Monthly Archives: October 2016

Can commercial aquaponics be economically feasible?

For my second blog, I wanted to write about a subject that has become a passion of mine: Aquaponics. I want to mention that I am not an expert and further research needs to be done to answer a lot of these questions. It is until recently that people have researched and studied aquaponics systems for many different reasons. The main driving force for people to engage in research about aquaponics is because it provides an alternative to grow food in a sustainable, and efficient manner. These systems are closed loop systems that can provide an answer to how we are going to feed a growing population. Although there is a lot of research to be done, and some of the data up to date is limited, I want to ask the question: can aquaponics be economically feasible in a larger, commercial scale?

Aquaponics is basically an integrated system for growing food (normally green vegetables) with the help of fish. The fish waste provides an organic food source for the growing plants and the plants provide a natural filter for the water the fish live in. After doing some research, I found that small scale aquaponic systems are efficient and are economically sustainable. On the contrary, we lack data to show that larger, commercial farms are as well. Yet there are some examples in Hawaii that show that in fact commercial aquaponic farms can be economically feasible.  I will not get into details because it gets somehow complex but the University of Hawaii is involved in some these projects (total of three farms across Hawaii) and I think this is really interesting since it really can be a solution to food security issues in many countries. Image result for aquaponics

This picture is a simple representation of an aquaponic system: a closed loop system.

These projects in Hawaii along with some other across the globe (there has been succesfull projects in Australia, Mexico, New Zealand and USA) show that it is economically possible to have a large, commercial aquaponic farm. I must mention that these farms are not as big as conventional farms but the yields are important and the energy usage is way less. It is important to be diverse when having an aquaponics farm and diversified your sources of income.

I strongly believe that aquaponic systems can be not only efficient in small scale farms but also in a commercial scale. If we developed the right relationships under the right conditions I believe we can achieve maximum efficiency and provide an alternative solution to many food problems. Perhaps it will not provide a solutions to every single food related problem but at least it is a different, more sustainable way of growing our food.

The name of the farms in Hawaii: Kunia Country Farms, Ilili Farms, Maris Garden.

If you know more about aquaponics or you are interested in this subject please feel free to comment.

Sources:

Commercial Scale Aquaponics: Profitability and … (n.d.). Retrieved October 31, 2016, from http://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/sustainag/workshop/downloads/Aquaponics-May2013/Tokunaga.pdf

Love, D. C., Fry, J. P., Li, X., Hill, E. S., Genello, L., Semmens, K., & Thompson, R. E. (2015, January). Commercial aquaponics production and profitability: Findings from an international survey. Aquaculture, 435, 67-74. doi:10.1016/j.aquaculture.2014.09.023

Naomasa, Emiko, Shawn Arita, Clyde Tamaru, and PingSun Leung. “Assessing Hawaii’s Aquaculture Farm and Industry Performance.” Aquaculture Economics & Management 17 (2013).

Tokunaga, Kanae, Clyde Tamaru, Harry Ako, and PingSun Leung. “Preliminary Findings from Economic Analysis of Commercial Scale Aquaponics.” Working Project (2013)

Aquaponics in Hawaii Conference May 25, 2013 Kanae Tokunaga*1,2, Clyde Tamaru3 , Harry Ako3 , and PingSun Leung2 1Department of Economics; 2Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management; 3Department of Molecular Biosciences and Bioengineering University of Hawaii at Manoa.

 

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You Can Now Buy Buffet Leftovers — For a Really Low Price

 

As much as 40 percent of food in the U.S. is thrown away uneaten, and despite this, there are still children that are still hungry. Roughly one in six of U.S. households are on food stamp, which reflects that there are still large uneven food distribution in the U.S. Food wastes come from many sources, let it be the produces that were thrown out of groceries after “sell by” date, or bruised fruits that doesn’t mean the aesthetic standard to be sold. The latter example is a major problem in U.S. as half of the produce grown domestically got thrown away because it was bruised or misshaped. It turns out that in most case, a simple discoloration of the fruits and vegetables pose no health hazard and can be safely consumed. Not only that food wastes contributed to the food security issue, but decomposed food wastes in landfill release methane, a gas that contributed to global warming as well.

