With the Amazon rainforest on fire and Burger King selling Impossible Burgers, there’s a lot of concern about beef and ranching right now. But mass media hasn’t told both sides of the story.

As a rancher in northeast Wyoming and a lifelong conservationist (yes, those two things can go together), I rarely care what people outside of my family and my circle of neighbors say about my business or my environmental practices. But recent publicity has made cattle ranching seem antithetical to conservation. It’s not.

Much like how not all cars and coffee are the same, not all beef is created equal.

I can understand people’s misgivings toward beef that is raised in a feedlot with huge doses of antibiotics, or raised on land that was previously rainforest, but then deforested to create pasture. These practices are not the industry I know and love. There’s a better way, and believe it or not, it happens when ranchers and conservationists work together.

I’m part of a movement to provide people with healthy beef that doesn’t require burning down the rainforest to produce it. My movement humanely raises animals on open pastures that provide quality habitat for wildlife. It uses good grazing management to sequester carbon and continually monitors the soil, vegetation and wildlife.

My movement promotes beef raised right here in the U.S., which provides jobs, boosts local Wyoming economies and maintains open range lands for the benefit of wildlife. As someone who loves ranching and wildlife, I want people to know what good beef really is.

I don’t deny that cattle emit greenhouse gasses, but I will counter that animals raised on open pastures organically fertilize the soil and help those pastures trap carbon, as well. Research is even starting to show that carbon sequestration due to good grazing may, in fact, help to offset climate change.

Another reason that cattle are blamed for greenhouse emissions is the conversion of carbon-rich rainforests into pasture and cropland for animal feed.

The solution to this is simple: quit eating foreign beef that contributes to the problem! Instead, go to your local grocer and buy grass-fed local beef.

Unfortunately, even this has become challenging. Much of the beef in American grocery stores labelled “grass-fed” and “Product of USA” is coming from South America, Australia and New Zealand, according to a report from the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture.

One way to ensure that you can be proud of the beef you buy is to make sure it has a green Audubon seal.

Yes, you heard that right. The National Audubon Society, one of the major conservation nonprofits, is teaming up with ranchers to produce products that are local and conserve wildlife habitat.

Why would Audubon take an interest in ranching? Because more than half of America’s grasslands have disappeared, and grassland birds have declined by 40% since 1966, according to Audubon’s 2019 North American Grasslands and Birds Report.

What not enough people realize is that working ranches are the best remaining strongholds of wildlife habitat in America’s Great Plains.

Not only does ranching keep grasslands from being plowed and paved, it can also improve the quality and diversity of wildlife habitat on them when managed properly. At the same time, ranching is critical for local Wyoming economies. But economic success doesn’t have to come at the expense of nature.

Audubon’s Conservation Ranching Initiative is connecting eco-conscious consumers with bird-friendly ranches. By certifying ranches that are protecting and restoring habitat for birds and other wildlife, we’re adding value to their products and helping them stay competitive in the market.

At the same time, the initiative’s science-based ranch management methods restore habitat for birds, improve soil health and water quality, reduce flooding and erosion, and capture the atmospheric carbon that’s driving climate change.

We don’t need to stop eating or buying beef; we just need to get it from the right places. Done right, cattle ranching can preserve our open spaces, restore our grasslands, protect wildlife habitat and support our local economies.

Learn where you can support Wyoming ranches that are doing just this at rockies.audubon.org/ranching. And if anybody asks, tell them you are combating climate change. That should get their attention.

Dusty Downey is a Wyoming rancher and program lead for Audubon’s Conservation Ranching Initiative. He and his family live in Moorcroft, Wyoming.

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