By Seth J Itzkan
(Originally posted on the Soil4Climate Facebook group, here.)
On this July 4th weekend, I'd like to honor those that fell at the Battle of Little Bighorn, June 25–26, 1876, the American soldiers and the Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho warriors who were defending their way of life. As most in this group will realize, at stake was not only the rights of people, but the health of the land (and, we now understand, the soil carbon).
The slow march of desertification which is present in the former home of America's shortgrass prairie region is heartbreaking to see (for those who can see it). Visiting the site of the Battle of Little Bighorn - and driving all the way from Billings, Montana to Boulder, Colorado - as I did recently - is an education in subjugation of people and earth. As most in the US know, the Battle of Little Bighorn was a seminal moment in US relations with the original peoples of this continent which has achieved legendary, almost mythological, status. Although the battle was an overwhelming victory for Native Americans, it was, also, in fact, the last moment of such glory for them and the impetus for America's subsequent relentless and unyielding suppression of these people with confinement to "reservations," and, until many years later, no rights as citizens.
The other story, not recognized by most, is the loss of soil and biodiversity. As wikipedia says in its page on shortgrass prairie, "The shortgrass prairie was once filled with huge herds of free-ranging bison and pronghorn. The prairie also teemed with large prairie dog colonies, deer and elk, and predators such as gray wolves and grizzly bears." (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shortgrass_prairie) Today, there is just typical grazing operations and increasing signs of desertification - woody plants separated by sandy bare ground (see pictures herein). The only way this land gets restored, and carbon captured, of course, is with a preponderance of grazing animals moving in large herds - either by humans, managed holistically, or with wild grazers and predators. We will either figure this out on our own, and manage accordingly, or our civilization will collapse and nature will, eventually, bring back wild grazers and predators in our absence. (In neither case is grain agriculture an option.)
If we're smart, we might be able to create a partnership between properly managed livestock and wild grazers with predators. They are doing just that at the Africa Centre for Holistic Management in Zimbabwe, so we ought to be able to do that in America. I don't see why managed grazing and a resurrection of bison herds - with predators - can't be a reality. Our future, in fact, requires it. It would be the best way to honor those who have fallen and respect those still unborn. Yebo, and God Bless.
Battle of Little Bighorn
Africa Center for Holistic Management, Zimbabwe