Restaurants are a major source of commercial food waste, especially the one that offered buffet, as toward the end of the business hour, there are food leftovers that are still good to eat. To keep the standard, the restaurants throw the leftovers away to make way for the food for the next business day. If the food is still good, why don’t we just give it to people who needed (or wanted) it? Fear not, there are now a website and an app where you can order leftover food from the buffets, and several location in U.S. already participated in the business.

The app is called BuffetGo, and is available in eight countries, including the U.S., though American customers still have to wait for the app, but for now they must make an order through the website. Using the app is simple, just type in a zip code, make an order, and go pick it up at the restaurant, all for a single-digit dollars, which is up to 90% mark off from the original price. Even a to-go box worth of food may cost as low as $1, this can potentially saves a lot of food waste and help mitigate the problem where people of lower economic background can’t effort food.

I have heard from social media that it’s mandatory for a grocery store to give expired food to the charity in France, but hearing that something different, but serve similar goal is now available in the U.S. Because 40% of the food waste is a large percentage, that’s can as well feed nearly additional 150 million more American than the U.S. have right now. It’s not that we didn’t grow enough food, but it’s that we didn’t use our food more efficiently.

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Live for a Century on the Okinawa Diet

Due to medical and technological advances, humans now live much longer lives than their ancestors. This has created desire in many people to discover new ways to increase life longevity and health. Many of these discoveries are accompanied with false health claims and have little scientific back up. There once existed an Asian culture who’s eating habits successfully extended the life of a statistically significant number of individuals.

The Japanese Archipelago of Okinawa is famously known for having a population with above average life expectancy rates and a large number of centenarians. During the US invasion and capture of Okinawa in WW2, food records of local diets were recorded. These archives show that Okinawans practiced a primarily vegetarian diet, with fish and other animal protein consisting of only 1% of the total food consumption. What is most interesting is that 90% of the vegetables eaten came from a single source; the Okinawan sweet potato.

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This leads me to agree that malnutrition is really a diet deficit in calories and not a deficit of protein consumption. With a primarily vegetarian diet, Okinawans introduced a surge of anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory agent that are known to combat free radical damage. On average Okinawan were 8 to 12 times less likely to die from a preventable disease.

Unfortunately, all good thing must come to an end.  With the introduction of fast meals and processed foods, Okinawans have gone from being the healthiest Japanese to the least healthy. The modern Okinawa diet, compared to its traditional cuisine, is now as unhealthy as the average American diet. My interest in this topic was sparked by the 3 speakers who were supporters of a vegan diet. Although it might not be the most sustainable way to eat, I am convinced that a vegetarian and/or vegan diet is the healthiest way to eat.

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The Worst Ecological and Humanitarian Disaster in History…and Nobody Seemed to Care.

Imagine you live on the outskirts of Palangkaraya, a city in the Kalimantan province of Indonesia. As you walk to work, you see people quickly scurrying on the road, with smog masks covering their face. You did not have access to a mask due to a shortage, and are therefore subjects to the hazardous fumes that circulate throughout the air.

This was the reality for a person living in central Kalimantan in 2015. Also known as the worlds worst humanitarian and ecological disaster is human history.

Firefighters Attempt To Extinguish Indonesia Forest Fires

South Sumatra, Indonesia

Indonesia is currently the largest producer and exporter of Palm Oil, worldwide. The products high yield and the ease at which it grown in Indonesia’s peat lands makes it a valuable resource. However, the environmental results are detrimental.

“The easiest way to clear the land is to torch it. Every year, this causes disasters. But in an extreme El Niño year like this one, we have a perfect formula for environmental catastrophe” (Monbiot.)

With each hectare of peat land cleared, 3,0750-5,400 tons of CO2 are released into the atmosphere. However, with the large subsidies that the government provides to palm oil producers, there is little incentive to stop production.

When these areas are slashed and burned to make way for new crops to be planted, the highly flammable peat land, mixed with dry climate conditions have resulted in vast forest fires in the region.

“It’s not just the trees that are burning. It is the land itself. Much of the forest sits on great domes of peat. When the fires penetrate the earth, they smolder for weeks, sometimes months, releasing clouds of methane, carbon monoxide, ozone and exotic gases such as ammonium cyanide” (Monbiot.)

