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Mollison's Permaculture Zones - what happened to Zone 5?  RSS feed

 
Tyler Ludens
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I've noticed a little drift in permaculture zones, away from Mollison's original conception, a trend toward moving the zones of human influence outward until there is no zone in which human use is not the primary function, that is, turning Zone 5 into Zone 4, and thereby eliminating Zone 5.

In the Designer's Manual, Mollison discusses the Zones in terms of information and ethics:

"What is proposed herein is that we have no right, or any ethical justification, for clearing land or using wilderness while we tread over lawns, create erosion, and use land inefficiently. Our responsibility is to put our house in order. Should we do so, there will never be any need to destroy wilderness. Indeed, most farmers can become stewards of forest and wildlife, as they will have to become in any downturn in the energy economy. Unethical energy use is what is destroying distant resources for short-term use.

Our zones, then, represent zones of destruction, information, available energy, and human dependency...

In Zone 1 we are information developers; we tend species selected by, and dependent on, mankind. All animal species tend their 'home gardens', and an interdependency arises that is not greatly different from the parasite-prey dependency.

In Zone 2, already nature is making our situation more complex, and we start to learn from species other than our people-dependent selections. As we progress outwards, we lose our person-orientation and gain real understanding of the necessity for all life forms, as we do not 'need' to exploit most species. We in fact need and use only a few species of the hundreds of thousands that exists.

In wilderness, we are visitors or strangers. We have neither need nor right to interfere or dominate. We should not settle there, and thus leave wastelands at our back. In wilderness we may learn lessons basic to good design, but we cannot improve on the information already available there. In wilderness, we learn our little part in the scheme of all things....

Type 1 Error: When we settle into wilderness, we are in conflict with so many life forms that we have to destroy them in order to exist. Keep out of the bush. It is already in good order."

Mollison describes Zone 5 in this way: "We characterise this zone as the natural, unmanaged environment used for occasional foraging, recreation, or just let be. This is where we learn the rules that we try to apply elsewhere."

 
Tyler Ludens
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On the 20 acres here we're withdrawing human use and trying to turn most of the land into Zone 5. It may never really get quite to Zone 5, but instead hover in Zone 4 because of needing continued management such as erosion control structures necessary to prevent further degradation. We may also have to do some work to protect small trees from being destroyed by the exotic Axis/Chital deer, as well as attempting to reduce the Axis population. Once our sheep die of old age we won't replace them, because we have no need for additional herbivores besides the Axis. Fortunately, Texas offers the same tax break for Wildlife Management as for Agricultural use of the land, so officially we're managing for songbirds and amphibians although the goal is to provide the best habitat for the largest variety of critters. The dream would be for the place to be part of the territory of a Bobcat or Cougar. Our own needs should be met on one or two acres.
 
Rene Nijstad
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Our farm is about 10 hectares big (more or less 24 acres) and half of it is on a steep slope, just below the top of the mountain. I found it near unbelievable that previous owners had cows up there! It needs to stay forested. We could use it for goats maybe, but we chose to make all of it zone 5. We already know it's a home to tapirs, iguanas, turtles, snakes and numerous birds, we don't want to interfere. One other good thing is that this area borders our dams, which means that no animal living up there has a need to cross any of our activities to get to the water.

Eventually we hope that by leaving it alone we'll get rewarded by the return of springs around the key point. Maybe later we can also cut some walkways through it, but other than that we won't interfere at all in that area.

People who have less space I believe can still design a little corner to be their zone 5, even if only just to watch what happens there over the years. It won't give space to big predators, but lizards, frogs etc might find a bit of refuge there.
map-with-zones.jpg
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Tyler Ludens
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I'm thrilled to see such a big Zone 5, Rene! Tapirs!
 
Rene Nijstad
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Yah, really cool to see them. Normally we get an occasional quick glimpse when one runs from the open area straight up the mountain to disappear in the dense bushes. One time however I was walking through one of our swales and pretty close to zone 5 I saw something move, sniffing around... I stopped to get a better look, the tapir stopped as well and looked at me. We stared at each other for about 5 mins, then it slowly turned around and walked back up the mountain. A nice encounter without fear...
 
Nicole Alderman
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It's sad to see so little zone 5, because it and zone 4 are really my favorite zones. You don't have to manage much, at all--all you have to do is enjoy!

