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Permaculture vs. Prairie Restoration OR Help! I've Fallen Into an Ethics Hole and I Can' Get Out

 
pollinator
Posts: 169
Location: OK High Plains Prairie, 23" rain avg
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Why Not Trees

I just took the first half of the Permaculture Design Course. I have read or skimmed everything I could get my hands on through the library and Mollison’s PDM. They all want me to plant trees. Savannah’s are best they say. My family land is on the Great Plains and was a mixed grass prairie before my family got ahold of it. As you can see by the following three abstracts prairie is a disappearing biome. My question here is ethical – should I restore the land to prairie as much as possible along the lines of restoration ecology? Why should I permaculture it? Or some balance thereof? What is the justification for each of those scenarios?
Here is the abstract from Richard A. Henderson et al.’s Disentangling effects of fire, habitat, and climate on an endangered prairie-specialist butterfly. “Tallgrass prairie, arguably the most fire-dependent system in North America, is a Biome that has been essentially eliminated and is now exceedingly rare. Absent frequent disturbance, remnant tallgrass prairie rapidly converts to a dominant cover of woody plants. This creates unique challenges for conservation of prairie-specialist insects dependent on increasingly small and isolated habitats prone to direct and indirect threats from climate variability, habitat degradation, and management activities; or lack thereof. Regal fritillary butterflies (Speyeria idalia) exemplify this problem, with sharp population declines in recent decades and considerable disagreement on management practices, particularly in the use of prescribed burning to maintain habitat. Spanning 20-years (1997–2016), we evaluated regal fritillary populations within seven sites in relation to fire, habitat, and climate records to better understand these interacting effects on interannual and long-term population changes. Though fire had short-term negative effects on regal fritillary abundance, habitat quality was one of the most important factors explaining populations and was positively associated with prescribed fire. Burning every 3–5 years maximized regal fritillary abundance, but even annual burning was more beneficial to regal populations than no burning at all. Unburned refugia are important in maintaining populations, but creating and maintaining high quality habitat with abundant violets (Viola spp) and varied nectar sources may be the most impactful management and conservation tool. Regal fritillary butterflies were consistently more than twice as abundant on high quality habitats and this relationship held across, and often dwarfed the effects of, various prescribed fire regimes or climate variability.”

And perhaps more telling is the abstract from Joseph M. Lautenbach et al.’s “Lesser Prairie-Chicken Avoidance of Trees in a Grassland Landscape” from Rangeland Ecology & Management, Volume 70, Issue 1, January 2017, Pages 78-86. “Grasslands are among the most imperiled ecosystems in North America. Reasons that grasslands are threatened include conversion to row-crop agriculture, fragmentation, and changes in fire regimes. The reduction of fire processes in remaining prairies has resulted in tree encroachment and establishment in grasslands, further reducing grassland quantity and quality. Grassland birds have been experiencing precipitous population declines in recent decades, commensurate with landscape changes to grasslands. The lesser prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus Ridgway) is a declining species of prairie grouse of conservation concern. We used second- and third-order habitat selection metrics to test if female lesser prairie-chickens avoid grasslands where trees were present. Our results indicated that female lesser prairie-chickens selected habitats avoiding the nearest trees by 283 m on average, nearly twice as far as would be expected at random. Lesser prairie-chickens were 40 times more likely to use habitats with tree densities of 0 trees ∙ ha− 1 than habitats with 5 trees ∙ ha− 1. Probability of use indicated that lesser prairie-chickens were 19 times more likely to use habitats 1000 m from the nearest tree when compared with using habitats 0 m from the nearest tree. Nest survival was not affected at densities < 2 trees ∙ ha− 1; however, we could not test if nest survival was affected at greater tree densities as no nests were detected at densities > 2 trees ∙ ha− 1. Avoidance of trees could be due to perceived increased predation risk, reduced habitat quality, or a combination of these potentially confounding factors. Preventing further establishment and expansion of trees in landscapes occupied by lesser prairie-chickens could contribute to the continued persistence of the species. Additionally, restoring grasslands through tree removal may facilitate conservation efforts for grassland species such as the lesser prairie-chicken by improving habitat quality and promoting expansion of occupied range.” According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website map at www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Lesser_Prairie-Chicken/maps-range the farm lies within the historic range of lesser prairie chickens and may yet be in their current range or just on the edge of it.

