Posted on November 20, 2012 by Chad Kruger
Managing Change Northwest recently brought Allan Savory of the Savory Institute to the Pacific Northwest to speak to the Washington Cattleman’s Association, the Tilth Producers of Washington, and a special workshop and keynote in Seattle for consumers. CSANR co-sponsored Savory’s PNW tour because we thought he brought a challenging message that many in our region needed to hear. Below is the first of a two-part post of my reflections on what Savory had to say when he was here.
Part 1: The Science
Allan Savory is the developer of Holistic Management (HM) a rangeland management system that focuses on the planning and decision-making process to regenerate grassland ecosystem function while balancing economic and social objectives. HM has four principles: 1) nature is complex and functions as a whole; 2) every environment is different; 3) proper management of livestock can improve land health; and 4) timing of grazing is more important than the number of animals per unit of land.
Savory is a controversial character amongst the scientific community, both deservedly and undeservedly. From my perspective, there are three basic reasons: 1) the scientific literature supporting HM is considered by many of his peers to be inconclusive, 2) HM includes some unconventional approaches, and 3) Savory can be less than flattering in his commentary about other scientists and scientific institutions.
Savory has been the target of some fairly harsh criticism within the rangeland science community, none more critical than a paper by Briske et.al. (2008) concluding that the experimental record for short-durational grazing systems (that they consider equivalent to HM) was inconclusive and therefore doesn’t support HM recommendations. They conclude that most of the science used to support management recommendations for these systems is either anecdotal or statistically inconclusive because the experiments were poorly designed (they didn’t isolate single variables for analysis). Savory and his closest proponents (Teague et.al. 2008 – strangely, a co-author on Briske et.al. 2008) have provided rebuttals arguing that Briske et.al. mis-represented HM in their study sample and that their conclusions are, consequently, not relevant. While I don’t think that critiques are necessarily a definite dismissal of the legitimacy of HM, I do think they raise an extremely valid question … “Where’s the data?”
In his defense, while Savory was a research biologist early in his career and did publish on his rotational grazing work in the late 70’s and early 80’s, for the past 30 years he has been much more concerned about practicing sustainable (or regenerative, as he likes to say) land management than he has been about rigorous experimental design and data analysis. So it’s true that for the most prominent portions of Savory’s career, his science has largely been anecdotal (powerful as his “before and after” photos may be) rather than statistically conclusive scientific analysis. This is a problem because …
… Savory promotes a very unconventional approach to land management such as seemingly outlandish recommendations for such decisions as high stocking densities. In his presentations last weekend, Savory described situations where stocking densities were increased by 400% – arguing that this was a key driver in turning deserts into lush savannah landscapes (and he showed very compelling pictures of the results!). The scientific theories underlying HM are not in question – mimicking natural (i.e. pre-historic) herbivore-rangeland systems should lead toward the best possible environmental outcome. However, visual (and therefore anecdotal) evidence is simply not the same as presenting rigorous quantitative results that enables scientific peers to validate the results. Without the data, we simply can’t parse out the variables that contributed to the improvement in ecosystem conditions or functions.
In his talks this past weekend, Savory claimed that “reductionist science” will never capture what he has accomplished with holistic management, but I’m not convinced this is the case and I know there are many other scientists who agree with me. Being “unconventional” is not, in itself, a problem, but when what you are arguing for is unconventional, you’d better “bring data”. Scientific pioneers are, by definition, working against convention and the burden of proof rests on them to demonstrate that they are right when everyone else thinks they are wrong. There is no question that this kind of ecosystem science is challenging, and expensive, and that strictly using reductionist experimental approaches will likely be inconclusive. That’s why most of the more complex ecosystem services studies undertaken in recent years (like the work we are doing on agriculture and climate change) blend holistic process modeling approaches with targeted experimentation.
This leads us to my final reason why Savory is controversial in the scientific community – he is a bit harsh in his judgments of scientific institutions and our responses to his unconventional wisdom. On several occasions this past weekend he described institutions as “water tight to new information”. He’s partially right. Humans, by nature, tend to gravitate toward institutional structure and organization, and the institutions we create do tend to be very reticent to accept new ways of thinking (whether there is supporting evidence or not). However, scientific institutions are one of the few that incentivize and reward their members for new discovery and for rigorous experimentation and testing of new ideas (that’s why we exist). So what better place is there to debate the scientific merits (theoretical and empirical) of a given idea? In my experience, scientific institutions are one of the few places where unconventional ideas ever see the light of day.