I have 5 acres, and probably almost half of it is zone 5. I'd include a lot more of my property in this if we didn't harvest the trees that fall down for lumber. Since I use them for timber, include them in zone 4. I find it really interesting that I really don't have much--if any--zone 3. We have no large livestock or big orchards or large crops. We have native plants that we manage and harvest (maybe that'd be zone 3.75?) and then our gardens and small orchard in zones 1&2.

But, we also have five acres, and we're not trying to make money off of our land, so it's a lot easier to have more zone 4 and 5.

I attached a picture of our property with color-coordinated zones (fushia =Zone 1, Purple=Zone 2, Blue=Zone 3, Green=Zone 4 and Olive=Zone5). The orange lines indicate protected wetlands. Having those wetlands does help keep those areas as zone 4 & 5, especially the ones that are smack-dab in the middle of my property and aren't actually native vegitation (thanks to the previous owner), they're just wet... and not even that wet, since the previous owner dug ditches though them. But, even areas that aren't protected have ended up in zone 5 because I really hate destroying established forested areas. They were always my favorite as a child, and so even though I could remove the trees on the "left" of my property, I really enjoy those woods and leave them as zone 5. Living on and ranging onto our property are: black bears, coyotes, bobcats, owls, bunnies, deer, lots of amphibians, lots of birds both predatory and not, and garter snakes. I'm thankful I can give a home to them.

But, I think that, even if people aren't leaving zones 4 & 5 when they manage their orchards, gardens and livestocks, I'm still happy they are utilizing the rest of the zones for permaculture use. They may not be able to pay for their property or feed people with permaculture food if they don't use their property that way. We all have different resources and choices that we can work with, and I think the best I can hope for is that they try to be as restorative and tender to the earth as they can.

As for the livestock issue, it almost seems a bit like a cider press issue, but I will say this. I raise ducks and raising them for eggs (and harvesting the males for meat) really has shown me how hard it is to get protein calories off of a piece of land. Even with free ranging on about 2 acres for about 3-5 hours a day, and a large permanent yard for the rest of the day, my 11 ducks needs at least 2 pounds of feed a day...feed that I must buy or attempt to grow. But, I've also found growing food doesn't give me that many calories, especially lots of protein, so maybe I'm just not utilizing my resources as well as I could! It also makes me realize that in a "end of the world scenario," I'd likely be eating a whole lot less protien than my body seems to need to operate well. I don't have the asnwer to that problem, but I will keep searching!
My-Garden-s-Zones-copy.jpg
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Tyler Ludens
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There's certainly nothing saying we can't include habitat in our other Zones - in fact, I think it is typical that permaculture Zones for human use also include habitat for many other critters. However, for fully functioning ecosystems all the way up to apex non-human predators, the indicator of actual ecosystem health, Zone 5 is not optional. It may be inconvenient, but unfortunately that does not change what appear to be the facts of ecology as it is understood (as far as I understand it, I have to add, not being an ecologist).

 
Tyler Ludens
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Nicole Alderman wrote:But, I've also found growing food doesn't give me that many calories, especially lots of protein, so maybe I'm just not utilizing my resources as well as I could! It also makes me realize that in a "end of the world scenario," I'd likely be eating a whole lot less protien than my body seems to need to operate well. I don't have the asnwer to that problem, but I will keep searching!


These sorts of difficult diet questions are what I wish we could discuss more on the forum (not in this thread, though). I am very interested in a home grown diet, and find it a tremendous challenge.

 
Mel Green
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I think that Zone 5 is incredibly important from a permaculture perspective.
All permie gardens in my opinion should have a native garden somewhere - left to encourage local species of plants, animals and insects. Once you remove this zone you work against the very principles that started this movement, which is that nature helps productivity much more so than humans ever can. Even though I can substitute food plants for natives, I will lose the natural biodiversity that has evolved to my climate if I completely remove native plants from my design. So I agree, natives can seem inconvenient when you become passionate about food gardens, but they are a critical part of the system.

 
T Holden
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But what if the "native garden" is full of invasive plants and has not been allowed to burn naturally to control those native species that would otherwise be controlled through natural burns and what if these issues cause the zone 5 to be a mess of weedy invasives...and you want to bring it back to it's natural state. Then, is it zone 4.5?
 
David Livingston
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Actually I think we should question everything ; I dont want to have permaculture seen to have a "Holy Book " that shall not be questioned .
I have doubts about a lot of stuff that others accept .
It reminds me of someone I know who went to a Rudolf Steiner School . I suggested to him it sounded wonderful he said no . We were taught to question everything apart from the words of the great teacher Rudolf .....
For instance the zone 5 idea we already affect through our polution the whole world . There is no prestine wilderness . So is there any true zone 5?
 
