Buffalo Commons

We have seen the future for woodland soils and well watered tropical soils. If corn can be grown, then carbonization and woodlot management can work together to sequester huge amounts of carbon while enriching the soils.

This is not the future for the semi arid lands that are are grasslands. Here woodland agriculture has struggled and is slowly been defeated. Farmers cannot afford outright crop failure because they are tied to an annual economic cycle. Yet the dry lands deliver such failure with historic predictability.

For most of these lands, water security can never be made available except for a marginal fraction for which irrigation is sustainable.

Some years back the Poppers coined the metaphor of the buffalo commons - see their site in my links. They did the analysis and recognized that the great plains agricultural economy was slowly eroding away. They pointed out that this was clearly a result of an agricultural system at its limits.

More importantly they observed that the original ecology was much more successful at sustaining itself and clearly more productive. The short grass and long grass prairies were remarkably deep rooted and able to readily survive drought and fire. A direct result of this was the huge carrying capacity for browsers.

The real clincher for myself was to learn that buffalo were at least a third more effective at converting grass into meat than the traditional beef cow. No wonder the wild herds numbered in the tens of millions.

Not only will a restored prairie contain contain two to five times as much carbon as currently contained, it will sustain an intensive buffalo husbandry clearly superior to beef husbandry. It is noteworthy that the land owners are now slowly implementing this regime. We are witnessing the very beginnings of a huge new industry.

It is slow, of course, because the herds themselves are still rather small. But we have learned that the animals take well to fencing and a minimum level of management. They are actually far less trouble than beef cattle that need to be coddled more in the severe conditions of the plains.

This same protocol can be applied on grasslands throughout the world. We all forget that the wild grassers of Eurasia were hunted out thousands of years ago. Reestablishing such wild grassing herds is largely a matter of fencing and good herd management and perhaps judicious introduction of appropriate animals.

The buffalo commons is showing us the way.

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