This event had been called a “crime against humanity”, however, it has also resulted in a large loss of biodiversity in the region. Among the animals affected are orangutans, clouded leopards, sun bears, gibbons, the Sumatran rhinoceros and the Sumatran tiger, most of which were labeled endangered prior to this ecological disaster.

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So enough with the facts. The idea that I really want to explore is the fact that nobody really knew, or cared about this event. Indonesia reached out to other nations for help and was met by closed doors.

This nation is the 4th most populated country in the world, with a population of 250 million and is also one of the most biodiversity rich places on the planet.

While this environmental catastrophe was occurring, the media was discussing McDonalds new “mcPick 2” deal,  Donald Trumps recent racist remarks, and dress that may have been black or may have been blue.

“The media makes a collective non-decision to treat this catastrophe as a non-issue, and we all carry on as if it’s not happening” (Monbiot).

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So after reading this, you may be wondering, who is to blame and what can we do? Well, this isn’t a simple answer. Some blame the Indonesian government for allowing these agricultural practices in such a fragile environment. Some blame the media for glossing over the story. While others blame the large companies who use palm oil in their products–Pepsi, Starbucks ect. Yes, you can choose to not purchase products with Palm Oil, but we are also dealing with a large export of a country with a fragile economic system. By using products with sustainably produced Palm Oil, you could help promote the sustainable production of this product, while also supporting this nations economy. Indonesians have a very strong sense of nationalism, and shaming this nation for these crimes will probably do more harm than good.

 

The most effective thing we can do it reach out, and offer our help. Some countries with a large interest in the environment have been known to help out countries in the midst of ecological disasters. For example, Norway payed Brazil billions of dollars for their efforts in conservation. This kind of idea could incentivize the Indonesian government to take action.

These fires, have since been tamed, but this doesn’t not mean the land or people have healed. There have been 100,000 premature deaths reported due to air quality. Ecological disasters like this have been effecting the citizens and the biodiversity of nations all around the world. However, little action is ever taken and most people forget about it a few days after they’ve scrolled past it in their facebook news feed. Let us not forget this grave ecological and humanitarian disaster, and hope they the next time something like this happens, we will respond with support and understanding to solve these issues that effect the entire globe.

 

 

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Sustainable Fishing: The Future

29% of the oceans around the world are considered overfished according to Triple Pundit. Although there is the obvious appeal for fishers to catch as many as they can at a time to achieve an immediate payoff, we need to look towards the future. This method of aggressive fishing can cause populations of species to dwindle and go beyond the point where they can replenish themselves, eventually going extinct. Once a species goes extinct, it has a ripple effect on the entire ecosystem, causing the ecosystem to become more susceptible to climatic impacts.

Not only do we have to worry about overfishing the actual species that were trying to catch but also the unintended casualties as well. With bycatch, longline fishing methods intended for Bluefin tuna will ensnare sea turtles, swordfish, birds, dolphins etc. This bycatch will then be thrown back into the ocean dead or tangled.

However, there are “sustainable” ways to fish that ensure populations to be able to reestablish themselves. According to NatGeo Some of these techniques include having certain times of the years off-limits to fish to allow the population to bounce back, as well as having certain areas like coral reefs be off-limits. Other ways are to use hook-line/rod-and-reel fishing that allows you to not have as much bycatch, or to participate in spearfishing and cast nets that allows you to target specific species.

Another option is to have more fisheries that have the MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) approval. With this certificate you can say that you participate in hundreds of sustainable friendly improvements to fishing, and 600 more come 2020. These fisheries help the environment by increasing population to endangered species, preventing seabird deaths, bringing back species considered “extinct”, etc. As of 2014 there has been an 11% increase in the purchases of MSC products. Showing an increase in the consumer population to show that they care and support sustainable fishing methods.

Lastly there is option to choose to not eat these endangered species, or less seafood in general. Even to educate ourselves about how our seafood got to our plate and where it’s from is very helpful in making a decision. Whatever your decision is you should keep in mind our impact on a very fragile ecosystem that takes up 71% of this planet. We have an option to halt this destruction in its tracks before it passes the point beyond no return.

