species. 

Cattle and other creatures can help manage weeds and build soil health, but they cannot control the weather. After this year’s light winter, farmers and ranchers are going to have to hope for a wet summer, but not too wet, too hot, or too dry. The summer sweet spot has been hard to come by in recent years. People lose sleep worrying about drought, grasshoppers, fires, floods, and other weather-related risks. The forecast doesn’t look good for summer 2024, according to the Montana and Wyoming Climate Offices. A drier and hotter summer is likely with a worsening drought. 

To support agricultural producers and forest owners now and in the future, we urge the agricultural community to advocate for policies that provide financial and technical resources going forward.

Right now, there are policies in the works to help provide technical resources that develop regenerative farming practices that work for individual farms. These resources would include grazing management plans such as adaptive and rotational grazing, and nutrient management plans that include no-till planting, and reduced use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizer, to keep carbon in the soil, and restore degraded farm and ranching lands. These policies are key to leveraging investment in agricultural conservation programs and technical assistance. We need more Technical Service Providers to help support ranches like RC Carter’s operation. 

This is just one example of Wyoming and Montana-friendly legislative actions that would allow farmers and ranchers to deal with the current weather fluctuations and prepare for future weather and climate resilience. Free-market innovation can help us address climate change at the speed and scale necessary to mitigate its risks to our agriculture and agricultural way of life.

After implementing regenerative practice, RC Carter describes big changes he’s seen on his Wyoming ranch, including a return of dung beetles and other biodiversity. This change fosters a deeper connection with the livestock they work in and around them. 

“It’s a really rewarding experience as we transition from going out and chasing our cows, to now, we go out to greet them from one pasture to the next,” said Carter.

To bring it back to burgers, Carter explains, “At the end of the day, I truly believe that the source of a country’s power is its food.”

Hattie Hobart is based out of Bozeman and Jackson and serves as the Western Regional Director for the American Conservation Coalition, the largest youth right-of-center grassroots environmental organization in the country. See: 

Madeline Dalrymple lives in Laramie and is a volunteer with and the Wyoming state coordinator for Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a nonpartisan, volunteer-powered advocacy organization. See:

Alex Amonette lives in SE Montana, volunteers with Citizens’ Climate Lobby, and advocates for the Increased Technical Service Providers Access Act (S.1400/H.R.3036) to protect and extend the Farm Bill’s investments in climate-smart agroforestry, and the carbon fee and cashback policy to mitigate climate change. See:

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