Grass Banks: Sustainability or Stopgap?

Today's New York Times introduces us to the concept of grass banks, a brainchild of the Nature Conservancy. The Conservancy offers use of their land for cattle grazing in exchange for ranchers adopting sustainable grazing practices and taking steps to ensure and encourage biodiversity on their own lands. It's a nice idea, but there are several questions that come immediately to mind: Are there any requirements that the ranchers also switch to organic farming methods? (The word "organic" doesn't even appear in the article.) Should organizations interested in sustainability be propping up cattle ranching, which is notorious for inefficient use of resources? Is there enough gain on the ranchers' lands to offset the damage done to the Conservancy's? Isn't this just another sort of subsidy encouraging businesses to overextend themselves? As noted by Curt Freese, a biologist quoted in the article, there's nothing to stop the ranchers from going right back to their damaging practices any time they feel like it. We much prefer the notion of organic ranchers channeling profits into long-term conservation; if you're going to consume beef, organic is definitely the way to go. ::Where the Cattle Herds Roam from ::The New York Times

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