My first encounter with Savory’s ideas were as a youth were helping my father cross-fence our ranch so that we could better plan and manage our grazing (in response to this guy named Savory). My first academic encounter with his ideas were as a graduate student when the faculty I worked with (across multiple disciplines in multiple regions of the country) were wrestling with his ideas and engaging in discussions about whether HM might apply to non-rangeland dimensions of agricultural research and management. While I know Savory has been unfairly criticized in certain scientific circles within the academic institutions, I think that many of the rest of us are just looking for more rigorous supporting evidence that can be replicated under other circumstances because we find his ideas compelling. And, for that, we need more data….
I’ll follow up with a second part of this post that focuses more on the philosophical ideas that he presented.
D. D. Briske, J. D. Derner, J. R. Brown, S. D. Fuhlendorf, W. R. Teague, K. M. Havstad, R. L. Gillen, A. J. Ash, and W. D. Willms. 2008 Rotational Grazing on Rangelands: Reconciliation of Perception and Experimental Evidence. Rangeland Ecol Manage 61:3–17 | January 2008
Teague, Richard, Fred Provenza, Brien Norton, Tim Steffens, Matthew Barnes, Mort Kothmann and Roy Roath. 2008. Benefits of Multi-Paddock Grazing Management on Rangelands: Limitations of Experimental Grazing Research and Knowledge Gaps. In: Grasslands: Ecology, Management and Restoration, Editor: Hans G. Schroder, pp. 1-40. Nova Science Publishers, Inc.
By Allan Savory on November 21st, 2012 at 9:57 am
Chad I appreciated you attending my talk – thanks. Your struggle to understand is natural in a paradigm shifting situation. There is a mass of peer -reviewed support & I suggest you connect with Andre Malmburg through SI. And here are links that might help you http://dl.dropbox.com/u/18385090/GRASSLANDS%20FINAL%20PDF.pdf
Science and method pdf http://dl.dropbox.com/u/18385090/Science%20Methodology%20Holistic%20Mgt.pdf
Nothing in holistic planned grazing is anecdotal. All of the process is based on solid science. For nearly 50 years I have appealed to any scientist to simply point to a single aspect not based on solid good science as opposed to the deep beliefs and myths that range science is founded upon. And I have not criticized any scientist and I hoped you would notice I did not give my view but was referring to the research of Lord Eric Ashby and of John Ralston Saul and Everett Rogers when I talked about how our institutions being complex soft systems have two unfortunate unplanned emergent properties – they are watertight to new scientific insights as institutions, and no matter how brilliant the individuals, or how caring – what emerges commonly lacks commonsense and humanity. Once again I do appreciate your open-mindedness and trying to understand – it took me many years because I too was blinded by my reductionist university education – the best we knew how in those days but times are changing. This is nothing but a paradigm paralysis problem – thus I have never taken all the attacks on me as personal – this has been the fate of all scientists making a paradigm shifting breakthrough. Thankfully for humanity the tide is turning. I look forward to your take on my philosophical ideas. Kind regards, Allan
By Ken Kailing on November 29th, 2012 at 2:39 pm
I’m finding the conversation a bit convoluted. Having also spent a good deal of time in agricultural research institutions collecting data, I’m dubious of any assertion that any supposed findings are above scrutiny and today, more than in the past, I’ll ask “who funded this?”
I do think somewhere we need to find a common ground and that no science stands alone. However, I’m very much of a school that believes there are a multitude of variables that make each situation and location unique; I group these variables within a study area I mostly define as “Agro-ecology”so as ecology (including human), I don’t put much on any single, unifying “scientific” theory. In the specifics; say, my own pasture (land) or yours–I’d always say show me.
I must also add that the position of needing to make a living off ones cows differs considerably from that taken either in lecturing or doing well funded research. And presently, the conscientious farmers and ranchers I know are not doing especially well from the “scientific” advice they are given, nor have they ever.