From the chapter on Grassland Degradation in Biological and Environmental Hazards, Risks, and Disasters, 2016, Pages 257-276 by Wick et al. we have this abstract. “Grassland biomes occur naturally worldwide with an estimated 1.5 million square kilometers in North America alone. The three grassland types occurring in North American are tall, mixed and short grass prairies, each of which provide valuable ecosystem services to humans. Ecological services provided by grasslands include but are not limited to, carbon storage, habitat for pollinators, and forage for livestock and wild herbivores. While once prevalent, grassland ecosystems have and continue to be degraded throughout much of North America. The degradation of grasslands is affecting their ability to function properly and is hindering the ability of grasslands to provide the full suite of ecological services they could offer. Causes of degradation are many and may vary by region. Much of the tall grass prairie has been plowed for crop production. In the mixed grass prairie, recent technological innovations in oil production (fracking) has increased oil production but has also resulted in degradation of the grassland environment in multiple ways including habitat fragmentation. All three grassland types have suffered from livestock overgrazing and the disappearance of fire from the landscape. The true value of ecological services provided by grasslands is unknown; however, many of those provided may be critical for the long-term survival and health of humans. With the number of intact grasslands continuing to decline in North America in coincident with their degradation, care needs to be taken when developing effective management plans and government policy for grassland preservation.”
Prescribed burning is a necessary grassland and pasture management technique according to many scientific articles; and wildfires are common in prairies. There was a 250,000-acre fire ten miles east of the farm this April which destroyed 2/3s of a rural county. Are there trees that can withstand a regular fire regimen, especially when they are drought-stressed? There are trees that grow down along the ephemeral creek and around the pond. The extension agent said most of them are probably dead/dying, I don’t recall why. Drought perhaps? If I were to plant trees it would be down there -- 200 vertical feet down a 25% grade from the top of the property. But—what about the butterflies, and the prairie chickens, and the prairie itself?

Works Cited

Henderson, Richard A. “Disentangling effects of fire, habitat, and climate on an endangered prairie-specialist butterfly.” Biological Conservation, vol. 218, Feb. 2018, pp. 41-48. www-sciencedirect-com.cmclibraries.coloradomtn.edu/science/article/pii/S0006320717312211.

Lautenbach, Joseph M. “Lesser Prairie-Chicken Avoidance of Trees in a Grassland Landscape.” Rangeland Ecology & Management, vol. 70, Issue 1, January 2017, pp. 78-86. https://www-sciencedirect-com.cmclibraries.coloradomtn.edu/science/article/pii/S1550742416300549.

“Lesser Prairie Chicken Range Map.” All About Birds. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Lesser_Prairie-Chicken/maps-range. Accessed 16 Jun 2018.

Wick, Abbey F. et al. “Chapter 11.2 – Grassland Degradation.” Biological and Environmental Hazards, Risks, and Disasters 2016, pp 257–276. Abstract. www-sciencedirect-com.cmclibraries.coloradomtn.edu/science/article/pii/B9780123948472000164.


 
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A little diversity is not a bad thing.  Especially if you want some wildlife.  Oak trees seem to survive fires as good as any.  
 
Posts: 99
Location: New Zealand
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This is the biggie in permaculture; nativism vs development! I have this discussion fairly regularly, and I know my opinions are generally unpopular with the native-ecosystems people. Here's my take on it.

The 'nativist' argument essentially says that an ecosystem at time of human contact is the 'correct' system for that site. Everything done since needs to be weighed against the initial contact point ecosystem. Sometimes it is recognised that ecosystems have changed, but the argument then is that since human contact the rate of change has increased dramatically. But this viewpoint needs to be examined. Yes it is true that what you see in your local ecosystem is a fire-dependant grassland with some pretty amazing wildlife, but is it possible that this is not the 'original' ecosystem?  Maybe 100,000 years ago the area was all dense forest with a forest-induced rainfall of 50" rather than your current 23"? Perhaps some ecological catastrophe such as drought, fire etc changed the conditions in such a way as to freeze ecology in a primary succession grassland stage,maintained by massive herds of grazing herbivores that took advantage of the new ecology? Maybe the wildlife that the conservationist are trying to protect are actually something new that took advantage of a changed world.

IN my country the 'nativist' enthusiasts get all upset about plantings of non-native trees.The funny thing is a lot of the trees that are being planted occur in our fossil record, but had become extinct here by the time of human settlement (less than 1000 years ago).

My argument is essentially it is in our nature as humans to modify our surroundings to suit us, as a species we have been so good at this that we now threaten the entire world ecosystem. Everything we do changes something, when we build a house it upsets something that had occupied that site previously, this is inevitable. I think it is much better for thinking people with an environmental conscience to have a go at manipulating their environment in such a way as to make as little impact on the natural biodiversity as possible, than to try to protect a previous ecological balance in which we had no part, and that will become extinct without a sensitive hand on the inevitable changes that humans bring.

I believe adding diversity to a fire-dependant grassland ecosystem should be a very good thing (for the soil if nothing else!) but will need to be handled with extreme sensitivity to avoid fire risk.

I can't offer any advice about your specific situation, but the fact that you are asking the question and thinking ethically convinces me that you will make the right choices!
 
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Location: South.AZ - Winter Zone 9a - Summer Zone 10 - Sunset Zone 12 - Koppen-Geiger Zone BSh Hot Semi-Arid
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Go with the native ecology. Yes permaculture loves trees, but that is coming from particular ecosystems. If the native ecology in your area is productive and a closed system without trees, then that is where you are and what you have. Work with what you have, not against it. Work with the natural cycles and resources. That is a basic permaculture principle that supercedes trees. And then someday you can report back how your variation of tree less permaculture works, and we can all learn how to apply the principles in even more different environments!
 
steward
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I believe that a general history of your area might go something like this...

