Friday Roundup: A ‘Brown Revolution’

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The Atlantic has a long article on a team of South Dakota ranchers who are using new management techniques they call “The Brown Revolution.” 

Lisa Hamilton explains:

The underlying technique is called holistic management, and was developed by biologist Allan Savory in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) beginning in the 1960s. He saw that the arid grasslands on which the region’s people, livestock, and wildlife depended were succumbing to desertification. In looking for a solution, Savory recognized that the grasslands had evolved out of a symbiotic relationship with large, grazing herbivores. In time he saw that the same was true of similar ecosystems around the world, including that of western South Dakota and the rest of the Great Plains, with its once-great herds of bison.

In arid environments, plant matter doesn’t degrade easily on its own — it needs these large animals to break it down in their rumens and stamp it into the ground and generally work the land. This was accomplished naturally: As the herbivores traveled in large herds for safety against their predators, they would cause a great disturbance to the land; then, for their own sake, they would leave and not return until the plants had had enough rest to regenerate.

Now take away the Great Plains’ bison, or the equivalent animals elsewhere, and replace them with cattle, property lines, and fences. The equation still includes large, grazing herbivores, but because they are relatively stationary within the landscape, the symbiosis is lost. Certain areas are overused, and elsewhere plants simply oxidize and die off from under-use; microorganisms decline, water cycles fall apart, and the land gradually collapses.

The basic premise of holistic management is to use livestock like wild animals. But whereas bison on the Great Plains moved through the landscape by instinct, now ranchers must supply that direction. Rather than simply turning cattle into a pasture, these ranchers conduct them like a herd, concentrating bodies to graze one area hard, then leaving it until the plants have regenerated. The effect can be tremendous, with benefits including increased organic matter in the soil, rejuvenation of microorganisms, and restoration of water cycles.

• A Canadian labor union is saying that TransCanada Corporation’s permit to construct the Keystone XL oil pipeline has expired, according to Jeffrey Jones of Reuters. 

The Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada opposes the $7 billion pipeline, that would move oil sands oil from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast. The union says TransCanada’s permit in the country has expired. The union argues that oil processing facilities should be built in Canada instead of using Gulf Coast refineries. 

• Meanwhile, another company has announced plans to build a pipeline from that would compete with Keystone. 

Enbridge Energy and Enterprise Products Partners say they plan to build a new pipeline from Cushing, Oklahoma, to the Gulf Coast. This pipeline will cost up to $2 billion and would parallel the last section of the Keystone pipeline. 

• When you get in trouble, advertise. 

That’s what the U.S. Postal Service is doing, launching a new television ad campaign that aims to slow the move away from carrier delivered letters and packages. 

The Postal Service is playing on fears, saying snail mail can’t be hacked.

• The amount the federal government spends on ag research has declined by 20 percent since the mid-1990s, to $2.5 billion a year, Eric Durban at Harvest Public Media reports

“If you kept that number flat and project out to mid-century we’re not going to see that increase in agricultural productivity that we’re going to need in order to feed the U.S. population and also to keep up our agricultural exports which have been really important for farmers and for our farm economy,” said Cathie Woteki, Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

• Food & Water Watch has released a report on the increased use of genetically modified food. Lots of information here. 

• A new federal study of two southwestern Alaska villages finds that “climate change has begun to undermine subsistence life along the Yukon River,” according to Alaska Dispatch

People in the two villages are finding that weather is changing faster and more unpredictably; that spring snow depth has decreased, affecting summer crops; that rivers don’t freeze as hard or for as long; and that there are more moose.

Jeff Biggers notes that a press release reporting on a House committee hearing on coal strip mining failed to mention any testimony from those spoke out against mountaintop removal mining. 

 

 

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