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Eating Ethically to Save an Ecosystem

The ethics of eating meat is an ongoing discussion with many opinions based on partial scenarios.  Over the twenty-four years that Wild Idea has been in business, we have received emails and messages on social platforms informing us that “we have blood on our hands, that there is nothing ethical about killing animals, and that there is a nice place in hell for us.” As many of you know, Dan has dedicated his life to preserving wildness, which evolved into the conception of Wild Idea Buffalo Company. This has allowed us to continue our efforts of prairie restoration and conservation on a larger scale. And luckily, the positive feedback we receive far outweighs the short-sighted visions of the few. Still, it gets under your skin.Dan O'BrienOn the Great Plains Prairies there are over 1,600 species of plants, 300 species of birds, 220 kinds of butterflies and 65 mammals. I think most people like plants, birds, butterflies, and bison. And many visit Yellowstone National Park each year for a chance to see wolves and grizzly bears, the former main prairie predators that helped maintain the prairie ecosystem balance.

Praire-WildflowersKeeping these ecosystems intact is critical for the survival of these plants and animals, and yet the prairie plow-up continues. “According to the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) 2021 Plowprint Report: “grassland plow-up across the Great Plains has continued to accelerate for the second year in a row. The 2021 report, which utilizes the USDA's annual Cropland Data Layer and the Canadian Annual Crop Inventory from two years prior to its release date, finds that from 2018-2019 an estimated 2.6 million acres of grassland were plowed up, primarily to make way for row crop agriculture. This is an area larger than Yellowstone National Park. Within the Northern Great Plains, the Great Plains' most intact region [also our part of the prairie ecosystem], nearly 600 thousand acres were plowed up during this same period. Nearly 70% of new conversion across the Great Plains was for three crops: corn (25%), soy (22%), and wheat (21%).”Farmed PrairieThe conversion of prairie grasslands to crops—most of which, by the way, are commodity crops to feed animals in confinement—not only endangers habitat for species but soaks the land with chemicals, turning off the microbial life in the soil and releases tons of carbon into the air. Intact grasslands are as important as rain forests in sequestering carbon, which is something that benefits us all.Prairie GrasslandsThis past week a big storm system moved through the eastern part of South Dakota. The videos and photos of the storm were most impressive, but the most horrific were images reminiscent of the Dust Bowl.Prairie Dust StormThis is the area where I grew up. I lived on a dairy farm that consisted of rangeland and a few crops. I remember the area as being a beautiful tapestry of grazing animals on prairie, wooded riparian zones, and croplands. But that is no more. Most of the land, including the riparian zones, has been plowed. The animal species are disappearing too.Burrowing OwlsIn addition to our day jobs as managers, writers, photographers, biologists, and ranchers, our buffalo harvests generate a little revenue to offset our large landscape ranching model and allows us to continue our mission of “regenerating the prairie grasslands while improving our environment and our food supply by bringing back the buffalo.”
Bison on PrairieAs private landholders, we, along with our sourcing partners, are trying to protect these prairie ecosystems for a healthy diversity of both flora & fauna. But we are not running a park; something has to pay the bills. Our humane field harvest helps keep our lands in balance, which in turn supports a healthy, biodiverse ecosystem and a healthy, by-product of buffalo meat. This natural circle of life and food, for both animals and people, is the true meaning of regenerative agriculture and is most definitely ethical.

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4 comments

  • Thanks for your efforts in restoring one of the most interesting and diverse habitats on earth!Here in Wisconsin we’re facing the extinction of prairie chickens and sharptail grouse and arguing about deer and wolves while creating 3000 acre solar fields on open land instead of putting it ontop of buildings.Your business model is the best for the environment and the bison are fantastic.Thanks!

    Greg Williams
  • Thanks for writing this! I work with various clients in the regenerative food space and am thankful for your work and leadership in your region. A friend recently turned me on to your products and I am loving them!

    Cora Hirashiki
  • no need to question WIB’s business model of regenerative and balanced land management. to those that understand the differences in various toxic methods in today’s America (and spreading across the globe as we speak), I am reminded of the effects lead poisoning had on the Roman Empire, the growing body of scientific data so far generated and what may become a future disaster for us from the outsized impact of this Monsanto/Bayer type growth model on widespread human health outcomes.

    the near-hidden effects of these poisons on living creatures, whether microbes, animals or human, just may bring about a major downfall yet fully realized. I fear the silence of those voices that grasp this warning are purposefully rebuked for their “Chicken Little” convictions and dismissed again and again.

    this is sad, as is this post. but Jill, this poignant work does more than just hint at the gathering storm clouds. at least that’s my excuse for bellowing again. Yes, we happily can see the stark contrast between the feedlot approach and WIB large landscape approach. I thank you and Dan, the family and employees, for continuing this great work of bringing back the prairie ecosystem and, of course, for the buffalo and all others you happen to touch.

    Blake O'Quinn
  • Well written article and beautiful photos Jill. Do not allow the naysayers to bother you. We have seen first hand how you manage your ranch and conduct your harvest and the resultant return of vibrant flora and fauna to the prairie. We are fervent animal lovers ourselves and have appreciation for all God’s creatures. The conduct of all of you at WIB is respectable, very ethical and nothing short of commendable on the highest order.

    Chris and Kim

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