~20,000 years ago, glaciers were nearby, and the climate was cold and damp. Much of the vegetation consisted of firs, spruce, etc. That's the type of ecosystem that is currently found across Canada and Alaska.

~14,000 years ago, the climate was warming and the ecosystem tended towards deciduous forests or savanna.  

~13,000 years ago, Proboscidea disappeared, and an elephant dominated ecosystem was thrown way out of kilter. Humans arrived, and started burning the ecosystem, leading towards prairie formation.

~4,000 years ago pine forests became more common with changes in weather patterns.

~500 years ago, European diseases arrived, severely reducing the human population, leading to reduced burning and increased formation of woodlands.

~200 years ago the railroad arrived, and hauled off much of the woodlands.

It's unlikely that elephants will be restored as a keystone species, or that buffalo, horses, or camels will be allowed to roam free like they used to. It's likely that beavers will continue to be eradicated, so the land will continue a drying trend. In all probability, fire will continue to be banned as an ecosystem management tool. The past is permanently behind us. I think it cannot be undone.

So, that's a long-winded way of saying that you might as well throw the ethics out the window, and plant what you want, because the ecosystem is constantly changing, due to things within human control, and due to things outside human control. Seems to me that it's impossible to predict the outcome of our actions a decade, or a millennium down the road, so we might as well do what we think might make things better. I choose life. Any living plant is as good to me as any other. I don't worry about where they were previously living. I am part of nature. Nature is always moving plant propagules from place to place.

My definition of native plant is anything that is currently growing in the nearby wildlands.






 
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hau Denise, what a question you pose, there are perhaps as many answers as people that will respond.

I will break this down so that it is easier for me to make suggestions that would be viable to this situation.

Restoration of the great prairie lands, for this it would be feasible as long as you have plenty of land to work with or you have connecting neighbors that also want to create a broad area of restored prairie.
Now to do this right, you would also need a herd of Bison since these are the animals that helped keep the prairie in good shape for thousands of years.
There was a great diversity of grass plant species on the great prairie, so you would need buffalo grass, sweet grass, sages, plantain and a host of other plants (the great prairie was where many medicinal plants grew along with the grasses).

Planting trees,  While there was the odd tree scattered about, they tended to be very spotty and in clumps of same species, these were far between each other (miles between clumps of trees).
The species were oaks, pines and cedars(juniper until you got near the now Canadian border where true cedars could be found along the western border of the prairie.

Fire was (and is) the main disturbance factor, today humans strive to put out the rejuvenating fires as quickly as possible, thus depleting the soil of nutrients that used to be recycled because of the fires.

Since it was cattle farming that changed the plant kingdom of the prairie and that created the disappearance of animals habitats, the animals left to find spots where they could live.
Wolves were abundant according to prey availability, cattle are convenient prey since they are fenced in so naturally the rancher's decided that the wolf was the enemy and proceeded to kill all of the wolves they could.
This means the animal diversity is also gone and to do a proper restoration of prairie, you have to be able to bring back the whole system, not just parts of it. Bones of prey are an important part of an ecosystem, they give calcium and other minerals back to the soil.

Since we are human beings (as opposed to beans (like the ranchers are for the most part)) we want to bring back what nature had selected as the ideal ecosystem for this area.
The question is "if we don't have hundreds of thousands of acres to do this on, can we still manage to do a restoration.
We can do Restoration of prairie lands but we will never be able to restore the great prairie, that would be impossible without full cooperation of all the people living in the great prairie.

Now to doing this sort of thing on an individual basis.

If you have enough land to support your family with food and there is acreage left over, then you are in the position of being able to do both, feed your family and restore a bit of the prairie for animal habitat.
The more left over land you have, the bigger your restoration of prairie and that means there will be more animal diversity habitat available for them.
Since we have to be able to live at least mostly like we want to live, we need to take our own needs and put these at the top of our list so we don't become discouraged later on and undo that restoration we did in the beginning.

For a homestead to also be a restoration project area usually requires a minimum of 10 acres if you are not going to raise animals larger than geese (goats, hogs, sheep, cattle, all will need a minimum of 10 acres for best pasturing practices).

Personal observations.
I have worked with only a few farms that did meaningful restoration projects that lasted, these were farms of 10,000 acres and up to 1 million + acres of total land area.
On each of these farms a 5% portion of the farm total land area was set aside for the restoration project and these projects are still in place. (this is probably because they get an "allowance" from the USDA for keeping the restoration in place)
On the few farms that were smaller than 10,000 acres, none still have their restoration area in place, all have been either sold off to developers or the area was reincorporated into working fields.

Conclusion.

Doing a restoration project on a homestead is possible but only with completion of a total, overall plan on paper for determination of viability so that the restoration work isn't undone in later years for need of that land for food production/ living spaces.

Redhawk
 
pollinator
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Folks above have already made some good points, but here are a few more...

