New survey data show that America's cattle farmers and ranchers are raising a lot more than just cattle on their ranches. From endangered species to native trees and grasses, America's farms and ranches are hosting, and often actively supporting, wildlife, natural ecosystems and the environment.
Eighty-eight percent of cattle farmers and ranchers surveyed said their land includes areas that support wildlife. More than half report wildlife populations on their land have increased in the past 10 years. That's important, because approximately 73 percent of land in the U.S. is privately owned, and the majority of the country's natural wildlife habitats are found on those lands, according to information cited by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In fact, the land managed by America's farmers and ranchers supports migratory birds, fish and other wildlife, including many threatened and endangered species ranging from whooping cranes in Nebraska to gopher tortoises thriving on a cattle ranch in Florida.
"Seeing healthy birds and animals means we're making the right decisions with the way we manage the environment on our ranch," says Carey Lightsey, whose family runs a centuries-old cattle farm in Florida that is home to waterways, wide expanses of oak and pine trees and animals such as bald eagles and the gopher tortoise.
Nationally, rangelands and pastures currently provide food and habitat for many types of wildlife, including deer, pronghorn antelope, elk and prairie chickens. During the past several years, 46,000 acres of private land, mostly on working farms and ranches, were re-established to benefit the grizzly bear, and approximately 120,000 acres of similar private lands were restored to benefit the bald eagle. In fact, in the Eastern and Central United States, wildlife is almost entirely dependent on ranch, farm and other private lands. And because 85 percent of U.S. grazing lands are unsuitable for producing crops, grazing animals more than doubles the area that can be used to produce food.
"No one is more passionate about the environment than ranchers working to increase the quality of their grass and water, for both their cattle and the fish and wildlife that call their operations home. These private landowners love the land and have a strong environmental stewardship ethic that they pass on from generation to generation," says Heather Johnson, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program.
The survey results show how beef production helps preserve the environment for future generations by protecting and restoring wildlife habitats, maintaining hundreds of miles of rivers and streams and sustaining millions of acres of open space. When consumers practice "sustainable consumption," - choosing foods like beef that are produced in ways that conserve and actually enhance the Earth's land, water, air, wildlife habitat and other natural resources -- they demonstrate a commitment to the health of the planet.
Johnson continues, "Farmers and ranchers provide quality, protein-rich food for our families while at the same time creating safe havens for fish and wildlife species. That's a win-win for wildlife and for sustainable agriculture -- and most certainly cause to celebrate."
The survey was conducted during telephone interviews with 750 commercial cattle farmers and ranchers. The margin of error is +/- 3.6 percent.
The Beef Checkoff Program was established as part of the 1985 farm bill. The checkoff assesses $1 per head on the sale of live domestic and imported cattle, in addition to a comparable assessment on imported beef and beef products. States retain up to 50 cents on the dollar and forward the other 50 cents per head to the Cattlemen's Beef Promotion and Research Board, which administers the national checkoff program, subject to USDA approval.