The leadership and general membership of the beef industry in B.C. came together at the end of last week for the Annual General Meeting (AGM). The local cattlemen, Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association, hosted the event attended by some 300 people: members, trade show exhibitors, government officials and interested public.
This convention moves around B.C. following offers of hosting by the regional and local cattle organizations. It depends which ones can muster the energy of volunteers to host so many people.
I have to congratulate the organizers, particularly Cordy Cox-Ellis, president of Cariboo Cattlemen for her leadership and especially the volunteers who devoted so much time to ensuring the event was successful.
Companions of delegates were taken on a tour which included the historic 153 Mile Store, now a museum, the Sunshine Ranch at Horsefly which is an example of a diversified operation hosting weddings and operating a butcher shop, and the Woodjam Ranch which has successfully undertaken a transition in management to the next generation.
The main business of the convention was reports on main policy issues facing the industry, business of governing and financial reporting, a half day of a research forum and a half day of education on recent developments of interest and necessity to people in the cattle industry.
I consider attending these meetings essential for anyone in the business because staying current with developments is a necessary part of staying in business.
I write these articles for two reasons: to stay current myself by scanning the news and information sources and to explain the conduct of the industry on matters relevant to itself and the general public.
The public’s need to know what really goes on in ranching was brought home to us when we hosted acquaintances from Ireland who had no idea what goes on in ranching and what keeps ranchers so busy caring for cattle and the land.
These days anyone with a footprint has to justify it to their own conscience and to the greater public who is the ultimate grantor of “social license” to operate.
Generally, the cattle industry supports an evidence-based approach to conducting business. Many groups use science for their own interests. However, it is important to engage a broad range of stakeholders in developing the science behind our actions.
It is a problem for society if there are uneven resources committed to sponsoring the science. Ultimately it is government’s responsibility on behalf of the general public, to ensure the balance and comprehensiveness of the “science” rather than letting any single interest have a monopoly on their information justifying their own actions and practices.
Let me give one example of public concern regarding cattle grazing in community watersheds and possible contamination by cryptosporidium, a parasite which can cause respiratory and gastrointestinal illness in people.
Many in the public and public agencies in the Vernon area have, for more than 20 years, blamed cattle for this parasite in Vernon’s water supply.
Recently, a PHD student at University of B.C. successfully defended his thesis in which he concluded: “…grazing cattle in community watersheds in B.C. are not the risk to human health for cryptosporidiosis they might be perceive to be.”
It turns out that wildlife can be and are culprits in this instance.
Back to the BCCA AGM. One of the speakers, a wildlife biologist, Walt Klenner, from the forest and lands ministry was suggesting that using livestock to target some of the fine fuels (grass and brush) around communities might be a very effective way of stopping or slowing the spread of wildfire.
Then, planned or not, as he was speaking, the government announced that the BC Cattlemen’s Association would be awarded $500,000 dollars to investigate and trial just that topic.
He had opened his talk saying that he wasn’t going to talk policy or politics, so the award of the program money as he spoke was prescient to say the least. A light moment in a serious convention!
His message was: cattle or livestock can help the public interest in ways not yet generally accepted. That about sums it up. Let’s get the evidence.
David Zirnhelt is a rancher and member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association. He is also chair of the Advisory Committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching Program at TRU.