Many (not all) of the ecological benefits of burning prairie can be achieved through high-density, short-duration mob grazing of livestock. Alan Savory argues that the reason the prairies are so dependent on fire is that they aren't getting the intensity of disturbance they need from livestock. As I understand it, prior to the native Americans' arrival, mastodons and mammoths provided that disturbance. When the native Americans exterminated the native megafauna, they found they had to introduce regular burning to keep the land in prairie for the bison. So regular burning is not native to the landscape -- mob grazing is.

If your land is crucial to a species' or ecosystem's survival, your local Nature Conservancy will know, and it might make sense to restore prairie on your land and use land elsewhere for your own needs. But if they don't jump at the chance to restore your land, it probably makes more sense to follow permaculture's advice and provide for your own needs.

The climate is changing, rapidly. In a few years western Oklahoma will be more like Arizona. Maybe prepare for that biome instead?
 
denise ra
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Redhawk,
Thank you for sharing your practical experience. I don't have 10,000 acres so your observations about restorations not lasting ring true for me, especially when I am gone.
denise
 
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Permaculture is not synonymous with planting trees.  While it is very important to incorporate trees in certain scenarios, and it is Very important globally to do so, trees are not necessary in all landscapes.  

That said, if you did plan to put in some apple, pear, hazelnut, and plum trees (for instance), on a sparse savanna type approach, you could carefully burn the area around them and outwards from them, and then watering the trees, before burning the area in general.  The fire damage to trees should be minimized.

The most difficult part of a project of prairie restoration, is likely to be finding the correct seeds/plants to get involved in it to make it function properly.

Most prairie ecosystems thrived under not only fire, but under sporadic but very heavy ungulate herd disturbance (including wallows that were deep pits), as well as prairie dog colonies, and badgers digging them out.  So I would think that you don't need to be shy with doing some landscaping to enhance water retention, etc.

While restoring the native system is clearly important to you, putting food on the table might also gain some high priority, and keeping your zone one/two garden scene is probably in your best interest regardless of what you plan to do in your greater property.    
 
denise ra
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Ben Stallings,
They burn pasture where the farm is. There are also some Nature Conservancy sites in the general area. Perhaps I will permaculture my land and do my volunteering and donations at those sites.
Thank you,
denise
 
denise ra
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Robert P,
You make good points and the information about burning and trees is helpful. I plan on mob grazing cattle when the current drought ends and earthworks are at the top of my to-do list.
Thank you,
denise
 
pollinator
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Considering the changing nature of the climate, I think it would be prudent to take measures to counter aridity, not simply survive it. That is, it might be a good idea to start a regreening project in anticipation of coming events.

In this case, the limited scale of the suggested restoration wouldn't do as much good for the existing native elements as, for instance, increasing soil water infiltration with on-contour swales and water-retaining surface contours, planting deeply-taprooted trees whose perspiration makes rain, along with a planned savannah or more densely-populated alley-cropped food forest, or something like that.

Such development, deeply-taprooted trees pumping water up from underground to hydrate the surrounding environment, is likely to enhance the ability of the native species remaining to survive a shift of the climate to the arid side.

It is good to note that the same species that make up the prairie ecosystem can be worked with in this context, such that they thrive and release seed into the environment through their natural dispersal mechanisms. I think it could be possible to alley-crop on-contour with tree species selected for your purposes, but some obviously to fill nitrogen-fixing and hydraulic lift functions, sheltering and nurturing lush swaths of restored prairie biome-in-miniature, as long as you were prepared either to design around a regular burn plan, or get scale-appropriate bison analogues to graze the alley paddocks in succession.

It's good to know that there are people asking these questions. In the context of a changing climate, though, I think it's a lot like doing earthworks on land that you are familiar with; there's a certain reluctance to kill what's already there, even though you know that the land as a whole will benefit, even as you will, from, say, more water retention on the land, or erosion control, or warmer microclimates. But the good things that you do will benefit what's down wind of you, just as anything in the path of the increased water plume you create will benefit.

I would love to see whatever pics you'd care to share, Denise. Let us know how it goes, and good luck.

-CK
 
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I agree with those who say that a "prairie restoration" isn't likely without all the elements of a real prairie - large area, fire, bison.  I do think, however, that some prairie species can be integrated into a permaculture design, that the design itself could be modeled on some elements of the prairie.  Many prairie species are useful or edible.  My land used to be mostly Tallgrass Prairie, a couple hundred years ago, and I'm trying to restore species which have been extirpated by poor grazing practices.  But I decided some years ago that I could not do a true prairie restoration on such a small parcel of land (20 acres) which has changed so much since that time.  So I am trying instead to restore the watershed and reintroduce native species of plants, especially those which are edible and useful, either to me or to the non-human folks who live here.

 
Ben Waimata
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I am from another country and do not know the local scene, but I wonder, is there valid reason to suggest the open praire subject to fire and bison graze is really the optimal ecology for the zone? Is it possible that the fire/bison formed ecology is itself a damaged ecological version of what was there earlier... and by implication, what could be there now?

Deeper ethical issue; we assume ecological changes outside of human interference are 'natural', but perhaps we could say interference by our animal species is actually also a natural occurrence? Yes we need to consider the needs of the wildlife in our zones of influence, but do we need to define things in terms of natural/unnatural? Even the most human-degraded ecosystems can become surprising homes for often unexpected wildlife adapting to changed situations. Adaptation has always been the reality of life.  
 
