How Our Food Choices Affect Wildlife
An Animal Rights Article from


Greg Lawson
September 2012

From a speech delivered at FARM's Animal Rights 2012 as State of the  Movement: Wildlife

When people think about the animals who suffer and die for our country's meat based diet, they think about the chickens and the cows and the pigs. They never think about how meat eating affects the bison and the bears, the beavers, the badgers, the birds, the bobcats.

My career for the last 28 years has been as a National Park Service Ranger, and as a Ranger and as a vegan, I think about it. I care for wildlife. I should take a moment to say that the opinions I will express are my own and do not reflect the opinions of the National Park Service...which is a damn shame.

The future for wild animals looks grim. We are in the sixth great period of extinction, but unlike the previous five known extinction periods, this one was caused by us. Species are disappearing at a rate 1000 times faster than the background rate of extinction. Many scientists think that by the end of this century fully half of all existing species will be extinct.

Three of the main causes of extinction are habitat loss, climate change and pollution, all three of which are linked to animal agriculture.

Seventy percent of the rainforests have been cleared to pasture cattle and to grow livestock feed. Raising animals for food (including land used for grazing and land used to grow feed crops) now uses 30% of the Earth’s land mass. Eighty percent of all the agricultural land in the U.S. is used to raise animals for food and grow grain to feed them—that’s almost half the total land mass of the lower 48 states.

Animal agriculture is devastating to global biodiversity because of habitat loss.

Climate change has emerged as another leading cause of species extinction. According to the United Nations a leading cause of climate change is animal agriculture.

Climatic warming has caused severe declines in once-common amphibian species native to Yellowstone National Park. The number of salamander populations fell by nearly half and the number of frog populations in Yellowstone fell by 70% in the last decade. Global warming is expected to result in extinctions of up to one-third of all butterfly species.

Worldwide, coral reefs are currently declining more quickly than rainforests are being cut down. This is devastating for the countless organisms that inhabit coral reefs. More than a third of coral reef fish species face extinction from the impacts of climate change. Many Arctic mammals, such as polar bears, walrus, and seals depend on sea ice for their survival and are severely threatened by the melting ice.

Pollution is another main cause of extinction. Almost half of all of America’s streams, rivers and lakes are too polluted for fishing, swimming or aquatic life. And the leading cause of this pollution is livestock waste and agricultural chemicals used to grow crops for farmed animals.

The Mississippi River carries tons of this pollution into the Gulf of Mexico every year. This has resulted in a dead zone the size of Massachusetts which can’t support life. The Earth currently has more than 400 oceanic dead zones, and that number continues to grow.

Industrial livestock farms store manure and other farm wastes in gigantic tanks known as “lagoons” which can hold millions of gallons of manure. These lagoons often leak and during large storms, they may rupture or simply overflow. When this happens, the environmental damage can be enormous. Millions of fish and other animals have died in such events.

We have known about pollution for years, but have done very little to control it. The reality of climate change has been slow to be accepted. And our leaders have done nothing about it.

And there are those who keep trying to dismantle the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act.

Earlier this summer, U.S. Representative Billy Long of Missouri introduced a bill in the House called the Superfund Common Sense Act that would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from calling animal manure from farms a pollutant, a contaminant or a hazardous substance, so that those involved in animal agriculture won’t have to worry about cleaning up. There is a senate version of this bill and its main sponsor is senator from Idaho Mike Crapo. The Universe has a very strange sense of humor.

Most people think that there are federal agencies which protect wildlife, the National Park Service, the US Forest Service, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management... but the fact is that these agencies have become confederates to livestock producers in a War on Wildlife.

I don't blame Obama, he inherited a very nasty mess, but he really could have made some better choices.

From a vegan environmentalist's viewpoint, one of Obama's biggest mistakes was to appoint a rancher and hunter from Colorado as the Secretary of the Interior, in charge of the National Park Service and the Endangered Species Act. Ken Salazar, when he was governor of Colorado, threatened to sue the Federal Government if the black tailed prairie dog was listed as an endangered species. Ranchers don't like prairie dogs. As governor, Salazar had stated that he wanted to dismantle the endangered species act, and now as Secretary of the Department of the Interior, he is in charge of the Endangered Species Act.

There are no government agencies protecting wild animals, it's only us.

It's groups like the Farm Animal Rights Movement, it's groups like WildEarth Guardians, the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Sea Shepherd, and all the local vegetarian societies and animal rights groups, it’s you and me.

Because of lawsuits by environmental groups, the Fish and Wildlife Service made over 500 positive listing decisions in 2011, the most since the Endangered Species Act took effect in 1973.

A couple of months ago at the International Whaling Commission meeting, South Korea announced that they planned to start "scientific" whaling like Japan. Because of international protests by people like you and me, in July South Korea announced that they wouldn't begin a whaling program after all.

The number of nations and cities in the US which have outlawed captive wild animals in circuses continues to grow. Last February, the Greek Government banned the use of all animals in circuses. Bosnia, Austria and Croatia have bans on wild animal acts, and several European countries including Portugal and Denmark have measures to ban or phase out wild animals in circuses.

Bolivia was the first country to ban all animals from circuses in February 2011, followed by Peru in July 2011. This last June, Paraguay banned the use of wild animals in circuses. Similar Legislation is currently being considered by the Governments of Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Chile and Ecuador.

Last December, Russia, formerly Canada's top commercial market for seal fur, banned the import of all harp-seal products.

In June, the Governor of Ohio signed the Dangerous Wild Animal Act into Law which bans ownership of lions, monkeys and other exotic animals. Similar laws banning exotic animal ownership are being considered in Virginia, Arizona, Missouri, West Virginia, Tennessee, Indiana and Oklahoma.

Shark fin products are now illegal in four states and at least six other states have pending legislation. More and more nations have outlawed the practice of shark finning, and even China announced last month that they plan to ban shark fin soup from being served at official banquets.

According to a recent report by the US Forest Service, wildlife watching and photography continues to grow as outdoor activities, while hunting and trapping are in serious decline.

The decline in hunting has worried the NRA and other pro-hunting groups, so in the last few years they have mounted successful campaigns to have the minimum legal age for obtaining a hunting permit lowered to twelve years of age in most states. In my state of Texas, a nine-year-old can obtain a permit to hunt unsupervised.

That’s not the worst of it. Texas allows the blind to hunt, as long as they are accompanied by a sighted hunting companion. And with the age requirement being what it is, it could be a nine-year-old leading a blind person on a hunt.

You know, even though I am a park ranger, I don’t go into the woods as often as I used to.

Is it too much to hope for that our letters to our representatives will bring congress to its senses? Of course it is.

But we have to keep trying. And we have to continue the fight on all fronts.

And we have to become the most effective animal advocates we can be.

That's why we are here this weekend.

I believe that the most important step any individual can take to help all animals, domestic, enslaved and those in the wild, is to not eat them.

And to influence other people to not eat the poisonous products of the meat and dairy industries.

Most people don't think about how their eating habits affect the wild lands and wildlife.

Unless they do start to think about it, the woods will soon be silent.

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