Think beef cattle are bad for the environment? Think again

As president of the San Luis Obispo County Cattlemen’s Association, I am responding to a Tribune editorial that referenced the negative environmental impacts of beef cattle.

All we hear about today in the news is the impact of greenhouse gases from beef cattle, yet beef cattle contribute less than 2 percent of total greenhouse gases — far less impact than the 26 percent of emissions that comes from transportation.

Also, nobody is talking about what we are doing to sequester carbon.

Carbon sequestration is the long-term capture and storage of carbon from the atmosphere, typically as carbon dioxide. Private grazing lands can assist with carbon sequestration in both soil and biomass to reduce impacts to the environment.

Open range lands on the Central Coast can provide up to 268 pounds of carbon storage per acre when using various types of grazing management practices.

Due to our area having so much open grazing land — over 1 million acres of native pasture and forestland — this capture of carbon ultimately decreases the amount of carbon dioxide that would otherwise be released to the air.

Other positive impacts that beef producers provide here on the Central Coast:

▪ Groundwater capture: Rangelands, which make up approximately half of the acreage in the county, serve as watersheds to capture and restore groundwater basins. This has been an important benefit since we have been drought stricken for the majority of the past 10 years.

▪ Fire protection: If our beef cattle were not grazing these areas, it would create a continuous fuel bed for catastrophic fires to wipe out entire communities. Some recent examples of catastrophic fires that shared our same landscape were the Camp Fire that killed 85 people and destroyed 14,000 structures, and the Carr Fire that killed eight and destroyed just under 1,600 structures.

▪ Natural brush control: Defensible space attained through natural grazing has less impact on the environment and wildlife and provides a smaller carbon footprint than bringing in mechanized equipment.

▪ Manufacture of byproducts: When a beef animal is harvested, 99 perfect of that animal is utilized for consumption or turned into a byproduct. Beef is utilized for products such as sports equipment and balls, upholstery, lubricants, household cleaning products, dish soap, grooming products such as nail polish remover, lotions and makeup. Other not-so-common byproducts of beef that are necessities to those in the medical field are items such as burn ointments, first aid creams and anti-rejection drugs for use after organ transplants.

▪ Open space protection: Grazing lands provide habitat for various wildlife species, plant life and the “super bloom” flowers we’re currently enjoying. As you drive throughout the coastal mountains of Cayucos, ride your bike through the Filipponi Ranch in San Luis Obispo or enjoy the scenery of wide open spaces in the North County, think about who has provided this lovely view for you to enjoy. More than likely it has been a rancher or farmer — one who has been practicing sustainability and caring for the land for many generations.

Education and awareness of our industry are among the top priorities of the San Luis Obispo County Cattlemen’s Association. Feel free to reach out to us to ask questions and for a ranch tour. You will be able to see first-hand what land conservancy and stewardship look like here on the Central Coast.

Anthony Stornetta is the president of the San Luis Obispo County Cattlemen’s Association, the largest cattlemen’s association in the state. The Stornetta family has lived on the Central Coast for four generations, raising dairy and beef cattle.

Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune