Keynote speaker busts myths about cattle grazing | TSLN.com

Keynote speaker busts myths about cattle grazing

Charles Boyer, MSU vice president of agriculture, addresses more than 300 MSU College of Agriculture student scholarship winners and scholarship donors at the college’s annual scholarship award banquet, held during the college’s 2016 Celebrate Agriculture event. MSU photo by Jenny Lavey

Despite popular myths, grazing cattle is a necessary part of maintaining the ecosystem, Nicolette Hahn Niman told about 175 people gathered Nov. 18-19 for Northern Plains Resource Council's 45th Annual Meeting in Billings.

"Overall, we must maintain grazing as a necessary force for positive environmental impacts," she said in her keynote speech. "If you raise cattle, and other grazing animals, well, they're actually a necessary part of our ecosystem."

Hahn Niman said one of the myths about cattle is how much water is needed to produces a pound of beef.

"About 440 gallons of water are needed for a pound of beef," Hahn Niman said. "That's about the same amount of water needed for a pound of rice. In fact only 120 gallons of water are needed for grass-fed beef because much of their water comes from the grasses the cattle eat.

"Grass cover helps protect soil and all of the life that is going on just beneath it. Grazing animals help maintain that grass and nourish it. Good grazing practices mean less sediment in rivers, roots that hold onto water, and sequestration of carbon into the soil. Grazed areas are where birds and pollinating bees thrive.

"The bottom line for climate change is that cattle produce about 9 percent of the greenhouse gas methane. In the United States, it's about 2 percent.

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"We have to raise the awareness of consumers of the importance of grazing and beef in our diet."

Besides the keynote speech, Saturday sessions included:

· Coal in a Post-Bankruptcy World: What Now?

· Opportunities to Build Homegrown Prosperity in Montana

· Oil by Rail Safety: Strategies and Solutions

· PACE (Property-Assessed Clean Energy): Unlocking Accessible Financing for Energy Efficiency and Clean Energy

During the coal session, Peter De Jesus, field coordinator for Western New York Area Labor Federation, used an example of a coal-fired power plant that closed in the western New York town of Tonawanda as an example for Colstrip, Montana. The plant used coal from the Powder River Basin.

De Jesus said the conversation on how the town would transition and diversify its economy started with community members and a coalition of labor unions and environmentalists.

"They came in with the understanding of, 'We're not calling for the closure of this plant,'" De Jesus said. "'We want to prepare ourselves and be proactive should this plant actually close or be decommissioned, whatever it may be. And we're willing to do whatever we can to support the workers. We just want to make sure we're prepared.

"So, I think that helped to guide the conversation with the workforce that was in the facility."

De Jesus said the city had to deal with a $6 million budget hit when the plant shut down and was able to receive state aid for the transition. The majority of the coal plant workers transferred to other plants.

"Tonawanda is not unique," said De Jesus. "Coal plants across the country are closing, but Tonawanda could be a model for revitalizing towns when plants leave. I think it's something that absolutely can be replicated if you have the right people in the room."

Hahn Niman is the author of:

· Defending Beef: The Case for Sustainable Meat Production (2014) and

· Righteous Porkchop: Finding a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms (2009).

Hahn Niman has a unique background, having worked as an environmental lawyer and helping her husband build a successful business around sustainably produced beef. Her essays and guest editorials have appeared in the The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Los Angeles Times, and she has also written for The Atlantic, The San Francisco Chronicle, and other publications.

Northern Plains officers for 2017

Northern Plains members elected the following officers to the Board of Directors for 2017.

Chair Kate French of Bozeman; Vice Chair Becky Mitchell of Billings; Secretary Ed Gulick of Billings; Treasurer Jeanie Alderson of Birney; Assistant Secretary Cindy Webber of Big Timber; Assistant Treasurer Deb Muth of Red Lodge; at-large Board members Janet McMillan of Greenough, Walter Archer of Olive, Morgan Pett of Miles City, and Alaina Buffalo Spirit of Lame Deer.

Two annual awards given

Two annual awards were presented during the Annual Meeting.

Becky Mitchell of Billings was awarded the Mary Donohoe "Tell It Like It Is" Award, and Walter Archer of Olive was awarded the Bob Tully Spirit Award.

–Northern Plains Resource Council

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