I am a natural resources management scientist and proponent of holistic management. Holism is the concept that the sum in living systems is greater than the parts. It gave me pause when I read my most recent Sierra magazine which informed readers that local ecosystems are self-contained and that harvesting livestock and game animals out of the system creates an entropic loss of carbon/minerals. It said to believe otherwise is not valid science and advocated that humans can’t do better than leaving it all alone to heal.
Scientific observation of the ecology of our region indicates “leaving it alone” is bad practice. Life is about carbon and scientists are recording a persistent trend of desertification in the Southwest with carbon moving from land systems to the sky, with increasing populations of woody plants and decreasing populations of grasses (which better hold and build soil). As an example, Dan Dagget, a photographer, writer, and founding member of Diablo Trust, has spent the past decade analyzing the region around Sedona, where plenty of movies made there 50 years ago (at the time ranching ended there) showed abundant grasslands and open spaces with little soil erosion. Conditions around Sedona today show densely invading juniper trees and deep gullies replacing the few remnant grasses.
Holistic management is an alternative model to this closed-loop entropic mismanagement model. The scientific insight is that a plant is not made up of the limiting elements found in the soil where it grows. 95% of a plant’s mass is from abundant CO2 moving about in the air; the remainder is from rainwater, with but a minuscule amount of micronutrients coming from the soil. Goal-directed holistic management can achieve a “sum greater than the immediate parts” by directing grazing and land treatments to increase plant cover, thereby increasing solar energy capture to increase biomass, and thereby sequestering carbon back to earth. This process of speeding the mineral cycle slows down the water cycle to better grow plants, and improve soil pH to make more micronutrients available, in a soil and biodiversity building process.
Diablo Trust was started in 1993 to apply holistic management to bring decision makers together to synergistically build land health and prevent land fragmentation from land sales, and land deterioration from neglect and impacts from excessive public recreation. Diablo Trust has made great progress in opening up encroaching woodlands on one quarter of its 426,000 acre area and using the well-timed pulse effect of grazing and rest for full recovery to restore a mosaic of healthier habitats.
On April 18th both Diablo Trust ranches, NAU’s Sisk Lab of Landscape Ecology and Conservation Biology, and five rangeland professionals from several agencies met for seven hours to review our natural resources monitoring program. Effective monitoring starts with a healthy VISION and a set of GOALS which include sustaining beautiful wide open spaces and economic support for stewardship of the area from renewable carbon harvesting in the form of livestock and wildlife production. Achievement of land health goals is part of an active annual to daily cycle of detailed holistic PLANNING goal steps, ACTIVATING the plan, MONITORING conditions and effects, CONTROLLING deviations as they occur, and regular REPLANNING to keep the cycle on task. The ranch owners and their staff are the key to success as they are present 365 days a year keeping waters functioning for livestock and wildlife, moving livestock regularly, doing land improvement treatments and guarding against vandalism of all resources.
The ranches, agency specialists and NAU researchers cooperate on monitoring.
I invite you to join us in this effort of “learning from the land, sharing our knowledge, so there will always be a West” that is open and healthy.
Norm Lowe, President