Protecting nature to death

TED just discovered Allan Savory. I hope a lot of people check this out. I learned about him when Michael Pollan lent me his book a few years back. (Image below: Mexico, before holistic management).

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It’s a fascinating read if you want to go beyond the video. (After holistic management: note the hill with the blue line)

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Savory starts with his own story as a ecologist managing parks in Africa: “No sooner did we remove the hunting drumbeating people to protect the animals, then the land began to deteriorate.”

They intervened, hunting the grazers as the previous stewards of the lands (they presumed) had. They shot 40,000 elephants, and situation got worse rather than better. And it seems that whenever you remove the cattle to prevent desertification, the desertification gets worse. This makes sense if you think about it: The grazing animals are part of the system, and more importantly, they are walking reservoirs of water and microbes. Remove all that from the system and you have big problems.

Of course there is some controversy here (and there always is whenever you upend conventional wisdom). There’s range science that purports to show that this holistic management doesn’t work. The holistic management people respond that the scientists are conflating their very exacting system with intensive rotational grazing, a method that they agree does not work. I haven’t traced the scientific argument to it’s germ (and can’t in the time I have for a blog post), but there are just too many amazing case studies of holistic management to dismiss it. Clearly it works in at least some cases:

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And after holistic management:

Screen shot 2013-03-06 at 2.32.17 PMHere’s one example from stateside, and I know that dozens of ranching families have adopted these techniques with a lot of success. We tend to think that protecting nature means backing away and not touching it. But nature as we know it evolved to require touch.

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