Deceptive Photo Shows “What’s Upstream” Billboards are All Hat, No Cattle

Apr 12, 2016

Are Amish cows invading Washington state? A close look at some new billboards indicates that might be the case.

Pitting farmers against salmon, billboards showing cattle standing in a stream have appeared in Washington state asking the question “What’s Upstream”? The billboards claim “Unregulated agriculture is putting our waterways at risk.”

The Capitol Press has focused on the fact that the billboards were funded illegally – using a grant from the EPA that doesn’t allow political advocacy. They note, “A What’s Upstream billboard in Olympia came down Wednesday, and a second one in Bellingham was expected to be removed, a day after the Environmental Protection Agency said the media campaign was an inappropriate use of federal funds that were awarded to a tribe for public education.”

There is another aspect of the billboard that hasn’t been emphasized: the picture isn’t in Washington state.

The billboard features a photo of three cows standing in a stream, the implication being that farms upstream are violating water quality standards and harming salmon. The billboard claims such activity is “unregulated.”

That, however, is simply false. There are strict rules governing impact to streams. Washington state has strict regulation on the impact of livestock on water for this very reason. As the Department of Ecology notes, “There are many laws and regulations that apply to nonpoint sources of pollution, including from livestock operations. Washington State’s Water Pollution Control Act (RCW 90.48) makes it illegal to cause or contribute pollution to streams.”

Maybe that’s why the public relations firm hired to create the billboard used a stock photo that isn’t from Washington state. In fact, the photo used in the billboard is labeled “Amish Cows” on the stock photo site Bigstock. Compare the stock photo on the left with the billboard on the right. They are the same photo.


Put simply, rather than finding an actual example of a violation, the designers found a deceptive, stock photo from Amish country and passed them off as being “upstream” in Washington state.

Salmon recovery is contentious. There has been a good working relationship between groups on the Salmon Recovery Council. Pitting farmers against salmon, however, is a losing strategy. Using phony photos only makes it harder to find sustainable environmental solutions.

Sadly, this is what you get when you hire a downtown Seattle public relations firm who doesn’t understand farming and cares more about politics than the facts. One more example that some Seattle environmentalists are all hat and no cattle.

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