Thursday, July 19, 2007

It's so 'deer' to my heart


IN the last five years, while speaking to groups of dairy and beef cattle producers, I have referenced the thousands of dollars land-grant universities spend on research to determine the cows' contribution to global warming. The best response I got was a unified snickering.

Well, today, I can find you a news story almost daily discussing how the number-one culprit of global warming is the cow. The finger-pointing certainly has accelerated since last November, when the U.N. released a report indicating that the cow now provides more greenhouse gases to our environment than fossil fuel combustion through transportation.

A news report from the Miami Herald this past week noted: "Scientists say deforestation, almost always to facilitate planting crops and raising cattle, accounts for about 20% of the carbon emissions that contribute to global warming. Environmentalists are pushing to allow countries and companies to offset their emissions by paying to preserve forests elsewhere, such as in Latin America and the Caribbean. The Group of Eight nations, meeting in Germany earlier this month, pledged to help poor countries reduce deforestation to provide 'a significant and cost-effective contribution toward mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.'

"Researchers say forest is being increasingly cleared to make way for big cattle ranches and large soybean farms -- especially in Brazil, which accounts for about 60% of the forest land in Latin America and the Caribbean. The amount of forest lost each year from 2000 to 2005 averaged 11,077,734 acres, the study showed -- about the size of Maryland," the article continued.

Now, let's point out that an assumption is being made that even soybean acres are being planted in order to feed the cow and not just some in Asia.

I don't make that comment in passing. In fact, we can document that the economic growth of China and its demand for soy is contributing greatly to deforestation.

No one can argue that deforestation still occurs in places it shouldn't. I think we all understand that the forest is a vital part of proper planet health, but the real story must be evaluated.

At risk of sounding like a flag-waving patriot, let's take a closer look at what is going on here at home.

The Environmental Protection Agency released a report in April 2006 entitled "U.S. Inventory of Greenhouse Gas Emissions & Sinks," which contains data through 2004. This report indicates that U.S. livestock grazing, feeding and manure management systems are superior to those elsewhere in the world.

EPA data show that production of food animals in the U.S. contributes less than 2.4% of total greenhouse gas emissions (measured in carbon dioxide equivalent). In comparison, fossil fuel combustion contributes approximately 80% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said there are 748 million acres of forest in the continental U.S.

U.S. Forest Service archives show that in 1920, there were 732 million acres of U.S. forestland. Therefore, according to 2003 figures, the U.S. has 16 million more acres of forestland than it did in 1920.

Yes, the truth of the matter is that in the U.S., where we lose nearly 2 million acres of prime farmland to concrete, condos and consumers annually (concrete manufacturers rank higher on the list of greenhouse gas contributors than livestock, by the way), we have managed the natural resources in such a manner that today, our environment is better off than it has ever been.

The problem is that elected officials will not take the time to really break down the U.N. report to uncover the truth -- the truth being that the U.S. is a shining example of how we can utilize resources without negatively affecting the planet.

A perfect example is the fact that we have the same number of beef cows now as in 1955, yet we produce twice as much human consumable beef.

You don't need to have a keen understanding of science to figure out how much better off our natural resources are, either.

Let's use a little cowboy logic: In 1930, the U.S. deer population was 300,000. This compares with recent estimates that put the deer population at around 30 million -- 100 times the 1930 number.

In comparison, the beef cattle population has remained unchanged since 1930, and there are two-thirds fewer dairy cows.

The white-tailed deer population currently far exceeds its carrying capacity, and the animal is considered a nuisance.

Could the deer population grow at that rate in an adverse environment? Absolutely not! Oh, wait. Deer also emit enteric fermentation. Improved environmental conditions in the U.S. have allowed deer to create more greenhouse gases than at any time in the history of the world. Quick, notify the U.N.

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