Holistic Resource Management

If you're watching your livestock pasture turn to desert, holistic resource management provides hope for greener times.

| January/February 1985

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    Allan Savory, America's chief proponent of holistic resource management, examines the results of overrested rangeland near Albuquerque, N.M. — dead grass and weakened browse, both due to poor water cycling.
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    Esquipula Chavez, governor of Sandia Pueblo, N.M., near the center of his nine-paddock cell. The corridor around the cell keeps cattle from loitering near the water troughs. Separating pens and loading facilities are located within the corridor.
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    With HRM, the stock is concentrated in one area at a time. When the animals return to where they started, fresh grass is waiting. Twelve or 13 days in each section will give the land 90 days' rest between grazings. Four or five days will give the land 30 days' rest.
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    Fence line dividing the Barlite Ranch (Texas) on the left and a neighboring ranch on the right. Even with a cattle-stocking rate of more than double its neighbor, the Barlite produces more and superior graze, thanks to HRM.
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    A cluster of grass showing typical symptoms of overgrazing — a dead center with deformed blades lying flat against the ground.

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Most Americans have forgotten that, back before the historic and colorful cattle drives of the late 1800s, our western rangelands stood tall in rich grasses that supported vast herds of bison and other wild ungulates. Today, much of the same land is barren and parched, providing only a marginal living for a scant few sheep and cattle.

It's our own fault, of course: Our ancestors extirpated the bison, fenced in the land and packed it with herds of cattle and sheep. The cattle and sheep killed the grass by overgrazing, and with the grass went the remaining wildlife and the best of the topsoil — topsoil that had supported abundant plant and animal life for millenia. After a century of such abuse, the land began showing symptoms of desertification: flash floods and erosion, dust and silt, tumbleweed and scrub.

And though many have tried, none have been able to restore native grasslands once they were lost to desertification from overgrazing. Some tried by planting seed, others by burning, bulldozing or poisoning desert brush. Still others killed off wild game and even their own livestock to reduce grazing pressure on the land. And all failed because they were merely putting Band-Aids on symptoms.

But help may be just across the pasture: Over the past three decades, a totally different approach to arid-country grazing practices — called holistic resource management, or HRM — has been taking shape.

Holistic resource management says that if you can identify and put into balance certain critical aspects of nature, the trend toward desertification will be reversed: Grass and livestock production will increase dramatically, and the land will heal itself.

Grass and Ungulates: A Symbiosis

Conventional wisdom blames dead grass on big herds and overgrazing, yet fails to explain how millions of large grazing animals evolved and thrived on the very same land for thousands of years without destroying the grass as cattle and sheep have done in just one century.

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