Tyler Ludens
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Ben Waimata wrote:I am from another country and do not know the local scene, but I wonder, is there valid reason to suggest the open praire subject to fire and bison graze is really the optimal ecology for the zone?



The North American Prairie ecosystem was the most productive ecosystem on Earth next to the Tropical Rain Forest, so I think it might be a challenge to come up with a system which is more productive in this region.  I think it is a worthy goal for humans to develop more productive sustainable systems, and I think we can learn a lot from previous and existing models.



 
Ben Waimata
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Tyler Ludens wrote:

Ben Waimata wrote:I am from another country and do not know the local scene, but I wonder, is there valid reason to suggest the open praire subject to fire and bison graze is really the optimal ecology for the zone?



The North American Prairie ecosystem was the most productive ecosystem on Earth next to the Tropical Rain Forest, so I think it might be a challenge to come up with a system which is more productive in this region.  I think it is a worthy goal for humans to develop more productive sustainable systems, and I think we can learn a lot from previous and existing models.





Sounds great Tyler.


For the sake of the ignorant (me!)  can you define in what way the prairie ecosystem is the most productive in the world? I've always been inclined to think of fire-dependant ecosystems as sub-optimal., which may be an entirely anthropocentric assumption based on the 'RUN AWAY!!!' emotional response I had to fire when living in Australia.
 
Tyler Ludens
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"Prairies historically covered 170 million acres of North America. This sea of grass stretched from the Rocky Mountains to east of the Mississippi River and from Saskatchewan, south to Texas. It was the continent's largest continuous ecosystem supporting an enormous quantity of plants and animals. Prairies began appearing in the mid-continent from 8,000 to 10,000 years ago and have developed into one of the most complicated and diverse ecosystems in the world, surpassed only by the rainforest of Brazil."

https://www.nps.gov/tapr/learn/nature/a-complex-prairie-ecosystem.htm



"We may never again equal the product yield of of the 60 million bison on the American prairies, with their unnumbered associated hordes of pronghorn and mule deer, and a host of minor species."  Bill Mollison, Permaculture A Designers Manual, page 436

Elsewhere in the Designers Manual Mollison goes into more detail about the greater productivity of well-managed wild systems versus domestic.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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I think that it should be noted that the majority of the great plains have been slowly drying out since the last Ice Age, and the southern part of it even more so.

Consider that the Ice was a mile thick, and very dense, and all that water had to go somewhere.  Great Lakes, much larger but also shallower than the existing Great Lakes, covered the Northern stretches of this region, and varied in size and shape due to land upheavals (called isostatic rebound), after the weight of the great ice sheets was removed.  

The rest of the area was full of smaller lakes, ponds, sloughs, creeks and rivers, and went through a variety of shifting ecological zones shortly after the glaciers receded and in the thousands of years since then.  Also, these huge shallow lakes and the surrounding area teemed with beavers the size of grizzly bears which had an enormous impact on how the landscape held water, nutrients, and diverse ecologies, including shifting conifer/poplar-cottonwood/prairie/lake-shore mosaics.  The depth of soils of the prairies was at least partially initiated in these semi or fully aquatic systems and forest processes.  

From my understanding, the continental interior has always been prone to lightning storms and thus fire has always been present.   That said, the elimination of the giant beavers, as well as mastodon, as mentioned previously in this thread, played a huge role in the transition of this ecosystem towards dryness, and thus towards fire proneness and, consequently the fire dependency of some of it's systems for renewal rather than flooding or herding impact.  Further, the use of fire by indigenous peoples to drive herds of animals to desired ambushes, extended the role that this element had on the landscape's ecosystems.  

On top of all this, the drying of the prairies has of course been exacerbated by poor agricultural and animal husbandry in the last couple hundred years as well as the elimination of it's last great mega fauna, the bison.   Bison very successfully took over the role of primary renewal agent, which, along with lightning/fire created a very robust, dynamic, and vast ecosystem.  After the elimination of the giant beavers, and the natural receding of these ancient lake systems, the region began to dry more and more toward prairie systems.  The great ungulate herds and fire increasingly created the mosaics of dynamic stability that indeed lasted for thousands of years.   But the extended history of that area is much more complex than is commonly understood.    
 
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Permaculture zones 1 through 4 are all managed systems, thus, trees would make sense in your context.  But zone 5 is wild and unmanaged.  For many biospheres, this would mean allowing this land to go back to forest, if it currently is not forested.  But in your case, zone 5 would be a prairie ecosystem.

Let it grow, and if you can find a way to both mob-graze it as well as occasionally burn it, all the better.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Marco Banks wrote:  But in your case, zone 5 would be a prairie ecosystem.



It would only be prairie if the elements of prairie were restored - fire and bison.  Otherwise it will naturally become forest.  Our land, once Tallgrass Prairie, is now almost entirely covered with forest.  The management needed to return the land to prairie would eliminate the possibility of it being actual Zone 5.  There are people who believe that the grazing behavior of domestic cattle is sufficiently different from that of bison for the two species to not be considered interchangeable.

