A New Framework for Decision Making
by Allan Savory with Jody Butterfield
There is a common assumption that cows have a negative impact on rangeland. Cows eat the grass, and the only way for the plants to recover is to take away the animals. Many environmentally concerned people want to remove all livestock from public lands. But the reality, as Allan Savory discovered, is that hooved animals play a critical role in the health of arid rangeland ecology. There is a critical relationship between the soil and the hooves of grazing animals. In seasonal rainfall environments the land rapidly turns to desert without animal impact.
Historically, western rangelands were grazed and maintained by massive herds of buffalo. The important part was not the buffalo, but the sequence of grazing. Predators forced the buffalo to stay clustered in tight herds for safety. Some herds were so massive that observers described them as miles wide and hours or days long in passing. They destroyed everything in their path, trampling grass and sagebrush--every bit of organic matter--right into the soil. Their hooves and urine killed the moss while desirable plant seeds were pounded into the soil to germinate. Old or dead vegetation was trampled into the ground where soil microbes could break it down. The organic litter helped retain moisture for plant growth. Gradually the debris rotted and returned the nutrients to the soil. The roaming bison left the prairie to recover without further interference, allowing for lush and unrestrained growth.
Putting fences across the land and stocking it with cattle creates a new sequence of grazing, which logically has a different effect on the land. Without predators the cattle spread out and graze over wide areas, they no longer trample down standing dead grasses from previous years. This old material blocks sunlight, killing the new growth below. Old vegetation stands for years, slowly decomposing through oxidation and weathering. Valuable nutrients are locked up in the old growth, unavailable for living plants. With fences to keep the cattle contained, the young plants are eaten repeatedly as grazing animals return without allowing the vegetation to recover. Burning the range can accelerate desertification, stealing vital organic matter from the soil and putting it into the atmosphere to contribute to global warming.
Livestock spread out and graze over wide areas--they no longer trample down standing dead grasses from previous years. |
Loss of organic matter also results in lack of soil structure, breaking down the granules or clumps of aggregated soil particles that allow air circulation and penetration of water and roots. Raindrops strike the exposed ground, pulverizing and separating the soil, just like you might find under the drip line of a house. The fine particles of silt, sand, and clay dry to form a hard surface crust. Seeds cannot grow through the capped surface, and bare patches develop between the plants. Weeds, brush and grasshoppers thrive in the open patches. Moisture is lost as runoff and may cause floods. Water bypasses the water table and old springs can dry up. Freezing and thawing, plus wetting and drying can also cause the top inch of the soil to become so porous and fluffy that seeds dry out before they germinate.
People assume that removing the livestock would allow the land to recover, but in actuality, the complete removal of livestock accelerates the process of desertification. We are losing the land right out from beneath our feet, yet few people have even noticed. For more details please read my on-line article The American Sahara.
Allan Savory discovered, or possibly re-discovered, the important link between hooves and the soil. In his book, Holistic Resource Management, he outlines the ways we can use livestock to restore the health of the land. Savory also puts forth a holistic system for making sound land management decisions, which could literally change the world... if more people knew about it.
Allan Savory's work has been highly influential to my own writing. I bought the first edition of Holistic Resource Management as soon as it came out in 1988. I read it many times over. The new edition, called Holistic Management: A New Framework for Decision Making is even better.
Allan Savory's video Creating A Sustainable Civilization is an excellent way to introduce people to the concept of Holistic thought and management, without over-loading them with details. Every person I have shown this video to was thoroughly stunned by the presentation and message.
Many of Savory's ideas were strongly influential towards my book, Direct Pointing to Real Wealth: Thomas J. Elpel's Field Guide to Money.
Books related to Holistic Management
The New Ranch Handbook
A Guide to Restoring Western Rangelands
by Nathan F. Sayre
Can livestock ranching and conservation values be compatible? Can ranchers and environmentalists work together to benefit rangelands? The answer is yes, and the proof can be found on the ground. On New Ranches in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and elsewhere, livestock have been managed in innovative, progressive ways, and the land has responded: vegetation is more diverse and productive, soils are more stable, streams and springs have come back to life. Wildlife, watersheds, livestock, and ranchers have all benefited.
The New Ranch Handbook: A Guide to Restoring Western Rangelands situates the practices of these ranchers in relation to recent models and knowledge in range science and ecology. The tremendous diversity and variability of arid and semiarid rangelands defy many assumptions of classical ecology. Basic processes of energy flow, nutrient and water cycling, and plant growth can be described, however, and management tailored to promote them. The New Ranches profiled here demonstrate, further, that this can be done economically and with far-reaching benefits to land, people, and wildlife.
The New Ranch Handbook is published by the Quivira Coalition, an organization founded by ranchers and environmentalists to advocate ecologically sensitive ranching, which they call the "radical center" between the extreme viewpoints of environmentalists versus conservative ranchers. The Quivira Coalition coined the term "new ranch" to represent this fundamentally new approach to ranching.
This isn't exactly a handbook, but rather a collection of useful techniques and inspirational examples of holistic-type management practices on western ranchlands. The neophyte will find stimulating stories of ranchers who are profitably healing the landscape, and increasing biodiversity. Landowners already implementing a holistic approach will find useful tips and new ideas to try. Quivira Coalition. 2001. 120 pages. 100 greyscale photos. ISBN: 978-0970826404.
Gardeners of Eden
Rediscovering Our Importance To Nature
by Dan Dagget
Gardeners of Eden: Rediscovering our Importance To Nature is a beautiful and mind-blowing testament to the environment's abiliy to flourish when people follow Mother Nature's rules. With stunning color photography and insightful text, Dagget documents case studies of ranchers, environmentalists, and federal agencies working together to bring desertified landscapes back to life. Gardeners of Eden features the work of people like:
These are remarkable success stories of people practicing essentially holistic principles to revive nature's astonishing abundance. TCT/EcoResults. 2205. 144 pages. Vivid color photos. ISBN: 978-0966622911.
- Tony and Jerrie Tipton, who have used livestock to trample hay and seeds into mine waste piles, successfully reclaiming sites were expensive technical solutions failed.
- David Ogilvie, who managed livestock to improve riparian conditions, coincidentally transforming the U Bar Ranch in New Mexico into one of the best habitats for the endangered Willow Flycatcher.
- Joe and Valer Austin, who have built tens of thousands of small rock dams (called trincheras) in eroded southwestern gullies to slow down and capture runoff water and silt. These simple dams fill up with rich soil, absorb water and release it slowly, increasing biodiversity and water throughout the growing season.
- Gene Goven of North Dakota, who has used livestock management to create soft, rich topsoil, raising the soil's ability to absorb water from one inch per hour up to six inches per hour in the process.
- Wildlife biologist Craig Hultberg, who is using livestock management to revive the native prairie on the Audubon National Wildlife Refuge near Coleharbor, North Dakota. Through thoughtful land management practices, Hultberg has encouraged native plants to drive out nonnative invasive species.
- Joe Morris, who is managing livestock to encourage native perennial grasses and oak seedlings to restore health to California rangelands.
- Doc and Connie Hatfield, who practice restorative ranching and sell their natural, grassfed beef at a premium through the Oregon Country Beef cooperative.
- Gregg Simonds, who has managed livestock to improve water retention, bird and wildlife habitat, and carbon sequestration on the Deseret Ranch in Utah.
Next Page: Rocky Mountain Institute: Amory and Hunter Lovins