By Ken Kailing on November 29th, 2012 at 3:08 pm
On a second read, I’m finding my comments rather cynical. So I will add, I think we need to do more of what Chad is doing. We need to ask more and better questions and expand the circle of debate. Thank you both for doing that. Good learning (education) is in the questions. If you have all the answers, you’ve stopped learning.
By Chad Kruger on November 30th, 2012 at 3:35 pm
Hi Allan, thanks for the additional links. Most of what I found in them was similar to what you’ve presented (concepts) and not what I was looking for (robust empirical support). I have no question that there is strong scientific support for HM.
However, digging through your links, I followed the reference to Weber and Gokhale 2011 and found EXACTLY the kind of study that is needed to be able to start piecing together an empirical picture that is scientifically defensible. Now, it’s a very limited study in location, treatment, scale and variables and therefore needs to be expanded and replicated. To quote the authors:
“Observations made during this experiment illustrate that treatment has statistically important effects. Furthermore the trend … is interesting and appears promising for both the research and land management communities. Future research should be directed toward addressing this same question using a larger replicated study with at least one full year of pre-treatment data collection.”
In spite of the limitations, they were able to conclude from this experiment (using a reductionist approach) that there were statistically meaningful differences in grazing treatments on a single variable (soil water content). It’s certainly not an end-all debate study, but it’s a building block of empirical data that provides meaningful support for HM.
I agree with you that a reductionist approach is insufficient to documenting the impact of a management change in a complex ecosystem setting. This is not the same as testing a tillage implement in a wheat field. However, as Weber and Gokhale demonstrated, a reductionist experiment is essential to isolating the impact of management on a single variable from the “noise” of the ecosystem. Without an empirical basis to assess the importance of the critical variables / mechanisms, we can validate / evaluate the whole.
We’ve run into this challenge in much of our work on climate change and carbon management in agro-ecosystems … the solid scientific theory / principles / concepts don’t always align themselves cleanly with the experimental record. This hasn’t caused us to reject theory or empirical data – but rather to wrestle with the question of “why they don’t align better” — and ultimately to work on finding a different and better approach to the science.
Therefore, much of our work trying to understand the impacts of management and environment in complex agro-ecosystems is dependent on a coordinated scientific approach that uses [holistic] process modeling AND [reductionist] experiments. The process models enable us to construct a theoretical whole [using solid ecological scientific theory], while the reductionist experiments enable us to calibrate critical variables so that we can test the model and together meaningfully assess the effect of complex management decisions in a more complex system. This isn’t perfect by any means (we’re better at determining trajectory than magnitude), however it provides a more defensible basis upon which to make or support recommendations.
So, it’s not so much that I don’t think there is a solid scientific basis for HM (I do – otherwise I would have left academia a long time ago), but that more rigorous experimental studies (like Weber and Gokhale) would make it more empirically defensible. Reductionist approaches are likely insufficient in such complex systems. However, exclusively using a holistic approaches is likely equally insufficient and leaves many of us in scientific institutions dis-satisfied. [That scientific dis-satisfaction doesn't necessarily keep us from using the principles in management recommendations, either.] It doesn’t mean that HM is not scientifically valid, just that we haven’t figured out how to validate [or invalidate] it yet. Reductionist vs. Holistic? It’s not an either-or, but a both-and … in compliment with each other. And, I agree with you that the holistic context needs to come first – otherwise the experiment will be designed and implemented wrong.
By Allan Savory on December 6th, 2012 at 5:36 pm
Chad I appreciate your explanation and fully understand the difficulty of the experimental approach. When factors are isolated for study it leads to studying less than the whole and entirely wrong conclusions. One such published study “proved” animal impact does not do what we observe it doing with herd effect. In that study to isolate animal impact the herd was 2 steers rotated through one acre plots !! Those researchers just would not accept that 2 steers on 1 acre can never have the effect that 2,000 would have on 1,000 acres and the paper was not retracted. There are many such studies – one used a bronze hoof to simulate animal impact of a herd! One used clay pigeon targets to simulate ground nesting birds and “proved” cattle trod on clay discs and thus would tread on bird nests although they do not normally and no one has ever seen a clay disc put on the usual broken wing act of a nesting bird. And so on the confusing reductionist studies discrediting planned grazing have persisted while ranchers succeed.
