|Native grasses at Paicines Ranch|
Many people, including especially ranchers, also experience uplift from Savory's views. What he says resonates with our beliefs and desires. We WANT to believe this!
|A nature lover having a grassland ecstasy! (At Paicines Ranch)|
Manage Your Land Holistically to Reap These Benefits:
Enhanced profits and livelihoods
More productive rangeland or cropland
More biologically active soils
Removal of existing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere
Less new carbon dioxide production
Increased carrying capacity
Maximum benefit from rainfall
Reversal of desertification
Protection from drought
Improved wildlife habitat
Better food security
Improved economic viability for organics production
Stronger family relationships
And actually, the California prairies are not strictly speaking grasslands, as I've discussed in a California Coastal Prairies post (for which this is, in a sense "part two"). All those wildflowers, bulbs, and so on - they are a goodly component of this interesting ecosystem, not some kind of aberration as was first thought by scientists who hailed from the Midwest.
Some grazing does seem to be helpful to some native ecologies in some circumstances. But the over-application of Savory's ideas, which were developed in Zimbabwe, is one thing scientists criticize him for.
However, practices can have good results, even if their theoretical underpinnings are flawed. I'm sure that the California ranchers who espouse Holistic Management are good people doing what they hold to be good work. That's what I found at Paicines Ranch,
|View from Paicines Ranch|
These ranchers are paying close attention to the changing conditions on their land (as advocated by H.M) and they care about the land and the earth and the native plants and animals. And as ranchers, with businesses to run, they also of course, care about profits. The general adherence to sustainable practices and care of the ecosystems fostered by holistic management - these are very heartening. How much the specifics of the Holistic Management system contributes to anyone's successes - is to be determined. (I've heard of failures too informally - but have no specifics. I don't think H.M web sites talk about failures anywhere, or what can be learned from them.)
I went on a tour of Paicines Ranch, and was interested to see the areas where native grasses are growing,
and where the cattle are roaming, and how they move them around to promote growth of native grasses.
|These "stockers" (newly weaned cattle) are grazed here, then and at another ranch, in Wyoming I think, then are finished in conventional feed lots|
At a stop near a river bed,
|Beautiful riparian area fall color|
I was also interested to see that their neighbor was doing a controlled burn. It made for some dramatic photos. I'm not sure that Paicines Ranch does controlled burning. I don't think it is advocated in Savory's H.M. method.
|A neighbor was doing a controlled burn wile the invasive weeds symposium carried on. This was the lunch line.|
But.From all I can glean the science is not supportive of Savory's Holistic Management theories, nor are scientists as individuals.
For one summary that seems representative, read this Sierra club memorandum whose main points I give below:
1) independent scientific research (in contrast to anecdotes from promoters and users of HM) since the early 1980s has not shown HM to perform better than other grazing management methods,(The memo goes on to detail and support these points with footnotes etc, and make a position statement and cites references.)
2) applications of HM have produced mixed results, but in arid regions worldwide have often led to further environmental degradation,
3) Savory’s characterization of a “desertified” grassland is contradicted by well-established
scientific understanding of desert ecology, particularly as regards biological soil crusts, and
4) claims of HM’s widespread ability to increase sequestration of atmospheric carbon have not been independently studied and are indirectly contraindicated by recent, peer-reviewed research showing that grazing exclusion in some grasslands actually increases carbon sequestration relative to continued grazing.
I find the the anti-science statements in the H.M. literature I've read quite disturbing. Case in point - article entitled: The Holistic Management Model: Enabling Scientists to Grasp Complexity as Well as Villagers Do by Sam Bingham.
In response to criticism, Savory and his supporters say that the science is bad, or the H.M. method wasn't implemented correctly, or the evaluation must be made over much longer time periods. Or that "Reductionist" science is just not taking in the big holistic picture.
Now, it is true that scientists are people and people can be closed minded. They can say inflammatory things too such as that Savory and his supporters have a quasi-religous belief in Holistic Management. But I also know that scientific methods provide the means to overthrow fixed beliefs, and that scientists however reluctantly do go along with evidence - eventually, if not right away. That is the bulwark of the scientific approach, the defense against human bias.
Which brings me (after many hours of grappling) to my Oklahoma! moment - Oh the scientist and the cowman should be friends! — but it is not clear that they are, in this case anyway. I'm a conciliatory person, and just wish Paicines Ranch for example, could find some support from the local scientific experts - assuming they really do want that — and that H.M. methodologies could be objectively evaluated.
So - let me just leave you with a few references so that if you are interested you can do some reading on your own.
Websites and Articles by in Favor of Alan Savory's Holistic Management:
Actually, outside of Alan Savory's websites - I didn't find much of anything on a simple search. - Allan Savory's web site is the Savory Institute. He is co-founder of Holistic Management International and of the Africa Centre for Holistic Management. The articles cited on their web sites that I randomly sampled are either by Savory advocates or are warm fuzzy articles about ecologically aware ranchers. Nothing that I found rigorous or objective. A couple of lists are:
The Savory Institute page called evidence supporting holistic management.
A blog post on the planter-tech site (a proponent of H.M.): Reversing Global Warming while Meeting Human Needs by Restoring Grassland Ecosystems with Holistic Management: Reading List and Video.
Of the ones on the planter-tech site, I liked this one, on the Christian Science Monitor - which focuses on how many ranchers are becoming more concerned about the environment. The article is a fuzzy feel-good one, not totally about H.M.
Here is the one article I found not that is not by a proponent. It's on a Washington State University web site. It has a friendly yet questioning approach and Savory himself participated in the comments.
Reflections on Savory: The Science and the Philosophy Part 1 by Chad Kruger
Articles that are critical of Alan Savory's Holistic Management:
Cows Against Climate Change: The Dodgy Science Behind the TED Talk, on the blog Inexact Change, posted March 11, 2013
Allan Savory gives a popular and very misleading TED talk, by Ralph Maughan on The Wildlife News, posted March 18, 2013.
Home on the Holistic Range by Keith Raether, director of public information for Western Watersheds Project and public information coordinator for the National Public Lands Grazing Campaign.
Other more general articles can be found on the California Rangelands web site of UC Davis, including this one: Ecology and Restoration of California Grasslands with special emphasis on the influence of fire and grazing on native grassland species
And finally, here is one from an old issue of the CNPS journal Fremontia. GRAZING AND FIRE MANAGEMENT FOR NATIVE PERENNIAL GRASS RESTORATION IN CALIFORNIA GRASSLANDS by John W. Menke, Fremontia 1992, Vol. 20(2):22-25)
I have a folder with notes to follow up on this question of grazing in California. It is definitely not a simple question. I thought this would be a short blog post but the more I read the more tangled up I got. This happens when there is a lack of evidence, lack of proper studies. And at the end of it all - I'm not sure what more I can say other than Beware Attachment to Systems of Belief! but being human, not sure how any of us can avoid this pitfall.
Postscript: I initially got confused between this Holistic Management of rangelands idea and the type of grazing done to mitigate damage and discourage alien grasses in native grasslands and other similar habitats. In case you are, too, let me clarify the differences a bit. In the restoration scenario, limited grazing is a tool to repair damage. It might be intense but it is typically brief and infrequent, timed to minimize impact on the native perennials and maximum the impact on the alien plants. Different grazing animals would be used to target different problem plants at different times of the year and so on. It's also not about maximizing profits while saving the earth!