Regional Vice President of the Alberta Region,
Nature Conservancy of Canada
Communications & Marketing Lead,
Agriculture, Ducks Unlimited Canada
Did you know that Canadian farmers and ranchers protect native grasslands through raising cattle? Conservationists help to shine light on the immense benefits of raising beef cattle in Canada.
It may come as a surprise to many Canadians that some of the country’s key conservation organizations and advocates are proponents of cattle farming. However, sometimes what you thought was the problem is really the solution. Canada’s beef community plays an important role in nature conservation and ecological health.
Protecting a threatened ecosystem and precious natural resources
There’s a symbiotic relationship between conservation and cattle, and it’s rooted in the landscapes on which Canadian cattle are raised.
“The Northern Great Plains are one of the most threatened ecosystems in North America,” says Tom Lynch-Staunton, Regional Vice President of the Alberta Region at the Nature Conservancy of Canada, a non-profit land trust that aims to conserve land with high ecological value. “We’ve lost nearly 75 percent of our grasslands to farming and development, and so we try to preserve the remaining native grasslands. Ranchers also want to preserve that landscape.”
“In Canada, the beef industry benefits our environment because it’s protecting important natural landscapes,” says Karli Reimer, Communications and Marketing Lead, Agriculture at Ducks Unlimited Canada, a wetland conservation organization. “Without a beef industry, we’re at great risk of losing those areas.”
How grazing cattle are critical to a healthy ecosystem
The grasslands are rich ecosystems with many environmental benefits. “The wetlands and grasslands that are important to the beef community also provide many environmental benefits to society,” says Reimer. “They store carbon, conserve our soil, provide clean water, protect us from flooding and drought, and are full of biodiversity, including pollinators and at-risk species.”
Not only does raising cattle prevent grasslands from being converted to cropland or developed, but grazing is also critical to a healthy ecosystem. “These grasslands evolved on grazing and fire as disturbances,” says Lynch-Staunton. “It used to be large bison herds, and now it’s primarily cattle. When you manage the grasslands with cattle, you can still have a compatible use with wildlife and biodiversity and other ecosystem functions, which is so important.”
Nature-positive food production that Canadians can be proud of
By building and fertilizing soil, sequestering immense amounts of carbon, preserving our endangered native grasslands, and providing the majority of wildlife habitat on food-producing lands, cattle contribute to nature-positive food production.
“Nature-positive food production is raising or growing food in a way that works with the environment and not against it,” says Reimer. “It’s a commitment to environmental, social, and economic sustainability for our food systems.”
“Ranchers are environmentalists and we sometimes forget that they truly believe in sustainability, in stewardship of the land, taking care of it the best they can, and ensuring that it’s going to last for the next generation,” says Lynch-Staunton.