Wednesday April 24, 2019
Home Lead Story Combating Ove...

Combating Overgrazing To Fight Climate Change: Ranchers

Financial incentives might help other ranchers make changes, he adds.

0
//
Ranch
Grasslands and the soils beneath them act as giant carbon sinks, the report notes. Flickr

Meredith Ellis gets a bit rapturous about the little patch of earth under her feet.

When she bought this northern Texas land several years ago, it was overgrazed and overrun with weeds. Now, she’s thrilled to find a dark green blob of fungus she rolls under her sparkly-nail-polished thumb. She picks a tiny patch of the green moss from between clumps of tall brown grass gone dormant with the fall chill.

“Look at all these little bits of biodiversity,” she said. “That’s like a little fantasy world going on in there.”

Bringing it back has been a labor of love — love of the G Bar C Ranch where she grew up, and for the 4-year-old son she’s raising here.

“Everything I do, I think about him now,” she said. “I think about his future, and what is this world going to look like when he’s my age?”

Ellis worries about the droughts, floods and other calamities he may face from climate change. She wonders if there even will be enough food to go around.

It’s a big reason why she raises her cattle a bit differently than most.

The differences not only help to combat climate change. They also provide more clean water. They can even save ranchers money. And if one project goes forward, farmers may get financial rewards for making the changes.

Meadows vs. lawns

Ellis’s fields look like meadows. Her cattle forage among an assortment of thigh-high native grasses.

Ranch
Many of the steps ranchers could take to earn ecosystem service credits would help their bottom lines on ranch anyway. VOA

Other ranches nearby look like giant lawns. Cows have grazed the grass monocultures nearly down to the ground.

The difference matters, says rangeland scientist Jeff Goodwin with the Noble Research Institute, because the native grass is “not only feeding this cow herd. It’s also feeding the underground herd: the microbes, the biology in the soil. That’s what really makes that soil an active, living, breathing system.”

It’s a system with the potential to remove tremendous amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

“The more forage production that we’re getting, the deeper the root systems, the more carbon we’re sequestering out of the atmosphere,” Goodwin added.

That’s increasingly important. Scientists warn that the world needs to do more than just stop producing greenhouse gases in order to avoid the worst of climate change. Carbon dioxide needs to be actively removed from the atmosphere in order to keep the planet from potentially catastrophic warming.

Ranch
Bufflo Ranch. Flickr

While engineers puzzle over high-tech solutions, a recent report from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine says nature offers tools that are ready to go today.

Valuable ecosystem services

Grasslands and the soils beneath them act as giant carbon sinks, the report notes.

But not if they are overgrazed.

Around the world, one estimate says, about 200 million hectares are overgrazed, an area roughly the size of Mexico.

One study estimates that optimizing grazing could cut greenhouse gas emissionsby about 89 million metric tons, roughly the same as permanently parking 19 million cars.

Plus, overgrazed land erodes more easily. That’s a double whammy. Ranchers lose fertile soil, and it ends up muddying drinking water downstream, which increases the cost to make it tap-ready.

On the other hand, healthy grassland soils that store carbon also store and filter water.

Those benefits should be worth money, Goodwin said. They’re known as ecosystem services, and the Noble Research Institute is working to develop a marketplace for them. Ranchers would earn credits based on their soil’s carbon content and its water storage and filtration capacity.

Ranch
Horse Ranch. Flickr

Some major food and beverage companies are interested in the market. Many have set goals to improve sustainability up and down their supply chains.

“There’s not really a solid path forward” for many of them to meet those goals, Goodwin said. “We feel like we’re sitting in a very good position to be able to provide that opportunity.”

All profits from the soil

Many of the steps ranchers could take to earn ecosystem service credits would help their bottom lines anyway.

“A lot of people want to talk about soil health building as a thing to do for the environment. But really, it’s something we need to be doing for our profitability as well,” said Michael Vance, managing partner at Stark Ranch, a short drive from Ellis’ operation.

“All your profit comes from the soil,” he added.

He stood in a field where cattle had recently been grazing, but you’d never know it. The grass still stood tall. His neighbors don’t understand why he doesn’t let the cows graze it all the way down. They think he’s wasting it.

Also Read: Climate Change To Get Worse in The Future: Study

“We get phone calls where people want to drive a bailer in here and bail up this grass, but they don’t realize the positives that come by leaving it standing,” he said.

The field grows more grass when cattle are moved off it sooner. That means Vance buys less feed.

Even if it’s more profitable, it’s not easy for people to change their ways, and ranchers are a conservative bunch.

“You realize things that you were raised doing, things that your dad and your granddad did, maybe weren’t the best things to do,” Vance said, “from an environmental perspective, maybe from even a profitability perspective.”

Financial incentives might help other ranchers make changes, he adds.

The Noble Research Institute plans to launch a pilot ecosystem services market in 2019 and is aiming for a full rollout in 2022. (VOA)

Next Story

Denis Hayes- Earth Day Founder Predicts 2020 will be Turning Point in Global Climate Change Movement

"I'm confident that the end is in sight. When conditions are right, people are ready to demand change, and America can turn on a dime," Hayes told reporters

0
earth day, climate change
FILE - A man walks past a mural the day before Earth Day, in Philadelphia, April 21, 2017. VOA

Denis Hayes, the man credited with founding Earth Day, predicted 2020 will be a turning point in the global climate change movement.

“I’m confident that the end is in sight. When conditions are right, people are ready to demand change, and America can turn on a dime,” Hayes told reporters Monday during a news conference on Earth Day, which he helped established in 1970.

Hayes said people around the world are demanding change, especially the young, and that makes him optimistic.

earth day, google doodle
FILE – An environmental militant shows an orange, painted as a globe, during an event to mark the Earth Overshoot Day on Aug. 1, 2018 in Berlin. It marks the date when we (all of humanity) have used more from nature than our planet can renew in the entire year. VOA

“It recently happened in the United States on gay marriage. It more recently happened in New Zealand on gun control. It happened globally on the ozone hole,” Hayes said.

Tens of thousands of students around the world skipped school for one day last month to protest inaction on climate change. There were protests in South Africa, India, New Zealand and South Korea. In Europe, students packed streets in London, Lisbon, Vienna, Rome and Copenhagen, among other cities.

Mass climate change protests have been taking place in London for the past week. On Monday, police said they have arrested 1,065 people since Extinction Rebellion began, aimed at paralyzing parts of central London to emphasize the need for sharp reductions in carbon use.

earth day, climate change
FILE – Youths demonstrate with a banner reading “the greed for profit destroys our earth!” during the “Fridays For Future” movement on a global day of student protests aiming to spark world leaders into action on climate change, March 15, 2019 in Berlin. VOA

ALSO READ: Google Doodle Celebrates Earth Day with Series of Animations on Six Unique Inhabitants on Earth

“Most social movements are powered by youth,” he told reporters.

Hayes said even though U.S. President Donald Trump has “taken a wrecking ball to international climate treaties, appointed the two worst EPA administrators in history, and pledged to resuscitate the dead coal industry, I’m confident that the end is in sight.” (VOA)