Nicole Alderman
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T Holden wrote:But what if the "native garden" is full of invasive plants and has not been allowed to burn naturally to control those native species that would otherwise be controlled through natural burns and what if these issues cause the zone 5 to be a mess of weedy invasives...and you want to bring it back to it's natural state. Then, is it zone 4.5?


That's what I'd call it, depending on how much effort you have to put into remediating it. For example, part of my wetlands is overtaken by bindweed and invasive blackberries. It's created a monoculture, that if left to it's own devices would spread. And, while I'm sure it'd eventually resolve itself in 100 or something, I'd rather help speed that process along. So, I work to create more diversity and give a hands-up to the less pervasive plants (right now, I'm weeding out the bindweed and encouraging the blackberry and the few salmonberry plants there. Once the bindweed is gone, I'll start encouraging the salmonberry, thimbleberry and native blackberry by hacking out the invasive blackerry. I've done this in other areas on a lesser scale with moderate success). I actually labeled this area of my property zone 3, simply because I have to go there at least once a week to tend to it.

In other areas, I only have to do small, infrequent changes to create more diversity (encouraging native blackberry by tipping, pruning back salmonberries so blackcap raspberries, native blackberries, currants and thimbleberries can increase. When I find a rare plant, I try to make its environment as favorable as possible so total diversity can increase). I'd call these zones 4.5 because I only work on them a few times a year, and don't do too many changes, and all the plants are natives.

I think the zone system is defined by how much you affect the area, as well as how native it is. If you're doing a lot of restoration work, you're doing good things (I consider creating a more diverse habitat "good"), but they do take a lot of time and effort. If you're only burning it once a year to maintain a camas prairie ecosystem (as the original inhabitiants in my area did here), that's a whole lot less intensive then having to pull bindweed every day. At least, that's what I think! I'd love to see other's opinions!
 
Tyler Ludens
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David Livingston wrote:. There is no prestine wilderness . So is there any true zone 5?


Zone 5 is not about "pristine wilderness." It is about setting land aside for non-human purposes, that is, for everyone else other than us. For support of the biosphere on which we depend.

I'm not sure what the question, or possible objection, is. To me you seem to be questioning the need for functioning ecosystems. Maybe I'm misunderstanding you?
 
Tyler Ludens
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Kyrt Ryder wrote:It just feels wrong to exclude humanity from the natural cycle the way your comment seems to imply.


I return to Mollison's definition of zone 5 : "We characterise this zone as the natural, unmanaged environment used for occasional foraging, recreation, or just let be. This is where we learn the rules that we try to apply elsewhere."

To me, that is not excluding humanity. To me, that is including humanity as a student of nature, learning the lessons we can apply to our own gardens. Recreation also implies enjoyment of nature, not exclusion. Mollison is, I think, talking about setting land aside which does not provide any product for humans besides all of the ecosystem functions upon which we depend for our lives.

 
Tyler Ludens
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Nicole Alderman wrote:

I think the zone system is defined by how much you affect the area, as well as how native it is. If you're doing a lot of restoration work, you're doing good things (I consider creating a more diverse habitat "good"), but they do take a lot of time and effort. If you're only burning it once a year to maintain a camas prairie ecosystem (as the original inhabitiants in my area did here), that's a whole lot less intensive then having to pull bindweed every day. At least, that's what I think! I'd love to see other's opinions!


That's how I understand it. I think Zone 5 for most of us is not "pristine wilderness." For instance here in my region the ecosystem is in tremendous flux. The historic ecosystem, prairie, is utterly destroyed - none of it exists, and very few of the animals who lived there exist either. Some people are trying to restore bits of prairie, but as far as I know there is no intention of complete restoration (nobody is planning to bring back wolves, Apache, Comanche, etc). Most of the region is growing up into forest, but this might not be a stable system, it is very disturbed by oversupply of domestic, exotic, and native herbivores. Any Zone 5 here is probably going to need a lot of management to make sure diversity is maintained or restored. But in my opinion that doesn't mean its intention isn't Zone 5 - that is, the purpose of the land is for non-human use. We won't be grazing livestock or raising food plants or timber there.
 
Rene Nijstad
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Hi Tyler, you just beat me to it
Since I spend the last one and a half hour typing this post, I'll put it all out anyway, sorry for the repetition of your post.