 

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Expiration Dates Contributing to Global Food Waste

Food waste is a huge issue all around the world. An estimated 8 million lbs of food are prematurely wasted every year, and many people don’t realize that they are throwing away perfectly good food. Studies show that, up to 25% of America’s freshwater, and almost 30% of the world’s agricultural land is used each year to produce food that goes to waste. Food waste is also the single largest component of waste in US landfills and has a massive carbon footprint.

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(courtesy of The Week)

Some of this food waste can be contributed to the expiration dates that are stamped on a majority of the food we buy. There is some confusion about what those dates really mean and can lead people to throwing away food too early because most products are still safe to eat after their expiration date. Due to the confusion surrounding ‘sell-by’ or ‘use-by’ dates, a new analysis shows more than 90% of Americans throw out food prematurely, and 40% of the U.S. food supply is wasted, because of food dating.

The dates on food have very little to do with safety and are often there to protect the reputation of the food. Food dating began in the 1970’s because Americans wanted more information regarding their food. The dates indicate peak freshness, and expiring does not mean inedible. Package dates are unregulated by the federal government and can vary from state to state because there’s no standardization. The only exception is infant formula, which is federally regulated since the nutrients can lose their potency. For example, milk in Connecticut must have a ‘sell-by’ date of 12 days, and in Pennsylvania, it’s 14 days. The wording can be confusing, when one brand of milk says, ‘best before’, or ‘sell-by’, and some just have the date with no words at all. Manufacturers can come up with their own dates and own labels for their products, which can be misleading for consumers.

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(courtesy of General Mills, and NBC news)

You might be asking yourself about the fear of getting sick from food that has gone bad. The shelf life is not the issue, but whether or not the food is contaminated with salmonella, listeria bacteria, or E. coli. John Ruff, the president of the Institute of Food Technologists, told NPR, “In 40 years, in eight countries, if I think of major product recalls and food poisoning outbreaks, I can’t think of one that was driven by a shelf-life issue”. So while it is crucial to have expiration dates on food that has a high risk of contamination, such as meat and cheese, you’re more likely to get sick from contamination rather than spoilage.

Food waste is such a predominant issue in our society, but thankfully there are multiple solutions that can reduce the impact. The US Senate and House of Representatives have introduced bills that would change the labels on food, and have more standardization. There’s also a public service campaign, called Save The Food, which can help consumers with waste reduction tips and how to store food properly. The company ReFED is doing a great job with food waste prevention and showing solutions that can save food, alleviate hunger, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and more.

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(courtesy of ReFED)

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Biofuels: A solution or a curse?

Biofuels were once seen as a key solution in mitigating climate change because of the many benefits the could provide. But new research about the production and impacts of biofuels has raised many questions on whether this energy source can be sustainable. Supporters of biofuels present many convincing points and facts about the positive effects that biofuels can have. While it is hard to argue against using this clean source of energy, if one dives deeper into the data, doubts start emerging about the true potential of biofuels.

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Advocates of biofuels usually start out by pointing to the benefits because they seem obvious. I will discuss some of these next. Biofuels are a clean burning and renewable source for fuel. Supporters claim that using biodiesel reduces greenhouse gas emissions because CO2 released from biodiesel combustion is offset by the CO2 absorbed while growing the crops for this fuel. Compared with petroleum diesel, Argonne National Laboratory found that B100 use reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 74%. Biofuels are said to create more energy security and balance because countries will depend less on foreign imports of petroleum and substitute it with biofuels produced domestically. Biofuels also are considered safer because they cause far less damage than petroleum diesel if spilled or released to the environment. It is safer than petroleum diesel because it is less combustible. When compared to using fossil fuels, biodiesel is a cleaner alternative but have many costs that many people do not know about.

