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Letters for the Week of August 29, 2012

Readers sound off on the OPD, Art Murmur, and Missouri Lounge.


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Eric Tremont, Albany

"On How Life Is," Lectures & Lit, 8/8

The Trouble with "Tranny"

Alison, while I appreciate Kate Bornstein seemingly has no problem with the term "tranny," many transwomen and some transmen do find it to be a highly offensive, stigmatizing term. Really, it has no place in a serious review, nor is it a term that non-trans persons should throw around either to show "solidarity" or hipness. If you really want to view yourself as being a trans ally who respects your trans readers, I suggest leaving "tranny" as an inter-community term that trans women and gender-variant drag queens can use on a person-to-person basis.

Gina Kleinzeller, San Francisco

"Dianne Feinstein Targets Tule Elk," Eco Watch, 8/8

Worth Emphasizing

I think it is worth emphasizing that cows or no cows, the elk herd will ultimately outgrow the range at Point Reyes. It's also worth noting that the ranches at Point Reyes were there before the park, are part of the heritage of the area, and supply high-quality dairy products for much of Northern California.

Dave Wade, Felton

Tule Elk Are the Tip of the Iceberg

Great article by Robert Gammon on the attack on elk by ranchers at Point Reyes. However, as much as Dianne Feinstein is to blame for aiding the ranchers, ranching in the western US is a huge and longstanding problem, and the Point Reyes elk issue is, unfortunately, but a tiny example.

Only a few of us hard-core conservationists know this, but ranching has done more ecological damage to the western US than any other industry. The worst of the damage, in a nutshell, is that what used to be our western grasslands has been turned into deserts. For the most part, there were no large grazing ungulates in the west before the arrival of Europeans and their domestic cattle and sheep. Elk and deer are browsers, meaning that they primarily eat leaves and higher-growing vegetation. They are also nowhere near as heavy as cattle, which means that cattle cause major harm from unnatural soil compaction (this is also caused by cattle staying in one place instead of constantly moving around as any natural ungulate would). Bison were mostly present east of the Rocky Mountains, with only a few tiny herds making it west of there. The introduction of non-native cattle and sheep have wreaked major havoc on the ecosystems of the west by grazing on grasses that did not evolve to be able to survive that grazing. (I don't want to get too technical here, but the native grasses in the west have horizontal roots, and when grazed by large animals like cattle and sheep, those roots are completely pulled out. The grasses in the eastern US have vertical roots and can handle grazing because the roots remain under the ground after an animal eats the grass, which is the main reason bison were able to graze those grasses for millennia without doing any ecological harm.)

Other harms caused by the grazing industry include fencing (which inhibits movement of wildlife and people, and ruins views), poisoning of creeks and streams by cattle excretions to the point where it is now unsafe to drink from any natural waterway, killing of native plants that cattle don't like and animals that ranchers deem competitors or threats to their cattle or sheep (the latter of which is just about every large species, including elk; ranchers are now the main reason that wolves are still being shot and they are obstructing the attempts at reintroducing wolves into western states, including here in California), soil compaction from cattle mentioned above, erosion of the banks of streams and creeks from cattle hanging out there (in nature, prey animals would not hang around waterways for fear of predators — they get their water and leave immediately, but ranchers kill all the predators where their cattle graze, even on our public lands), just to name a few harms off the top of my head. Two excellent books on these issues are Sacred Cows at the Public Trough by Denzel and Nancy Ferguson and Welfare Ranching by George Wuerthner.

Additionally, as Gammon notes, ranchers using public lands graze their animals at a steep discount compared to those leasing private lands. This has long been an issue that we have tried to address in Congress, but to no avail. The ranching industry is heavily supported by Congress due mainly to the "heroic cowboy" image, which of course couldn't be further from the truth. Dianne Feinstein is merely acting as the vast majority, if not all, of her colleagues act on this issue: Defend the ranchers at all costs, including the cost to the natural environment and native species.

Anyone who cares about this issue should start by boycotting beef and telling both the ranchers and their congressional representatives why he or she is doing so. Demand that all cattle grazing be removed from our public lands and those lands restored to their native, natural condition, including reintroduction of predators like wolves. I realize that Americans love their steaks and hamburgers, but the ecological price of those foods is far too high, including the great harms caused to native species like elk. Giving up beef is one of the best things people could do for the ecosystems and species of the west, including the tule elk of Point Reyes.

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