Comments on 2022 Tucson Lifestyle Mag: Modern Ranching in Arizona

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Tucson Lifestyle Magazine Cattle Calling: Modern Ranching in Arizona

By Bryn Bailer Photography by Tom Spitz   Jun 30, 2022

This is a generally well-researched article highlighting some of the ranches in southern Arizona. We are  proud of the ranchers who contributed their time and expertise, and we appreciate the generally positive tone of the article. The article, nonetheless, promotes a few myths and false stereotypes.

We’d like to add a few points to clarify this article.

First, Byrn Bailer’s use of the word, “innards” reflects the author’s vocabulary, not the cattle industry’s. Most Arizona cattle producers are college educated, many with advanced degrees in challenging subjects. The industry’s youth organizations, such as the Arizona Junior Livestock Association (AJLA), intensively train children of all ages at the K-12 level in public speaking. More than 1,000 people generally attend the Arizona Cattle Growers Association’s annual conferences, at which the winners of AJLA speech competitions in all the various age categories deliver highly informative and polished short speeches relevant to livestock science and agricultural advocacy. We speak English, not Hollywood Hillbilly.

Second, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) is a dishonest, taxpayer-funded, private corporation. The CBD was successfully sued by a southern Arizona rancher for malicious defamation “with an evil mind”.  After 21 days of court testimony, a jury of ten awarded the rancher $600,000 in damages, including $500,000 in punitive damages. The CBD appealed the verdict and lost.  Nonetheless, the media perpetually treats the CBD as some kind of noble cause and falsely pretends they have authoritative expertise in grazing and soil management. The CBD hires abundantly from the “school of ahs” (Arts, humanities and social sciences). They have no staff member we are aware of, with even a bachelor’s degree in range management or soil science.  In pre-trial deposition for the defamation case, one of the CBD’s “experts” admitted he did not even know the scientific definitions of a short grass, a mid-grass or a tall grass. When the plaintiff’s attorney asked why he used such terms on the witness stand during the trial, he admitted he had learned these terms from listening to the testimony of the plaintiff’s expert witness.

The CBD’s quotes in the linked article mention only the potential negative impacts of unmanaged grazing, fail to distinguish between the unmanaged grazing practices the industry abandoned nearly a century ago vs. modern, managed grazing, and fail to mention any of the environmental benefits of managed grazing. That level of bias exposes their comments and positions as both unscientific and mean-spirited. In contrast, the following is an abstract of a peer-reviewed and published grazing science literature review titled, “Impacts of Controlled Grazing Versus Grazing Exclusion on Rangeland Ecosystems: What We Have Learned” by Jerry ‘L. Holechek, Terrell T: “Red” Baker, and Jon C. Boren, published by New Mexico State University’s Range Improvement Task Force.

“Abstract- This paper examines the impacts of carefully controlled livestock grazing versus grazing exclusion on rangeland ecosystems, focusing on arid and semi-arid areas. Eighteen studies were found that evaluated the effects of controlled grazing versus grazing exclusion on rangeland vegetation. These studies provide evidence that controlled livestock grazing may enhance rangeland vegetation by altering plant succession, increasing plant diversity and productivity, and reducing plant mortality during drought. These positive impacts of livestock grazing are most likely to occur when grazing intensities are light to conservative. Although more than 30 studies consistently show that controlled grazing adversely impacts soils through increased compaction, reduced infiltration and increased erosion, these impacts are minor and are ameliorated by natural processes that cause soil formation, soil deposition and soil loosening. Livestock treading can increase plant seedling establishment and mineral cycling. Research from the Chihuahuan Desert indicates that moderately grazed mid seral rangelands support a higher diversity of wildlife species than those lightly grazed in near climax condition. Riparian habitat improvement has occurred under carefully timed grazing at light to conservative intensities. The impacts of controlled grazing on fish populations have not been well studied. In conclusion, there is limited scientific evidence that controlled grazing can play an important role in managing and maintaining rangelands in arid and semiarid regions for a variety of uses and ecosystem services. However, more and better designed research is needed on this subject.” (Holechek et al., 2005)

Third, Bailer quotes statistics while citing them to an unnamed 2022 UDSA-NASS report which we have been unable to verify. The 2022 Census of Agriculture has yet to commence, so the quoted data had to be gathered in a prior year. The $1.7 billion economic contribution Byrn Bailer references came from this study. The statistic refers exclusively to beef, not the entire Arizona livestock industry, which includes pork, dairy cattle and sheep that graze Arizona rangelands. Many Arizona beef cattle are cross-bred offspring of Arizona dairy cattle. If sales of milk and beef are combined, cattle produce the largest sector of Arizona’s agriculture industry sales. According to the 2017 National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) Census of Agriculture, cattle and milk products, combined, represent 38.8 percent of all Arizona agricultural sales. They far outweigh the combined sales of all vegetables (including lettuce), melons and sweet potatoes in Arizona, which represent only 26.2 percent of total agricultural sales.   Moreover, most cattle on feed spent the first five or six months of their lives on pasture or rangelands.

Speaking of economic impact, the referenced 2014 University of Arizona study points out, “Every 100 beef industry jobs in Arizona support an additional 62 jobs in other industries.”