seems to me true that one of the major frustrations that professional
workers in these sectors encounter is the frequent lack of purposive
connection between efforts to correct a perceived problem and the larger
results of such efforts. The history of the last several decades--or even
centuries--seems to be full of research-based solutions which either didn't
work, or caused further problems, or in many cases exacerbated the very
problems they were designed to correct.
Recently Allan Savory gave a lecture and workshop on resource
management to our community. Savory grew up in Rhodesia, where he was a
rancher, game biologist, and member of Parliament (he was at one time an
opposition leader to Ian Smith). Now he lives near Albuquerque, where the
Center for Holistic Resource Management is based.
Savory observed that profitable and continuous agricultural and
livestock production depend on whole ecosystems with high levels of
biodiversity. In much of the world, ecosystem integrity and biodiversity
are declining. Social breakdown with its high levels of unorganized crime,
and conflict over resources result, since it seems to be against human
nature to say to another, Go ahead, you take the last tree (or irrigation
water, or pasture). We fight over these things, with lawyers or with guns.
Parts of Africa such as Ethiopia or Somalia, Savory noted, have
enormous problems. Conventional wisdom has it that Africa's
desertification, biodiversity loss, and political and social problems are
the result of one or more of the following:
- high rural population
- overstocking with livestock
- overcutting of trees
- bad run of droughts
- cultivating unsuitable soils, steep slopes, etc.
- low general education of farmers
- communal tenure of land (cf. Garrett Hardin's Tragedy of the
- shifting agriculture
- insufficient fertilizers, machinery, herbicides
- poor and corrupt administration
- inadequate extension services
Savory made an instructive comparison with West Texas, whose climate
is similarly arid. Biodiversity is declining on Texas rangeland, and there
is increasing conflict over resources. But Texas has just the opposite
characteristics to Africa, according to the above list: low rural
population; little or no overstocking (cf. stocking figures for the early
1900s); productivity of rangeland is commonly supposed to be aided by
massive eradication of mesquite; no recent run of droughts; the land is
flat; there are thousands of college-graduate farmers and ranchers; there
is extreme wealth; private tenure and deep love of land; stable
agriculture; easy availability of chemicals and machinery; large
bureaucracy with relatively low levels of corruption; and enormous and
well-funded extension services.
Why, then, is biodiversity declining in much of Texas as well as
Africa? The resource management strategies of both are failing. Savory
says it is because of the way we make decisions. We isolate parts from
wholes, and try to fix symptoms instead of addressing the causes.
He recommends that resource management should first of all proceed
from a goal which incorporates things like a desired quality of life, and
that it have provision for future generations. Land cannot be managed
effectively as a commodity. It must be managed from the point of view of a
whole: a whole family with their land, a whole community, or a whole
region. He showed flow-chart models of conventional decision making,
sustainable decision making (differing from the first only in a few
details), and then holistic decision making, where each decision is tested
against the goal of the whole, and planning and monitoring of results
starts with the assumption that you are wrong.
Savory noted that by and large, the Amish make decisions against their
values, and this explains their success in maintaining biodiversity.
He has had a good deal of experience with range management under arid
or semi-arid conditions, and part of his presentation was addressed to
this, since a large portion of our area (and of the western U.S.) is semi-
arid grassland. In conventional decision making, the available tools
include technology, fire, and rest. In sustainable decision making, they
also include small animals (benign insects, as in integrated pest
management, and fowl). Holistic management would also add large grazing
animals to the land manager's toolkit.
In most of the world's grasslands, the ecosystem used to include
grass, large herds of grazing animals, and pack-hunting predators such as
lions, wolves, hyenas, and wild dogs which kept the grazing animals fairly
tightly bunched much of the time. This tight bunching results in heavy
grazing for a short period of time, and a dung and urine buildup which will
ensure an adequate recovery time for the plants, since grazing animals will
avoid grazing on areas heavily contaminated with their own dung and urine.
Carbon is effectively cycled in an arid or semi-arid grassland via grazing
animals. With rest, many grasses will die out, since old growth will shade
out new, and will not decay but merely oxidize.
In a humid environment, rest from grazing pressure will cause
biodiversity to increase, but this is not so in an arid or semi-arid
environment. Much of the American West, Savory says, is understocked and
overgrazed. Overgrazing occurs when plants are not given adequate recovery
time; understocking results in partial or complete rest, in which the
carbon cycle is broken, grasses die out, bare ground increases, and moss
and algal capping increase. Much of conventional range management, or
conventional "best practices," consist of a combination of partial rest and
overgrazing of plants.
The Center for Holistic Resource Management offers literature, a
quarterly, and support for community education. It does NOT offer a
system, or suite of management practices which can be applied to a piece of
ground. Skills and methods taught include "learning to define and
understand the whole to be managed, how to set goals, develop leadership
skills in yourself and nurture them in others, perform sound biological and
financial planning, monitor the results, and replan when necessary" (HRM
Center for Holistic Resource Management
5820 Fourth St. NW
Albuquerque, NM 87107