Example reference:  http://www.bioone.org/doi/10.2111/REM-D-12-00113.1

The presence of domestic grazing animals on land would make it by definition not Zone 5 in Mollisonian permaculture.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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Thats a real great link, Tyler.  It would seem that Bison and Cattle behavior is not at all analogous.  I thought there would be more similarities.   It would take a great cattleman/woman to figure out a management strategy so that cattle would have similar impacts for sure!    In my opinion, everyone interested in cattle for prairie restoration should read that short article.  I knew there would be difference but this is truly eye opening.
 
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Everything humans do has an impact on our ecology, generally a negative impact.  Short of mass suicide, the best we can hope for is to reduce our negative impact as much as possible.

The reason the Prairies are disappearing is primarily because they are so easily converted over into farmland to grow food for the teaming hordes of humans.

Unless you have huge tracts of land, you won't be able to "restore" enough prairie to actually BE a prairie, or to make any difference.

A food forest, if done properly, can reduce the amount of land required to support a given number of humans and, if done in a permaculture way, will greatly reduce the environmental impact of growing that food.

If all you have is an acre or two, you can't create a "prairie" on that anyway, so it's a moot point.  If you have a LOT of land and want to restore it to prairie, go ahead, but consider setting an acre or two aside for a food forest so you reduce YOUR impact on the environment.  If enough people do that it adds up and eventually will make a difference.

That, of course, is just my opinion and I'm no expert on the subject so take it for what it's worth.
 
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I am in the middle of that declining grassland. Wheat fields all around me and where there are people there are horses. Lots of horses. That's what killed our land. We've been planting a bazillion seeds, doing earthworks and...planting trees. There is no way we'll ever turn out property into a food forest. I've accepted that. I want trees though. I want shade. I want fruit and nuts. Me, Me, Me. The area around where I've been planting trees looks great. The area where I haven't done anything, still dead. So I'll keep on keeping on and rest assured woodlands would be a fairy dream in my area.
 
Tyler Ludens
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elle sagenev wrote: I want trees though. I want shade.



I believe some of us are People of the Trees and some of us are People of the Grass.  Some of us are even People of the Desert (colloquially known as "Desert Rats").  I know I am a Person of the Trees.  I only feel comfortable when I am surrounded by trees and shade.
 
Marco Banks
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Tyler Ludens wrote:

Marco Banks wrote:  But in your case, zone 5 would be a prairie ecosystem.



It would only be prairie if the elements of prairie were restored - fire and bison.  Otherwise it will naturally become forest.  Our land, once Tallgrass Prairie, is now almost entirely covered with forest.  The management needed to return the land to prairie would eliminate the possibility of it being actual Zone 5.  There are people who believe that the grazing behavior of domestic cattle is sufficiently different from that of bison for the two species to not be considered interchangeable.

Example reference:  http://www.bioone.org/doi/10.2111/REM-D-12-00113.1

The presence of domestic grazing animals on land would make it by definition not Zone 5 in Mollisonian permaculture.



Great point and fascinating article, Tyler.

 
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First and foremost, permaculture is an agricultural system. The intention is to provide for people first and foremost, but with a heavy emphasis on working with natural systems. It seems at times that permaculture gets conflated with a lot of other competing ideologies; rewilding, native plants, vegetarian/veganism, mysticism. I'm not saying that those don't necessarily have a place, but the overriding intention of permaculture has always been to provide for people. And a large part of the techniques we use cause modification to the general environment, whether through earthworks, planting or management.

Thus, when considering what to do with land, I feel that you should consider what you are doing in the context of typical agricultural practices in your area, and not based on some imagined pre-human intervention ideal.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Michael Cox wrote:First and foremost, permaculture is an agricultural system. The intention is to provide for people first and foremost



Not according to Bill Mollison, who taught that the first rule of permaculture is "Care of the Earth"

Mollison wrote clearly about the goal of permaculture to return most of the land to wild nature.  

"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."    Bill Mollison, Permaculture a Designers Manual, page 6-7

 
Peter VanDerWal
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If you ask 10 different people what "Permaculture" means, you'll get at least 12 different answers, some of those answers will likely be diametrically opposed.

Initially, the word "Permaculture" means Permanent Agriculture.  Others feel it should be Permanent Culture.  Regardless, humans are definitely involved and are an integral part of the concept.

I would guess that the vast majority of people see Permaculture as a sustainable way of growing food.

In my opinion, the purpose/intent of permaculture is growing food.  The rules/methods on how to go about growing food should focus on doing our best to heal/support the biosphere.  The results of permaculture may very well be rehabilitation of natural systems.

Purpose/intent, Rules/methods and Results are all completely different aspects.
 
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A lot of really good points have been raised so far in this conversation. I'd like to toss a couple more into the mix (points anyway...whether they are good is a matter of interpretation): How we treat zone 5 in design, and the building or restoration of prairie soils.