Mollison I think was very clever to call his book "Permaculture A Designers Manual". A manual like you get with a tool, use it like this only. The book is full of definitions, directives, etc to very precisely define what Permaculture is, and thus also what it is not. He calls it a design science, other people can call it a design framework if they feel it's not scientific enough in their view. In the end the only relevance this has is that he made clear what Permaculture is. Anyone who disagrees with his clear outlines can call their approach whatever they want, like eco-design, or eco-dominance, or whatever, influenced by permaculture. I think Mollison made it that simple.

So what does he say about zone 5 and wilderness?

"Zone 5
We characterize this zone as the natural, unmanaged environment used for occasional foraging, recreation, or just let be. This is where we learn the rules that we try to apply elsewhere" (Mollison, Permaculture a designers manual, page 50)

"In wilderness, we are visitors or strangers. We have neither need nor right to interfere or dominate. We should not settle there, and thus leave wastelands at our back. In wilderness we may learn lessons basic to good design, but we cannot improve on the information already available there. In wilderness we learn our little part in the scheme of all things.

understandings:
1. everything is of use. It is not necessarily needed by people, but it is needed by the life complex of which we are a dependent part.
2. We cannot order complex functions. They must evolve of themselves.
3. We cannot know a fraction of what exists. We will always be a minor part of the information system.

Thus we are teachers only in our home gardens, and learners elsewhere. Nowhere do we create. Everything we depend on we have evolved from what is already created, and that includes ourselves. Thoughtful people (those who get recreation from trying to understand) need wilderness as schools need teachers. Should we lose the wilderness, or suffer it to be destroyed, we will be recycled for more appropriate life in any number of ways, some very painful and protracted. We can also state our first "error" thesis here; such errors, once made, lead us into increasing problems.

Type 1 error
When we settle into wilderness, we are in conflict with so many life forms that we have to destroy them to exist. Keep out of the bush. It is already in good order." (Mollison, permaculture a designers manual, page 57, 5

In a post above I read: "We can't have a zone 5 while the place is infested with human livestock either, whether cows or sheep." If this means that whereever we put lifestock this area is not zone 5, then that seems to be correct. Putting lifestock somewhere alters the system, which means it's a form of management, which puts it at least in zone 4, or even zone 3, depending on its location.

If we want an area overgrown with an invasive plant to be zone 5, plant we have 2 options I think. Temporarily make it zone 4, manage it the best we can, until ready to pull our hands off and turn it fully to nature to evolve to whatever it will evolve to. This could even mean that nature will undo all your changes over time. The other option is not to interfere and look how the area will evolve. The invasive plant can be fought back where it tries to enter other zones. My guess would be that the invasive plant will turn the area into a monoclture, thus digging its own grave over time, to be succeeded by other species after it consumed its resources. Whichever option we choose, the point for us humans is that we get to observe what happens. Permaculture allows us choices like this.

What permaculture does not "allow" us is to turn everything into some kind of democracy where we can alter the rules and definitions as we please either by vote or redefinition. Anybody who does that should go ahead and give it a different name. The same goes for the 3 ethics, abandon them and what it is you do might be inspired on permaculture, but it's now falling outside the clear definition of what permaculture is.

Mollison then made sure his framework allows for the inclusion of other techniques, such as biodynamics, mobgrazing, broad crop areas, etc. This gives a wealth of options to configure our land use as we like, while still staying within the permaculture framework. Did I mention that I think Mollison is a genius for being so clear to use directives and definitions to create a framework only and leave the choices of further methods and elements to be decided by every individual himself?

When we chose (in our design, which I posted in my first reply on this topic) to make our entire mountain slope zone 5, we did include a little zone 4 peninsula, to allow us to experiment with a managed zone bordered by wilderness. This hopefully will allow us to observe effects (if any) from the unmanaged more natural eco-system on our managed system. I think within the clear framework of permaculture we have more than enough options to play with.
 
Kyrt Ryder
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Tyler Ludens wrote:
Kyrt Ryder wrote:It just feels wrong to exclude humanity from the natural cycle the way your comment seems to imply.


I return to Mollison's definition of zone 5 : "We characterise this zone as the natural, unmanaged environment used for occasional foraging, recreation, or just let be. This is where we learn the rules that we try to apply elsewhere."

To me, that is not excluding humanity. To me, that is including humanity as a student of nature, learning the lessons we can apply to our own gardens. Recreation also implies enjoyment of nature, not exclusion. Mollison is, I think, talking about setting land aside which does not provide any product for humans besides all of the ecosystem functions upon which we depend for our lives.