There is nothing wrong with the quality of Keith Weber’s work as you note. In that we did not try to isolate any of the influences – animal impact, grazing, etc but monitored the results of holistic planned grazing in terms of soil water retention. Range science journal would not publish but he did get it published in Arid Lands Journal I think it was.
We can do a lot more of such monitoring of results – social results, economic results, environmental and so on and we at SI encourage such monitoring and data gathering. We have a person on this seeking all the monitoring results we can world wide to make available to anyone. I have just returned from Patagonia – some wonderful results with up to 25,000 sheep in one flock and a well documented 50% increase in land performance (production of vegetation) in the first year. However no attempt to isolate anything but simply monitor what happens when ranchers do manage holistically.
What we need to end is the conversion by researchers of planned grazing to some form of grazing system to replicate and then “prove” holistic management does not work. We have had a great deal of that – 19 citations in one publication which discredited holistic management. When every citation was followed up none were found to have born any relationship with either holistic management or even with holistic planned grazing. But the publication went out and is being cited as good scientific evidence that planned grazing does not work. Making it worse, the authors refused to retract. Somehow we need to get beyond such sloppy work that holds up acceptance when millions of people are suffering and will suffer worse till management is holistic and based on solid scientific principles. I think we are getting there albeit slowly – accepting that holistic management works, is based on solid scientific principles but that some people still want to see a lot more data concerning results that have to be gathered case by case because no grazing plan can ever be replicated, every one is totally unique and is also unique every year – as is every family, ranch, pastoral community and economy in which they are involved. There is an urgency in this because the quicker we can gather the data the faster we can move to save ranch families, stop the appalling cultural genocide taking place in Africa, Israel, Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc and address desertification’s major role in climate change that is all being held up by people casting doubts based on false perceptions.
What is to me ironic is that when reductionist scientists designed large machines to mimic nature’s herding herbivores no one asked for data because “authorities” said they would work – and government in the US and other countries spend many millions of dollars using machines like the Dickson Imprinter over millions of acres all of which failed.
By Michael Kiely on March 8th, 2013 at 3:51 am
The bronze hoof and other comical methods of simulating herd behaviour to study grazing management are bad science based on ignorance of the phenomenon studied. We had a famous case in Australia where the number of weeks animals spent in their allocated paddocks was equalised across wet and dry seasons, for administrative neatness. The flock size was 3 ewes. Now that is a big insiders’joke, but it shouldn’t be. A good scientist doesn’t need to be told these things.
By David Holland on March 9th, 2013 at 2:30 pm
Are you able to provide any examples of sucessful holistic planned grazing in Australia?
By Rondi Lightmark on March 10th, 2013 at 9:38 am
I am not a scientist, but merely one deeply inspired by Allan Savory’s presentation and feeling a deep urgency because it seems to cast the only ray of hope re climate change. Two things that come to mind: 1) the recent Ken Burns documentary on the Dust Bowl, with its horrific images of the center of the country blowing away due to shockingly poor management of the soil. Which was only turned around by changing that paradigm; 2) the similarity between the “we need more data” argument and the one concerning climate change. How much closer are we going to get to catastrophes far worse than the Dust Bowl while scientists sit around and debate the merits of a new idea? Allan has adequately demonstrated the success of his work to warrant significant support for implementing his methods on a large scale. What do we have to lose if we do? Who can answer that question?
By Chad Kruger on March 19th, 2013 at 5:48 pm
Thank you for your comments and questions. They are quite important and get right at the point that we need science that validates that the management actions we invest in will actually result in the desired improvements we hope to see. It can also be frustrating when the science falls behind the management and we don’t know whether we’re doing the right thing or not.
The key to the “we need more data” point is that if we are going to make major investments as a society in a mitigation strategy – we are by definition NOT choosing another strategy. In the absence of rigorous analysis (particularly of unintended consequences and variables we don’t understand), we have often made the WRONG decision. This is, at it’s heart, precisely what Allan’s HM framework is all about — a process to evaluate decision-making with the goal in mind. No matter how good your process, if you don’t have a rigorous scientific evaluation, you are still just guessing that you are right.