Zone 5, since it's the last one in the list and often the furthest out topologically, tends to occupy less of our collective head space when we do a site survey and design. The role of humans in a landscape has always been to alter it: ever since we became demonstrably "human" with the exploitation of tools and fire, we have actively modified every ecosystem we spread to. Although this has nearly always been done with agency, it wasn't always with regard to longer term consequences. That was learned the hard way and if the end results were too destructive the humans in an over-exploited region would die out or be forced to move on, and the stories would become part of the cultural fabric as cautionary tales and lessons to live by.

Over time, ecosystems and humans have shaped one another and resulted in resilient and productive systems. The Great Plains is (was) perhaps the most dramatic example, both in the speed of its development and the massive biodiversity and underlying fertility it contained. Listen to any of the stories of the people who created and were in turn created by this ecosystem, and you will appreciate how deeply they understood the roles of water, wind, fire, bison, and themselves as inseparable parts of the balance and bounty of the prairie.

This was all prior to the advent of large scale disturbances caused by irrigation of drylands, where large and complex cultures developed comparatively quickly in places like Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Mesoamerica. For the first time, huge surpluses of high-value embodied energy could be stored in the form of grains, and used as tools of power. But in every case except one, the best soils were destroyed by salinisation from irrigation and the cultures either had to conquer others to maintain a productive base, or die off as their crops failed. The exception was Egypt, where the cyclical floods of the Nile not only deposited a fresh dressing of nutrients every time but also carried away the excess salts which built up in the root zone of the fertile lands (and this era came to a close in 1963 when the Aswan High Dam was completed...now Egypt can no longer feed its own people).

The conquering armies and rulers spread grain farming into regions where irrigation was not a requirement, and this led to a period of massive population growth: first in temperate parts of the Old World, and then spreading into the Western Hemisphere. By the time white settlers reached the tallgrass prairie, they ran into an almost unbelievable treasure in the form of biological outputs all resting on -- and at the same time creating -- the fertility of the soil. But that soil was a creation of all the parts of the prairie, and from the first moldboard that sliced into the sod, the first bison shot for sport, and the first band of people hunted off their own lands, that creation was cut off and from then on the soil was mined. In less than a century most of the plains were turned to farmland, and we all know what happened when the western reaches got converted and then a drought came along.

All this is by way of saying that if you're in the Great Plains and you are doing permaculture, you'll probably want to think about how zone 5 relates to what you're doing and put soil creation at the forefront of what you plan to do. Fire just might be off the table unless you've got huge swaths of land and neighbours whose heads are in the same place as yours. Mob grazing is probably one of the best tools in the kit. Perennial grasses are certainly foundational, and there is really interesting work in this area with folks like Wes Jackson. Trees have their part to play, too, and lots of times when we are creating or recreating soil fertility we bring these into the picture even though they aren't dominant in the wild landscape...let's face it, there is almost no virgin prairie left so anything you do at this point is succession planting and not preservation of a climax ecosystem.
 
Phil Stevens
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Tyler Ludens wrote:

Marco Banks wrote:  But in your case, zone 5 would be a prairie ecosystem.



It would only be prairie if the elements of prairie were restored - fire and bison.  Otherwise it will naturally become forest.  Our land, once Tallgrass Prairie, is now almost entirely covered with forest.  The management needed to return the land to prairie would eliminate the possibility of it being actual Zone 5.  There are people who believe that the grazing behavior of domestic cattle is sufficiently different from that of bison for the two species to not be considered interchangeable.

Example reference:  http://www.bioone.org/doi/10.2111/REM-D-12-00113.1

The presence of domestic grazing animals on land would make it by definition not Zone 5 in Mollisonian permaculture.



Tyler, you raise a couple of great points. However, west of the 100th meridian, undisturbed prairie would turn more into scrubland/savanna than forest, and from Kansas southward there would be a lot of cactus and yucca in that scrub. Especially as the climate warms and that region dries out to become the Great American Desert after all.

Also. you point out that massive herds of grazing animals were an integral part of the prairie in its precolonial state. I'd say that qualifies a mob (even a domestic one) as part of zone 5 by function if managed in a way that produces similar effects. I guess we have to admit that we're only working with certain features and we probably won't teach cattle to make wallows. Maybe run some hogs around as well?
 
Tyler Ludens
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Zone 5 by definition does not contain domestic animals.  What you are describing is Zone 4.

"Zone 4  This zone is an area bordering on forest or wilderness, but still managed for wild gathering, forest and fuel needs of the household, pasture or range, and is planted to hardy, unpruned, or volunteer trees."

"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."

Bill Mollison, Permaculture A Designers Manual, page 50


Some of us have such damaged and degraded land that we can't have true Zone 5 - as I think I mentioned, in the absence of the elements of the prairie, we can't have a prairie.  My land can't be prairie, and it is in such a state of transition that it needs to be managed.  In the absence of a functional ecosystem (the important component of native predators is largely missing), it appears to require constant human intervention.

More discussion of Zone 5:  https://permies.com/t/56225/permaculture-projects/Mollison-Permaculture-Zones-happened-Zone
 
Tyler Ludens
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Peter VanDerWal wrote:
In my opinion, the purpose/intent of permaculture is growing food.