 

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Courtesy of Altprofits

 

There is a long list of potential risks that comes along with using biofuels such as food, water, forest, species, and carbon impacts. There is a strong relation between biofuels and increased food prices because it jeopardizes food supplies. In 2012, roughly 40 percent of the entire U.S. corn crop was diverted into ethanol production. Put simply, if the supply of crops for food consumption is decreased because more of it is being devoted to ethanol production, then the price will increase. This will hurt people in developing countries the most because they simple cannot afford it. The next concern of using biofuels is the impact it has on water because many biofuel crops require large amounts of water for their cultivation. We are seeing extreme droughts across the United States and at the same time underground water tables are becoming depleted. Biofuel crops are creating stress on our fresh water supplies and we must deicide if using water on biofuel crops is worth it. The last point I will talk about is the impact of land use. From 2006 to 2011, global biofuels production doubled to 600 million barrels per year, or about 1.64 million barrels per day. With the increased demand for biofuels, companies and farmers are looking for new land to cultivate biofuel crops. This results in either the conversion of agricultural land used for food crops or the destruction of forests to free up land, possibly offsetting any reduction in carbon emissions from the use of biofuels. Supporters claim that we could power a large portion of our country off of biofuels, but they forget about the large area needed to grow these crops which the United States simply does not have. There needs to be better understanding as well as further research about biofuels before we praise this ‘clean’ source of energy.

 

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Courtesy of The Azolla Foundation

Even though biofuels do have a potential for mitigating climate change, there are many economic and environmental impacts that come along with it. We must be careful moving forward because we do not know the full range of impacts that accompany biofuels. There needs to be standards and regulations put in place as well as further research because without careful oversight, this ‘clean’ source of energy could become a problem rather than a solution to mitigating climate change. The true potential of biofuels may never be realized if we do not take a step back and understand the impacts and effectively regulate their use.

 

Sources:

http://cmsdata.iucn.org/downloads/cel10_ottinger_2.pdf

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/energy/10716756/Biofuels-do-more-harm-than-good-UN-warns.html

http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/GlobalWarming/story?id=4257226&page=1

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/poverty-matters/2011/jun/01/biofuels-driving-food-prices-higher

https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2014-05-08/biofuels-are-a-bad-idea

http://www.afdc.energy.gov/fuels/biodiesel_benefits.html

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Glyphosphate: Helpful or Harmful?

Genetically modified crops are growing more prevalent around the world as a solution to some of the challenges that the agricultural sector is facing due to factors like climate change and an increasing human population. As a result, environmental and public health risks associated with the herbicide glyphosphate, commonly known as Roundup, which is used on eighty percent of genetically modified crops are becoming more prevalent as well.

 

One can argue that there are many positive attributes to growing genetically modified crops. However, it is unclear whether the benefits of increased food production will outweigh the costs of heavy pesticide use.

According to new research, studies show that glyphosphate use poses various adverse effects to human health.

  • Cancer
  • Learning disabilities
  • Birth defects
  • Reproductive Health
  • Endocrine disruption

 

Not only is the population in danger, but glyphosphate use poses risks to the environment too. Environmental impacts include adverse effects on the following:

  • Soil fertility
  • Ecosystem function
  • Crop health
  • Water contamination
  • Development of herbicide resistance

It seems there has been a recent flood of new studies pointing to evidence which clearly proves that glyphosphates are considered to be a hazard. Some countries internationally are already in the process of phasing out and eventually banning Roundup use due to the overwhelming flood of evidence of its adverse effects.

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Photo courtesy of EcoWatch

So why is the United States not following suit? Unfortunately, the answer is it’s an economic issue. In order to increase food production through growing genetically modified crops, toxic pesticides and herbicides like Roundup must be heavily applied. Shedding light on the risks glyphosphate poses will hopefully cause a gradual change to safer alternatives.

Sources:

http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/glyphogen.html#whatis

http://sustainablepulse.com/2016/10/12/pesticide-experts-release-shocking-review-of-global-glyphosate-damage/#.WBKdG-grI2w

http://pan-international.org/wp-content/uploads/Glyphosate-monograph.pdf

10 Things You Need to Know about Glyphosate

http://www.ecowatch.com/results-of-glyphosate-pee-test-are-in-and-its-not-good-news-1891129531.html

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Beer That Helps the Sustainability of Agriculture?

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Image Courtesy of The Modern Farmer

Beer: that ice-cold, refreshing hoppy taste. Or malty taste. Or creamy taste? From macro-brews to micro-brews, IPAs to Stouts, the varieties of beer are endless. However, do we ever think of the environmental impacts whenever we crack open a can of beer after a long day? Patagonia, everyone’s go-to sustainable clothing (or lifestyle?) company, is leading the way for a revolutionary beer brewed with Kernza. In collaboration with Patagonia Provisions and Hopworks Urban Brewery, the Long Root Ale is brewed with this environmentally friendly wheatgrass variety, boasting a refreshing Grapefruit hop flavor.

