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Ovis 21, a network of livestock ranches in Argentina, found itself thrust into the spotlight this month after People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals accused one of its member facilities of mutilating and otherwise abusing its lambs and sheep. Presented with the undercover video, the Nature Conservancy could only react with horror. Ovis 21, after all, is one of the conservation group’s partners. Together with apparel firm Patagonia, the organizations have been working in tandem to regenerate over 15 million acres of overgrazed grasslands. “The Nature Conservancy is appalled by what we saw in parts of this footage,” Barbara Laing, marketing director at the Nature Conservancy, told Ecouterre over email. “[We were] not aware of these practices and we do not condone them.”
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Ovis 21 told the Nature Conservancy that it has severed ties with the farm shown in the video, Laing said. (In a statement on its website, Ovis 21 said that it has withdrawn certification from the offending facility.) Patagonia, on the other hand, has dissociated from Ovis 21 entirely.
“We expect all our partners to behave in an ethical and responsible manner,” Laing said. “In fact, work was already underway to incorporate animal-welfare practices. We will require such standards of anyone continuing to work with our Grassland Regeneration and Sustainable Standard project.”
Introduced in 2013, the Grassland Regeneration and Sustainable Standard—or GRASS, for short—is an initiative that incorporates conservation science, planning, and monitoring into the management plans of wool producers.
Instead of grazing sheep continually in one place, the herds are moved in and out of various pastures depending on the conditions of the grasses. This, according to the Nature Conservancy, encourages not only a greater diversity of native grass species but also helps maintain viable populations of native wildlife like pumas, rheas, and guanacos.
Reversing a century of overgrazing is no overnight feat, but there are also market incentives for grassland producers, so “ranchers, sheep, native plants, and animals can thrive together,” the nonprofit notes online.
“Grasslands are among the most altered and least protected habitats on earth,” Laing said. “In particular, Patagonian grasslands are facing a rapid process of deterioration followed by desertification, with approximately 70 percent of the land suffering some degree of erosion. Our shared objective with our partner here is to protect Patagonia grasslands.”
The show, in other words, must go on.