Welfare Ranching:
The Subsidized Destruction of the American West

Despite extensive documentation about the ecological, human health, and climate change consequences of a meat-based diet, livestock production has drawn limited scrutiny from environmental organizations, government agencies, and the public. Welfare Ranching illuminates the ecological damage that domestic livestock cause to Western public lands, analyzes the grazing system’s economic absurdity, and suggests how the cowboy myth’s tenacious grip on the public imagination has helped block rational public policy. The book also addresses global livestock issues and the Midwest feedlot system, which dominates American agriculture. The effects of livestock grazing can be subtle; many of the ecological changes associated with livestock production occurred long ago and society has accepted the altered landscape as normal. Few people realize that the desert washes they see across the Southwest were once lovely streams shaded by cottonwoods or willows, or that sagebrush-covered valleys in Montana may have had a nearly continuous cover of grass a century ago. The effects of livestock grazing—biodiversity loss, soil erosion, and water pollution—are cumulative rather than immediate. With conservative estimates showing that federal taxpayers subsidize over $1 billion in direct costs to the ranching industry every year, Welfare Ranching gives this important environmental issue the attention it deserves.

The Foundation for Deep Ecology produced the book as the centerpiece of a larger educational campaign linking livestock production to water pollution, species endangerment, and habitat loss. Thousands of copies, and related grants, were made to conservation organizations affiliated with the National Public Lands Grazing Campaign.

Contributors: Edited by George Wuerthner and Mollie Matteson; with essays by Edward Abbey, Joy Belsky, Andy Kerr, Christopher Manes, Thomas M. Power, T.H. Watkins, and others.

Distributed by Island Press, 2002.

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