There are many types of grass that make up grassland ecosystems, including temperate or tropical grass, temperate or tropical legume and native grasses, pasture herb, and forage shrubs. They are native habitats for wild plants and animals and are also excellent at carbon sequestration.
Many people envision rolling green hills of pasture as natural, biodiverse areas where nature lives in harmony with cattle, but this is not the reality of a pasture. A pasture may be a field covered with grass or herbage and suitable for grazing by livestock but lack intact native ecosystems or a diversity of native wildlife. They’re often cultivated monocultures that have replaced biodiverse grasslands.
An “improved pasture” includes an introduced grass and/or legume on cleared land that will likely also need irrigation. In general, pastures are poorly defined, which allows some industry grazers to make unsubstantiated claims about biodiversity. One common claim, for example, is that their fields are “biodiverse” because they have more than one type of forage, even when they are lacking in actual native plants and wildlife.
A hayfield, comparatively, is where grass or alfalfa is grown to be made into hay, which is often used to supplement the pasture. Similarly, a hayfield may need to be irrigated with pumped water, especially in regions prone to drought. While some pastures may support pollinators or are managed using nonlethal methods for wildlife conflicts, a pasture is not inherently a healthy ecosystem that promotes biodiversity.
To promote biodiversity and strengthen the ability of grasslands to sequester carbon, countless studies show that proper conservation of grasslands is necessary. Industry standards should be developed and regulated by public agencies that define very clearly what it means to promote biodiversity. This must include a prioritizing of native wildlife over domesticated cows and sheep, the health and flourishing of intact native ecosystems, protection of endangered species, and limitations on converting habitat into pastures. Similarly, it should also include federal dietary recommendations on meat reduction as a sustainable agricultural pathway for biodiversity and climate solutions.
This website is an ongoing project of the Center for Biological Diversity and A Well-Fed World.
Grazing Facts © 2021. All Rights Reserved.