Local column: Neither the whole nor the only truth

Regardless of where you stand on human caused climate change, it shouldn’t be difficult to acknowledge that degraded land is an enemy, writes Wendy Pratt.

The news is not good. The miseries of hurricanes Harvey and Irma are just getting started and the West is on fire. These calamities will be used by the climate change crowd to denounce anyone wary of restrictions on fossil fuel use. Naysayers will jump on the other side, citing lack of sound forest management and rampant coastal development as causal to the carnage. We will continue to dig deeper our firmly entrenched opinions on the climate war with … each other? How crazy is that?

I read somewhere the words of Charles Dana, an 1800’s era journalist which could have been said in 2017: “Fight for your opinions, but do not believe that they contain the whole truth or the only truth.”

My opinion is this: Man has distorted the carbon levels in the atmosphere not only from the burning of carbon stored in long ago deposited plant material, but more importantly from poor carbon cycling in degraded landscapes across the planet. Green plants, through photosynthesis, take carbon from the air and “sink” it into the soil, therefore the more plants across more landscapes during more of the year is the best answer to climate change. These plants and their roots also provide “in-soak” of God-given rain, so vital to prevent the effects of drought and floods and to sustain healthy plant and animal communities.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service website quotes a 1994 study stating that 74 percent of the North American Continent is degraded. Three quarters? Hard to believe.

The causes of land degradation are many: overgrazing, over-rest from responsible grazing and other managed disturbances such as logging, loss of biodiversity, salinization, over tillage, fires and/or fire suppression, over use of agrochemicals, invasive species, wind and water erosion, poor urban planning, etc., and in addition, worldwide poverty, illiteracy and corruption. It’s a staggering list and it loops around, through, and back again in terms of cause and effect. But if we are willing to listen and learn from each other, it’s a list we can tackle by looking through the lens of the “whole” - whole communities of people and economics and natural ecosystems.

Regardless of where you stand on human caused climate change, it shouldn’t be difficult to acknowledge that degraded land is an enemy, perhaps THE enemy when we consider the far reaching effects of bare and eroding soil. Even the refugee crisis can be linked to desert-ification in Africa and the Middle East.

What to do? How to help? I know our ranch has too much bare ground between plants. I know the typical farm has bare ground for too many months of the year. I know we all take sides way too much. This isn’t political, it’s our future - and our present.

Wendy Pratt is a fourth-generation cattle rancher in the Blackfoot area and advocates for conservation/stewardship of working lands.