Guest editorial: Allowing cows to graze at McPolin Farm runs counter to Park City’s climate goals
For the past two summers, Park City Municipal has allowed a local farmer to graze cattle on the McPolin Farm pasture. This activity is part of a city-sponsored project called “regenerative agriculture.” According to the city’s July 2018 proposal, this method of grazing would “improve soil health, water quality and carbon sequestration.” Carbon sequestration is critical to the city’s efforts to achieve “zero carbon emissions” for municipal operations by 2022.
We support Park City’s efforts to use open space, forests and other natural settings to sequester carbon. But using a methane and waste-producing, invasive species like cows to achieve this goal is inconsistent with these objectives. We offer concerns and suggestions on how this pasture could be better used for carbon sequestration, food production and environmental education.
It’s difficult to understand how cows grazing on grassland “improves” water quality — whether surface or groundwater. Quite the opposite can occur, particularly to surface water, due to sediment loading from hoof agitation; nitrogen and phosphorous loading from the animal’s solid and liquid wastes; and the bacteria and protozoa that reside in their fecal matter. Bacteria and parasites can include listeria, salmonella, certain strains of E. coli, giardia and cryptosporidium. These nutrients and human pathogens can enter the drainage swales and ditches running through the McPolin pasture, ultimately entering into McCleod Creek, which is part of the Weber River Watershed.
Recent studies have shown that the animal agriculture industry produces more greenhouse gases than the entire transportation sector combined. We are doing a disservice to the community by not talking about or actively changing our habits that contribute to this problem. Additionally, a portion of the cattle quietly grazing on McPolin are ultimately rounded up and taken off to slaughter and processing, perhaps in another state, before being sent back to Park City. This process is extremely inefficient. As a result, “local” does not always mean better in terms of our carbon footprint.
I (Lauren Lockey) co-founded an animal sanctuary called Sage Mountain. I have witnessed animals transported to — and within — slaughter facilities. Not one of them willingly walks down that slaughter line. It’s a horrific death that no one wants to believe when looking out and seeing cows grazing in an open field or meat on your plate. But they all end up at the slaughterhouse after just two or so years of age. Besides the growing number of benefits one gains from a plant-based diet, we are misleading the community and contradicting our ethical values of compassion by raising and slaughtering animals for food. The record-breaking fires presently occurring in the Amazon — done so to expand the Brazilian cattle industry — drives home the impact the meat industry is having on our environment and our atmosphere.
There are better uses for the McPolin pasture. Let’s plant more trees along the edges of the property and along McCleod Creek. Trees sequester carbon, manage soil chemistry and integrity and improve water quality. They also provide habitat, security and food for many types of wildlife. The long-term environmental and aesthetic benefits of trees far exceeds any seasonal “benefit” one farmer’s herd of cattle could offer. Let’s convert an acre or two of pasture near the barn as a community garden. Community gardens not only provide locals the opportunity to grow their own food, but are excellent sources environmental education, emotional wellness and a social habitat for kids, honeybees and butterflies alike.
We can combine these efforts and create an open space that truly conserves and preserves the McPolin pasture in a more natural and less-destructive setting. Park City Municipal is doing amazing things to reduce its carbon footprint. But, we should focus on reducing our carbon generation, and let nature handle the carbon sequestration.
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“[I]f Park City and Summit County love Richardson Flat as much as they claim to, maybe they should demonstrate their love by cleaning it up and leading by example,” writes Micah Kagan in a letter to the editor.