Grasslands co-evolved with hoofed animals over many centuries. It was, and continues to be, a symbiotic relationship. In the past, giant herds performed the extremely important function of stimulating the grass by biting, chomping and stomping from one location to the next – all along the way, dropping their nutritious byproducts, fertilizing the soil and guaranteeing a perpetual wealth of healthy grass. Because the herds were constantly threatened by predators, they moved quickly and never lingered too long in one location. When the European settlers began creating fence lines, and the animals couldn’t move as often or as quickly, erosion began and the topsoil started to disappear.
One of the most dramatic stories regarding human impact on the environment belongs to the American bison. In the 17th century, an estimated 60 million bison roamed the plains of North America. The grasslands moved in waves like a rippling sea. With the arrival of settlers, the bison were pushed out of their native lands and hunted ruthlessly. By 1890, fewer than 1,000 animals survived. In striking contrast to the Native Americans, who traditionally hunted the bison for food, tools and their hides, the Europeans’ slaughter was essentially for sport, with “gamesmen” shooting from the newly constructed railway, wagering on how many they could kill in a single day.
One can only wonder what aversion to nature could drive this level of disregard for a species to the very edge of extinguishing them. Fortunately, the American Bison Society was formed in 1905 to secure the survival of this species. As a result of captive breeding and reintroductions to the wild, in the past century the American bison population has returned to approximately 500,000.
In Europe the effects of high-density civilization have impacted the land over many thousands of years. Here in North America, the devastation that has occurred over the past one hundred years is downright scary. The near-elimination of the bison was a precursor to the “Dust Bowl” of the 1930s when a massive percentage of the topsoil across the Great Plains blew away during nine years of unceasing winds during the worst drought in United States history. These were the events, resulting in such a parched and depleted landscape, which paved the way for the chemical pesticide and chemical fertilizer companies to launch their campaign with the ironic title of “green revolution.” This new direction, proudly led by modern chemical science, was to create a true panacea, a revolutionary approach that was to invigorate the land and produce limitless yield to feed the world. The sad reality has been the continuing degradation of the land and water, along with the known and unknown impact on the health of humans, the food chain and the planet.
Fortunately, we are now evolving definite scientific procedures for restoring the land. The land has a great healing capacity, similar to our bodies. But leaving the land alone, as in no disturbance, in attempts to rehab from the effects of overgrazing and erosion, has turned out not to be the answer. What does appear to be working is a combination of stimulation and rest, based on moving herds quickly and often, simulating how the great herds moved before fences. The Europeans parceled off the land with a protective approach to securing their land and their cattle. But had they merely viewed how the natural ecology was functioning and attempted to follow that model, this continent could still be a an unending paradise. So, how can we help restore what’s been damaged and realign ourselves with the oneness of life? I think it can be as simple as something called the “Triple Bottom Line.”
How does it affect finances? How does it affect the environment? How does it affect society?
With each of these questions being asked, and some appropriate time spent in determining how all three can be considered and accomplished – unlike the prevailing single “bottom line” mentality that demands profitability at the exclusion of people and planet – the outcome can be one of unity, harmony and prosperity – all worthwhile ingredients for our sustainable future.
Faren Dancer is an award-winning designer, builder, educator and activist. His GREEN TALK RADIO show is each Saturday at 4 pm on KTRC (1260 AM). All the archived shows are available at www.unicopia.org. Email Faren@unicopia.org