For instance, for better than 3 decades, the US (and much of the rest of the world) invested all of our resources (political capital, R&D, etc.) into policies intended to increase the fleet fuel efficiency of our transportation system … in order to decrease consumption of fossil fuels (for energy security, climate mitigation and other reasons). We now know, with better analysis and hindsight, that in spite of seeming to be the smart strategy (and a good idea anyway), increasing fleet fuel efficiency will NOT reduce energy consumption or emissions at all without complimentary strategies. So, after decades of investment and billions of dollars spent, relative to our goals we’re worse off than we expected, in spite of doing a good thing. I think, had energy experts utilized a framework like Allan promotes, it’s more likely we’d have recognized this issue sooner.
There is a balance that needs to be drawn between the practice of management and the supporting science. Often, that comes down to the fact that we simply don’t know as much as we wish we knew – and that we are acting on educated guesses (hypotheses) rather than defensible conclusions. There is nothing wrong with this – each of us does it every day of our lives.
This is why, in my follow-up post (part 2), I suggest that moving forward with Allan’s ideas around management is likely warranted in spite of the lack of scientifically conclusive quantification. However, if we’re talking about investing significant societal resources into “one solution”, we need to have a really high degree of scientific certainty about that solution.
After working with a number of scientific colleague over the past decade trying to defensibly quantity carbon mitigation in cropping systems (which are simpler than grazing systems), we’re just now getting to the point that we have some certainty over the relative magnitude of the change we can affect. And that relative magnitude is much smaller (an order of magnitude) than earlier and more crude estimates indicated.
By Allan Savory on March 19th, 2013 at 9:36 pm
Chad as you wrote on Nov 30th “I have no question that there is strong scientific support for HM.” I assume HM means managing holistically. (we do not use HM or HRM because we learnt that people take that to be yet another management system and there is as I trust you know no management system at all when we use the holistic framework in management. Management systems can only successfully be used where everything is predictable as in inventory control or tracking income and payables in business management) I genuinely believe your statement to be true and have for many years pleaded with academic critics to produce either any logical flaw or scientific flaw in either the holistic framework or it’s holistic planned grazing used when livestock are involved in the management. That said, I do feel and believe that we have almost all of the scientific knowledge that we need (although we can and should keep improving it) to begin producing more food than eroding soil on the world’s croplands (and US croplands). This I recently experienced when working with 35 lawmakers on a possible land/agriculture policy for Zimbabwe. Using the holistic framework and mostly simply having policy remove the barriers to using known scientifically sound principles and farmer creativity and filtering all objectives of policy using a national holistic context – we had by the end a policy structure that the world dreams of. We would for the first time be producing more food than eroding soil, healing rivers, balancing urban and rural population and much more. And third party verifications like “organic” would be redundant – because all food would be clean, healthy and growing on regenerating soils. So we have an idea of what can now be achieved as fast as people understand the full use of the holistic framework.
Where I continue to agree with you and have real concerns is when we get to managing holistically and various technologies are employed – simple example pesticides or genetically engineered species – and we simply do not have the science sufficiently studied. In those cases we can use the holistic framework but even though to keep the management proactive (as opposed to reactive or adaptive as with the core framework) we assume we are wrong, I for one have no idea at this point what we would monitor for the earliest possible sign that we were doing the wrong thing. Here we need much more scientific knowledge or we perhaps should treat new technologies as guilty till proven innocent (we do the reverse as you know). That this judgement of new technologies in management and nature is extremely difficult I illustrate often with the case of CFCs – given awards for their environmental soundness these we later found in the stratosphere were doing great harm. How on earth could we have picked that up earlier? This is the one area I often say still concerns me greatly when we do manage holistically as we will need to do if we are to survive the coming perfect storm of our own making.
By Allan Savory on March 19th, 2013 at 9:41 pm
I see I did not respond to David Holland. David there were 300 practitioners who met me years ago when I went to Australia first – result of me training two men who then trained them. There are many examples of people doing great things, coming through droughts well, etc and much good work going on monitoring carbon sequestration – suggest you go to SI site http://www.savoryinstitute.com for more or contact firstname.lastname@example.org who is responsible for amassing what we can of the research and evidence.
