Cows. People don’t often think about the environmental impact of livestock.
But for more than three decades, the Chesapeake Bay region states have recognized that one of the most obvious and affordable ways to help clean up the bay is to fence cattle out of streams, where they defecate and release sediment by trampling the banks. However, because of the political influence of the farm lobby, not one of the bay states requires streamside fencing on cattle farms.
More strangely, none of the states -- or even the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program -- knows, or even attempts to track, what percentage of farmers follow this best management practice to protect public waterways.
Cows wading into streams has been contributing to fecal bacterial contamination and odious algal blooms in Virginia’s Shenandoah River. So the nonprofit Shenandoah Riverkeeper organization last year decided to conduct its own survey of streamside cattle fencing, because the state had not.
Examining detailed aerial photographs from Google Earth, the Shenandoah Riverkeeper discovered that 80 percent of the 841 farms with both cattle and streams in Virginia’s biggest agricultural county – Rockingham – had failed to fence their animals out of the waterways.