Water Stewardship

Beef Barriers
Middle School, Life Sciences

Task Overview

In this task, students will evaluate existing beef cattle production/industry practices and determine their impacts on water quality and biodiversity. Using scientific evidence for support, students will identify a potential solution that could improve key biodiversity variables among water ecosystems.

Students will evaluate data regarding harmful algal blooms in New York waterways and determine that livestock allowed to drink directly from waterways can have a negative impact on water quality. For this reason, physical barriers are often observed on cattle farms. Through their work, students will be able to identify the characteristics of healthy and unhealthy water ecosystems. Next, students will evaluate 4 common conservation management practices -  managing the beef lifecycle, filter strips / forested buffers, managing grazing, and fenced farm dams. After learning about these practices, students identify the solution that most improves the water quality of New York water ecosystems.

Next Generation Science Standards

Three-Dimensional Claim

Students will identify potential causes of pollution among New York water ecosystems of existing beef cattle production/industry practices and their effects on water quality and biodiversity to explain a solution (or combinations of solutions) that could lead to improvement in key variables by using scientific evidence to support their explanation

This task is intended to elicit student learning of the following NGSS elements for each of the three dimensions:

Disciplinary Core Ideas

LS2.D: Social Interactions and Group Behavior (MS)

ETS1.B: Developing Possible Solutions (MS)

Science and Engineering Practices

Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions (MS)

Crosscutting Concepts

Patterns (MS)

Suggestions for Use

This task is intended for formative assessment purposes - to identify students’ strengths and needs with the above dimensions to provide feedback to students and guide shifts in instruction.

Background Information

There are a variety of solutions being implemented by beef cattle production that include industry practices aimed toward the improvement of the causes of pollution in New York water ecosystems. Scientific evidence shows that best practices include any of the following solutions to mitigate the effects of pollution due to production. Each has a unique impact on the biodiversity of a water ecosystem. Using cover crops helps soil hold onto nutrients so they are not released into the ecosystem. Managing the life cycle of beef cattle and grazing practices by using a feedlot for a portion of the cattle’s life cycle and reducing overgrazing helps maintain the local ecosystem. Buffers or filter strips can help trap nutrients that would otherwise end up in the local water ecosystem. Fencing is a physical barrier that keeps water sources clean by blocking livestock access.  


Many solutions exist, but the background information is limited to those discussed in this transfer task.


Students should have engaged with instructional experiences that ask them to read and analyze information from graphs and data tables to evaluate potential pros and cons of possible solutions to environmental concerns.  Students should also understand the role that humans play in maintaining the biodiversity of ecosystems and that responsible management of natural resources is a necessity for sustainability.


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