By Filippo De Matteis on April 28th, 2013 at 4:03 am
here’s our interview with Allan on our italian magazine:
By Allan Savory on April 30th, 2013 at 12:27 am
Chad is on the right path I believe. Management because it addresses the full social, environmental & economic complexity in almost all situations needs to be holistic. It cannot be reductionist without unintended consequences as several centuries of experience have taught us. The science supporting any management needs to be rigorous. where people are getting confused is in confusing the science with the management. Easy to understand because since Voltaire we have put management essentially in the hands of highly trained experts in narrow fields of study. And they find management using the holistic framework hard to comprehend.
People calling for or challenging the ‘science’ is entirely a paradigm paralysis problem – anyone understanding the change brought in by the two main processes that are together called Holistic Management would not do so.
There are two parts to what we call holistic management. One is the development of a holistic framework that removes the barriers to applying good science and other knowledge in any management situation. A framework for management that enables us to use our scientific knowledge to address social, environmental and economic complexity both short and long term. This I only had time to mention fleetingly in the TED talk. The second is the holistic planned grazing process used to address the enormous complexity involved – environmental, social, economic as well as dealing with planning for wildlife, crops, erratic seasons, other simultaneous land uses and more. This again I could only refer to briefly in the TED talk and it only applies when the decision making using the holistic framework itself indicates that it is in all ways -scientifically, economically, socially the right thing to do to be using livestock either to support people or to reverse land degradation.
Both processes currently used in holistic management use nothing but sound scientific principles and laws as we know them today, as well as knowledge from other sources and professions never studied by narrowly trained specialists in for example range science or economics. And the profession, from which I adapted the planning principle to address the ever changing complexity of managing livestock, crops, wildlife, erratic seasons etc. on rangelands or farms, had over 300 years establishing the technique on the ever changing battlefields of Europe. So not surprisingly it works.
Both pieces of managing holistically are decision-making and planning processes. Period. Neither of them is any of the things all the academic criticisms, ridicule, etc. are about. To people who are trained in narrow fields and who have become accustomed to being experts advising what management should do, this is an entirely different world in which they have neither training nor knowledge. I am not the only person to see the dangers of my own narrow scientific training. John Ralston Saul who studied the situation from the time of Voltaire to the present had this to say in his brilliant 500 page book “Voltaire’s Bastards” “The reality is that the division of knowledge into feudal fiefdoms of expertise has made general understanding and coordinated action not simply impossible but despised and distrusted.”
Tragically (for the millions suffering and dying) most academics seem unable to come to grips with the simple fact that any management process can never be replicated or subjected to any research trials, but we can gather data on the results from thousands of different situations managed holistically. And this Savory Institute, with collaborating universities, is doing over several countries were people are practicing holistic planned grazing. Much information can be obtained from the SI web site.
With regard to gathering data on results in the cases where the holistic framework is used to analyse or develop government policies or any development or other projects there is the problem that we cannot obtain such documented results until some government, or major agency, actually changes policies. All that I can report to you is the results people analyzing policies experienced using the holistic framework.
In the early 1980’s the USDA (Carter Administration) engaged me to put about 2,000 US scientists at various levels from basic degrees to PhD’s through a week of holistic management training. They brought hundreds of their own policies to the training and analysed these themselves.
All policies (and development projects) need to 1) Be achievable 2) Not address symptoms 3) Not result in unintended consequences. The groups in training were unable to find a single US policy or project that would meet these requirements. All were found to be addressing symptoms and likely to lead to unintended damaging consequences. One group in training made a unanimous statement that we recorded and it is in the textbook “Holistic Management: A New Decision Making Framework” Island Press 1999. (p. 547) they stated that “they could now see that unsound resource management was universal in the United States”. Similar training in Lesotho and India with smaller samples yielded similar findings.
Once this need for all policies etc to be formed holistically is understood people then quickly understand why the various policies such as “war on weeds”, “war on drugs” or “war on terror” are leading to such appalling costs and unintended consequences.
By Dominick DellaSala on May 30th, 2013 at 12:16 pm
Dear debaters of livestock – I’m posting this abstract from an article that I co-authored on climate change and livestock grazing to add to the mix. The synergistic impacts of livestock and feral ungulates combined with climate change is arguably the largest ecological damages occurring on Western landscapes today. These points are seldom addressed in debates about livestock and the literature base for this article was extensive along with decades of field work by the scientists involved in the article published in Environmental Management referenced below.