"Permaculture (permanent agriculture) is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems.  It is the harmonious integration of landscape and people providing their food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way."   Bill Mollison, Permaculture A Designers Manual, Preface.

So, a whole lot more than just growing food.

 
elle sagenev
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Phil Stevens wrote:

Tyler Ludens wrote:

Marco Banks wrote:  But in your case, zone 5 would be a prairie ecosystem.



It would only be prairie if the elements of prairie were restored - fire and bison.  Otherwise it will naturally become forest.  Our land, once Tallgrass Prairie, is now almost entirely covered with forest.  The management needed to return the land to prairie would eliminate the possibility of it being actual Zone 5.  There are people who believe that the grazing behavior of domestic cattle is sufficiently different from that of bison for the two species to not be considered interchangeable.

Example reference:  http://www.bioone.org/doi/10.2111/REM-D-12-00113.1

The presence of domestic grazing animals on land would make it by definition not Zone 5 in Mollisonian permaculture.



Tyler, you raise a couple of great points. However, west of the 100th meridian, undisturbed prairie would turn more into scrubland/savanna than forest, and from Kansas southward there would be a lot of cactus and yucca in that scrub. Especially as the climate warms and that region dries out to become the Great American Desert after all.

Also. you point out that massive herds of grazing animals were an integral part of the prairie in its precolonial state. I'd say that qualifies a mob (even a domestic one) as part of zone 5 by function if managed in a way that produces similar effects. I guess we have to admit that we're only working with certain features and we probably won't teach cattle to make wallows. Maybe run some hogs around as well?



yup. In Wyoming the mountains have trees, the rivers have trees and everywhere else there are trees, people did it.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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elle sagenev wrote:yup. In Wyoming the mountains have trees, the rivers have trees and everywhere else there are trees, people did it.



When I was a child, I planted about 300 trees with my father into Zone 5. Approximately 10 of them are still alive.
 
elle sagenev
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:

elle sagenev wrote:yup. In Wyoming the mountains have trees, the rivers have trees and everywhere else there are trees, people did it.



When I was a child, I planted about 300 trees with my father into Zone 5. Approximately 10 of them are still alive.



The winds are the worst I've ever seen here. Even heavily watered trees are dying. So I feel that!
 
denise ra
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Phil Stevens wrote:All this is by way of saying that if you're in the Great Plains and you are doing permaculture, you'll probably want to think about how zone 5 relates to what you're doing and put soil creation at the forefront of what you plan to do. Fire just might be off the table unless you've got huge swaths of land and neighbours whose heads are in the same place as yours. Mob grazing is probably one of the best tools in the kit. Perennial grasses are certainly foundational, and there is really interesting work in this area with folks like Wes Jackson. Trees have their part to play, too, and lots of times when we are creating or recreating soil fertility we bring these into the picture even though they aren't dominant in the wild landscape...let's face it, there is almost no virgin prairie left so anything you do at this point is succession planting and not preservation of a climax ecosystem.


They prescribe burn 5000-10000 acres/year in the area where the farm is as there is a national grassland there, so burning in a thing there. The extension agent suggested burning 1/3 of the pastures a year. I'm game. Isn't Wes Jackson working on perennial grasses for people to eat? This is dryland, no irrigation, so pasture is probably better for the land than farming. I'm enjoying the ongoing discussion here as it is helping me see a picture that is larger than both permaculture and restoration ecology.
denise
 
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Hi, Denise.

I'm pretty much with Redhawk on this one.

"Permaculture" is a deliberate human thing (ending in culture, I would dare to say--though I can hear people getting their slingshots ready right now--means human. And...well, it serves humans.

Savannah is efficient. It has a chance of payjng you enough in biomass and whatever else that your plans don't go boink. So I guess "Bill Mollison telling me to plant trees" is sorta Bill Mollison trying to give you the best shot he had. (We'd like to think anybody who cared about us would.) Choose a less efficient biome, the risks get higher, the returns lower.

To recreate the prairie is pretty much out of anyone's control (at least under the given circumstances).
Since there can't really be a backward, we're doing our best to pack for a forward.
 
denise ra
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Is there a list somewhere of fast-growing trees which can recover or resprout after fire? Koppen climate classification - cfa Humid Subtropical ('a' is for arid). Southern Plains of Western Oklahoma zone 7a.
The trees would be for smaller windbreaks and shade for cattle maybe. Perhaps Paulownia, though some say it is invasive and some say it's native to the area.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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fire resistant plants and trees

fire resistant plants and trees pdf from FS.Fed.US.
 
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I can't read all the replies now to see if this has been brought up...but why not hybridize? You may never be able to create a real genuine prairie again, but you can have pastures full of native (think used to droughts) grasses and wildflowers, substitute bison for domestic cattle on rotation, and still have areas (like zone 1 or 2) that are heavy on trees. This would still help the native flora and fauna much more than what they have now, you'd have drought resistant pastures, and you'd have tons of edge habitats that way...all while creating a sustainable food system for yourself, your family, your community, or whatever your goal there is.

 
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