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Scott Seirer/The Land Institute courtesy of The Washington Post

The Land Institute in Kansas helped selectively breed this variety of wheatgrass; Kernza is a perennial (which simply means it is grown year-round) with incredibly long roots that can grow up to ten feet in the ground. Since this is perennial, farmers will not have to reseed this crop with every new season. Due to the long roots of this crop, it is an incredible soil replenisher. The long roots help fight erosion and pests; less erosion means fertilizer is more prone to staying in the soil longer instead of being easily depleted. Kernza also uses less water while preserving biodiversity and retaining soil nutrients. The wheatgrass apparently soaks up carbon while requiring less tilling. Kernza also helped reduce nitrate from seeping out by 86% compared to wheat.

But this specialty crop is far from being widely available to the masses. With only a handful of food organizations being able to access this wheatgrass, it will take several years before it’s introduced to the human diet. It took six years for the seeds to double in size to make this grain a possibility for human consumption. Technically, it’s only one-quarter the size of a wheat berry ; it contains a small amount of gluten, leaving it difficult to work with and incorporate into food. However, it is extremely encouraging to watch numerous organizations and scientists attempt to develop a more sustainable way of agriculture. Kernza is definitely a grain to keep a watchful eye over in the future.

 

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Colorado Hunting Big Game

 

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Rocky Mountain Elk

Colorado is home to the largest elk population in the world with estimates to be around 280,000 elk.  Colorado’s hunting industry brings in about $1 billion annually making it the second-largest tourism industry in the state. With the American elk populations dwindled to less than 100,000 by the early 1890s, this was caused by unregulated hunting, grazing competition with domesticated livestock, and urbanization that  was pushing westward, destroying their habitat.  Throughout the 20th Century there was an effort to bring these number back up through wildlife management; regulations, national parks and other habitats that were put into conservation.  By 1984, there were an estimated 715,000 elk and by 2009 the number grew to 1,031,000 in North America.

Each year it is estimated to be that 43,490 elk harvested in Colorado and 215,326 hunters for this species, so that’s a harvest rate of 20%.  As you can see from these number that elk are high sought after and the elk will repetition their herd from the young that will be born in the spring.   Some families rely solely on the harvest of an elk to feed their families throughout the coming year.

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Colorado Mule Deer

Colorado’s first most abundant big game species is mule deer while the second is elk.  In 2012 Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) population estimate of 408,000 mule deer statewide is 22 percent to 29 percent below the goal of 525,000 to 575,000 animals.  The main contribution to this decline is said to be from an increase in predation, mainly mountain lions, but also from humans, from road kill; In 20
14, there were approximately
4,000 recorded crashes involving wildlife – the second highest total in the past decade.

As a bow hunter here in Colorado hunting for deer specifically mule deer and the rocky mountain elk.  I started bow hunting 2 years ago now and have yet to harvest an animal but I have the pleasure to spend many days and nights on public land in the homes of these amazing animals.  Having put over 100 miles of boots on the ground searching for these animals it has put my meat consumption into perspective, and have realized that if I can not harvest my own meat then my meat consumption of grocery meat should decrease.  I bow hunt to fill my freezers full of meat, not just my freezer but family and friends.  On an average elk, the amount of meat that is harvest is around 250 lbs, which is a LOT of meat for my girlfriend and myself.

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Glassing for Elk and Deer

Can hunting in Colorado be considered sustainable? I would argue that it can not be, for without management our population would be wiped out.  I do think that it is a better alternative to supermarket meat for the mass of the population has no idea how it feels to take an animal’s life and then eat it, in our day of age some might say that meat comes from the supermarket and not a farm.  This disconnection with our meat is what drove me to take on the challenge of harvesting my our meat with a bow on our public lands.

I would encourage all the meat eaters out there that have not witnessed what the process is like to see an animal be harvested and then eat it, to think very hard about your meat consumption.

 

http://cpw.state.co.us/thingstodo/Pages/BigGame.aspx

\http://cpw.state.co.us/thingstodo/Pages/Statistics-Elk.aspx

http://www.outdoorlife.com/elk-on-fringes

 

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