We can debate this further but it would be good to share this science first.
Beschta et al. 2012
Abstract: Climate change affects public land ecosystems
and services throughout the American West and these
effects are projected to intensify. Even if greenhouse gas
emissions are reduced, adaptation strategies for public
lands are needed to reduce anthropogenic stressors of terrestrial
and aquatic ecosystems and to help native species
and ecosystems survive in an altered environment. Historical
and contemporary livestock production—the most
widespread and long-running commercial use of public
lands—can alter vegetation, soils, hydrology, and wildlife
species composition and abundances in ways that exacerbate
the effects of climate change on these resources.
Excess abundance of native ungulates (e.g., deer or elk)
and feral horses and burros add to these impacts. Although
many of these consequences have been studied for decades,
the ongoing and impending effects of ungulates in a
changing climate require new management strategies for
limiting their threats to the long-term supply of ecosystem
services on public lands. Removing or reducing livestock
across large areas of public land would alleviate a widely
recognized and long-term stressor and make these lands
less susceptible to the effects of climate change. Where
livestock use continues, or where significant densities of
wild or feral ungulates occur, management should carefully
document the ecological, social, and economic consequences
(both costs and benefits) to better ensure management
that minimizes ungulate impacts to plant and
animal communities, soils, and water resources. Reestablishing
apex predators in large, contiguous areas of public
land may help mitigate any adverse ecological effects of
By ED on August 9th, 2013 at 8:39 am
The concept of scientific rigor in much of the discussion seems confused. Here is one example of an effective single-intervention controlled study that could provide a strong answer:
Materials: A set of experimental parcels of land with several similar neighboring control parcels.
* Intervention: In the experimental parcels, follow Savory’s instructions. For the control parcel, follow the previous policies.
* Data collection: Record any of several indicators of the state of the control and experimental parcels before and after the interventions. One example of an indicator would be before and after photographs (preferably a series of days at the same time of year) documenting the visible state of both the experimental and control parcels. Have these photographs scored for changes in the quantity and quality of vegetation by a panel of viewers who are not informed of the experimental vs. control status of the imaged parcels.
* Result: A set of scores that may or may not indicate a decisive difference.
* A scientific inference, if there is a decisive difference: The intervention has a substantial effect on the quantity and quality of vegetation. (Note: please consider the role of sample variance in calculating p values and note that confident conclusions can be drawn from small samples if effects are both large and consistent.)
* Unknowns for further investigation: Of the components of the intervention (that is, specific aspects of Savory’s instructions), which are essential? To what extent do the results generalize to other conditions (different weather, soil conditions, initial vegetation, etc.).
The ability to gain knowledge from an experiment of this sort is both common sense and good science. To think otherwise would suggest confusion about what constitutes a suitable combination of control, intervention, observation, and analysis.
By HeatherTwist on August 14th, 2013 at 10:02 pm
I too wish there were more empirical studies, if only so the ideas might spread more rapidly. I’ve only tested such an idea on my one little plot of land, with yep, two goats! But by golly it worked. Deep roots, green green grass even in the drought. First time ever I’ve had a lawn that looks like a golf course (and with no fertilizer or watering).
Anyway, maybe the testing methods need improvement. But the ideas aren’t all that new, and some of the old hands would probably just say, “Well, duh!”. You can look around farming country and see pastures that thrive, and those that are total wrecks. Finding the correct ratio of animals to land is tricky, and the rotation schedule, but ruminants are amazingly GOOD for land. There really isn’t much argument that the prairie lands in the US were doing fine with huge herds of buffalo, but were decimated by farming.
This does remind me a lot of the SRI methods for rice. At first glance it doesn’t seem all that different, yet the farmers using SRI are getting these huge harvests by just tweaking a few variables.
- Reflections on Savory: The Science and the Philosophy Pt. 2 - Organics | Washington State University
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- everything you know about livestock and climate change is backwards (maybe) | The Handsome Camel
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- The most massive tsunami, perfect storm is bearing down on us…..or? | Princeton Similkameen Daily Post
- Grazing Livestock May Hold the Secret to Reversing Climate Change | Wake Up World
- Cows Against Climate Change: The Dodgy Science Behind the TED Talk | 4thenature'sake