[permaculture] Prairies and Forests

Carla McAuley carlamcauley at earthlink.net
Tue Jul 9 11:07:51 EDT 2002

Glad to hear from people around Elgin, TX.  I lived halfway between Elgin
and Bastrop and my ex-husband is still editor of the Bastrop Advertiser.
Now I'm in Montana.

No one has mentioned yaupon holly.  The historical record indicates that the
land between Florida and Texas was a big, almost impassable, yaupon thicket
that DeSoto and other early explorers had to hack their way through.  What
info do you have about the historical distribution of grasslands vs.
forests?  And is the Big Thicket a forest?  I enclose a little file on the
Big Thicket national preserve near Beaumont, which is all that's left of the
mucho grande thicket.

I thought there was some evidence that forests affect the climate strongly,
holding onto water and slowing heat absorption.  So when you say, "This is
why forest peters out as the landscape gets more
droughty," it's a case of circular causation and a question of which way the
edge is moving -- toward moisture and forest or toward desert.

Good discussion.  Thanks everyone.

-----Original Message-----
From: permaculture-admin at lists.ibiblio.org
[mailto:permaculture-admin at lists.ibiblio.org]On Behalf Of Kirby Fry
Sent: Tuesday, July 09, 2002 6:19 AM
To: permaculture at lists.ibiblio.org
Subject: Re: [permaculture] Prairies and Forests

Hi Mark,

Nice to hear from you again.  I am an advocate of prairie restoration, and
have heard of several first hand accounts of small remnant prairies being
swallowed up by woody encroachment.  The incredible loss of native
grasslands is quite tragic.

In 1995 we hosted and attended the USNRCS three day burn certification
course at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose, Texas.  We would have
done a burn at Fossil Rim had their been enough fuel on the ground, however,
between the giraffes and red elks their was hardly any leaf litter to burn.
A couple of years later I witnessed several grass fires being fought down
wind from US Hwy 67.  Nothing like watching a back fire and head fire crash
into one another, though.

>>  Compared to the amount of CO2 from fossil fuels the controlled burns we
do these days are insignificant.  <<

Compared to CO2 emissions from fossil fuels around the world, yes controlled
burns performed for prairie restoration in the U.S.A. would be miniscule.
Burning as an age old tool of humanity, however, has contributed
significantly to CO2 in the air, as well as to the degradation of the flora
which keep the earth's atmosphere stable.  Just look at Australia, which has
been burned by humans for around 100,000 years.  It's mostly desert now.

When we started building dams and irrigating our crops, we had a hard time
foreseeing any problems with that until the lands started salting up.

I would even venture to say that fire has historically been our primary tool
for clearing and degrading the land.  So please excuse me if I'm leery of
this "new and improved" method of torching the earth.  People will continue
to burn, I have no doubt, but I'm speaking out to let them know that there
is opposition to prescribed burning and that there are alternatives for
ecosystem restoration and maintenance.

>>  Plenty of trees being planted in the Midwest, more than we have going
into prairie.  <<

Glad to hear it.  My friend did mention that in northern WI, there is ample
woodland restoration.  In Texas, my hope is that we can agree that a prairie
is an infusion of grasslands and woodlands, and that when we're talking
prairie restoration we're talking trees as well as grasses and forbes.  I
believe that the trees are what make prairies different from grasslands
otherwise they would be the same word.  The French coined both the words
prairie and motte when they came to Texas to describe the emotional edge
between the Eastern Forest and the Central Grasslands.

>>  Cattle are much easier to manage and have a nearly identical function if
they are managed properly.  Bison are far more likely to get you killed or
injured than a grass fire will.

I agree, and would like to find out more about the intensive cell grazing of
cattle and its effects on prairie disturbance.  I've studied with Alan
Savory and heard a lot about Holistic Management and would like to see it in
use in lou of fire.  I've also heard of bison tamed enough to be moved
around in portable electric fencing.

>>  Prairie is much more stable in a drought than forests are.  Trees can't
shed above ground bio-mass and go dormant nearly as effectively as
grasslands.  This is why forest peters out as the landscape gets more
droughty.  <<

Yes, as the coastal forest belts move further inland they naturally give way
to grasslands and savannas, and as we clear the forests and begin to
dessicate the interior of the continent those droughty conditions are
pushing ever outwards.  As a matter of fact the whole of North America is
dryer, more brittle (less biological decay) and more tender, therefor more
susceptable to drought and wild fire.

This is not an argument for introducing more drought tollerant ecosystems,
however, rather it is an alarm signalling that we need to reforest the
coastal belts and rehumidify the interior of the continent.

>>  Our biggest problem is getting them to limit the size of burns to
provide insect refuges.  <<

I've been following this topic on the prairie mailing list.  It seems to be
a double edged sword.

>>  Want to stop global warming?  Promote good grass land development with
large grazers  <<

I'm still looking for credible studies on carbon sequestering and O2
production.  Prairie enthusiasts, when arguing their case often make it soud
like we'd be better of with nothing but grasslands - i.e. prairies have more
diversity, more bio-mass, sequester more carbon, etc., etc.  How could
forests need protecting when woody brush invasion is such a problem?

As I've mentioned, I'm all for grassland development as long as it's done
without fire and without systematically removing trees.  Aren't there enough
degraded ag and pasture lands to work with?  North America has been stripped
of its bio-mass and wildlife.  I feel we've done enough burning and clearing
for a milinium or so.  It's time to see what we can do for the earth without
promoting destructive management regimes.  Using the ends to justify the
means isn't a sell for me.

>> I do not speak for this tree hating community you imagine.  I don't think
it really exists as some great and influential mass.  <<

Come to Texas and attend some of the brush management seminars that are
being put on by the fed and state agencies and you will experience the
community I'm talking about.  The historical evidence, at least in Texas,
strongly indicates that cedar and mesquite were quite prominant in the
landscap and that it was people, not lightning, that started burning Texas.
So the aggies and restoration and native plant societies have managed to
implement a management doctrine that is counter to historical records.
That's influential enough to cause alarm for me.

Thanks for all of your in put, Mark.

Kirby Fry

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