How does one return managed land to unmanaged zone 5? Once humanity starts managing something they become a key species in its functions for a long time.

So far as I'm aware Mollison's primary goal in Zone 5 was encouraging Permaculturalists to leave the bush alone, not to create productive human systems and then give them back to the bush. [Not saying there isn't a certain amount of place for the latter, but that seems more like a multi-generational project to me.]

In the end though, it seems like we may have a contrasting view of how much Zone 5 is needed?

Your position appears to me [though I could be mistaken, please clarify if I have it wrong] that privately owned land should have large swaths of Zone 5, perhaps in the vicinity of 1/2.

Mine is that people should focus on making the very best use they can of the land they have so we stop pirating resources from other lands and a greater portion of land can be gradually returned to wilderness. If that means the average zone 5 is no more than 10-15% of the person's property so be it.

[That being said, I feel every zone- even zone one- should include a certain amount lush habitat for living creatures. Hedgerows, ponds, etc etc etc]
 
Rene Nijstad
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"As will be clear in other chapters of this book, the end result of the adoption of permaculture strategies in any country or region will be to dramatically reduce the area of the agricultural environment needed by the households and the settlements of people, and to release much of the landscape for the sole use of wildlife and for re-occupation by endemic flora. Respect for all life forms is a basic, and in fact essential, ethic for all people." (Mollison, permaculture a designers manual, page 9 )

I know there are a lot of people who cannot afford to take a PDC, and some who somehow feel it's a pyramid scheme, but why don't we all at least get the book?
 
Tyler Ludens
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Kyrt Ryder wrote:
So far as I'm aware Mollison's primary goal in Zone 5 was encouraging Permaculturalists to leave the bush alone, not to create productive human systems and then give them back to the bush. [Not saying there isn't a certain amount of place for the latter, but that seems more like a multi-generational project to me.]


From Chapter 1, page 6-7:

"As the basic of permaculture is beneficial design, it can be added to all other ethical training and skills, and has the potential for taking a place in all human endeavors. In the broad landscape, however, permaculture concentrates on already-settled areas and agricultural lands. Almost all of these need drastic rehabilitation and re-thinking. One certain result of using our skills to integrate food supply and settlement, to catch water from our roof areas, and to place nearby a zone of fuel forest which receives wastes and supplies energy, will be to free most of the area of the globe for the rehabilitation of natural systems. These need never be looked upon as 'of use to people', except in the very broad sense of global health."

Page 7:

"We abused the land and laid waste to systems we need never have disturbed had we attended to our home gardens and settlements. If we need to state a set of ethics on natural systems, then let it be thus:

- Implacable and uncompromising opposition to further disturbance of any remaining natural forests, where most species are still in balance;

- Vigorous rehabilitation of degraded and damaged natural systems to stable state;

- Establishment of plant systems for our own use on the least amount of land we can use for our existence; and

- Establishment of plant and animal refuges for rare or threatened species."

Page 9

"We create our own life conditions, now and for the future. In permaculture, this mean that all of us have some part in identifying, supporting, recommending, investing in, or creating wilderness habitats and species refuges..."


"As will be clear in other chapters of this book, the end result of the adoption of permaculture strategies in any country or region will be to dramatically reduce the area of the agricultural environment needed by the households and the settlements of people and to release much of the landscape for the sole use of wildlife and for re-occupation by endemic flora. Respect for all life forms is a basic, and in fact essential, ethic for all people."


To me, the message seems clear - Zone 5 is made up of natural ecosystems and created refuges, and that it is our responsibility to reduce the amount of land for human use and to return most of the land to ecosystem functions.
 
Nicole Alderman
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Rene Nijstad wrote:I know there are a lot of people who cannot afford to take a PDC, and some who somehow feel it's a pyramid scheme, but why don't we all at least get the book?


Because I don't have an extra $124 to spare . So, thank you for suppling the quotes and knowledge for those of us who can't afford it but would love to learn form it!
 
Gilbert Fritz
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I guess I don't see why one couldn't have a zone3/4 AND a zone 5. Every permaculture book I've read seems to indicate that zone 3/4 is for domestic animals.

And again, I'd encourage anyone who thinks grazing land can't provide enough calories to read Mark Sheppard's book.

Nobody is questioning the value of zone 5, just defending zone 4.

Also, I would support shrinking (not eliminating) zone 5 on small patches of private land, especially in suburbia, so we could expand zone 5 in big swaths elsewhere. That would be more conducive to large wild animals and natural processes.
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