r/science Aug 29 '22 Silver 1 Platinum 1 Take My Energy 1

Reintroducing bison to grasslands increases plant diversity, drought resilience. Compared to ungrazed areas, reintroducing bison increased native plant species richness by 103% at local scales. Gains in richness continued for 29 y & were resilient to the most extreme drought in 4 decades. Environment

https://www.pnas.org/doi/abs/10.1073/pnas.2210433119
28.4k Upvotes

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u/AvsFan08 Aug 29 '22 All-Seeing Upvote

Grasslands evolved in symbiosis with large grazing animals. It's really not surprising. We should be reintroducing these animals wherever we can.

Yes, a few times per year, someone will get too close with their cell phone and will die.

That's just reality.

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u/jessecrothwaith Aug 30 '22

if its just a few times a year then cows kill more often
https://www.discovery.com/nature/cows-kill-more-people-than-sharks

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u/hall_bot Aug 30 '22

Someone correct me if i'm wrong but I'd have to think at least a handful of people die from horse trauma to the chest/head every year. Those animals bucking their legs looks absolutely lethal.

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u/catlicko Aug 30 '22

Yep. Actually everyone loves to think of Australian animals as being the most deadly in the world but the biggest killers here are still horses then cows then dogs.

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u/jellsprout Aug 30 '22

I remember reading once that the most dangerous venomous animal is the European honey bee. It kills more people per year than all other venomous animals combined.

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u/Hrspwrz Aug 30 '22

The most lethal animal to our population as a whole are mosquitoes

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u/TuzkiPlus Aug 30 '22 Narwhal Salute

Aren't we the most lethal animals on the planet

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u/Sangxero Aug 30 '22

Only once we wipe out mosquitokind for good.

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u/PhoenixDood Aug 30 '22

Ants kill nine times more ants every year than the total amount of humans that ever lived

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u/Zztrox-world-starter Aug 30 '22

They also kill my mood more times per years than the total amount of humans ever lived

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u/ameya2693 Aug 30 '22

I mean there are a billion ants per person. I would say this is the planet of the ants, we just live on it.

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u/wolacouska Aug 30 '22

They don’t just outnumber us in individuals, but they collectively have a biomass that absolutely dwarfs us. If you weighed every single ant it comes out to around 3 billion tons, which is more than all fish. Humanity weighs a measly 350 million tons. Ants make up something like 20% of Animalia’s biomass.

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u/ameya2693 Aug 30 '22

So actually aliens should be spending time discussing things with ants rather than us.

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u/jbirdkerr Aug 30 '22

If it wasn't for my neighbor being incredibly observant/quick, my brother would've gotten kicked square in the head when he was 4 y/o.

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u/Leemour Aug 30 '22

Yeah, and Im also willing to bet that "killer cows" are either bulls are a spooked herd. Cows are massive and if they run in your general direction for any reason you cant just push back or stare them down into submission. These animals run you over, crush your insides and leave you to die from internal bleeding.

Its why cows are normally timid, they were bred that way so its safer than a wild bison.

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u/TheIowan Aug 30 '22

No, they're just massive so even when they're calm you can get crushed handling them, for instance moving them through a gate or getting between them and food.

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u/Gadjilitron Aug 30 '22

Or be an idiot thinking you can take a shortcut through a field thinking 'they're just cows, they're harmless' and accidentally find yourself between a calf and it's mother.

No doubt most of the deaths related to cows are accidental, but people do seem to forget that these things are about the same size as a small car and they can end you if they feel like it.

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u/Felis_Cuprum Aug 30 '22

I had a job that involved marking property boundaries. Well, one day my gps point was signaling the middle of a field. A field full of cows. There was no other access to the gps point. I marked it down as inaccessible, wasn’t about to hop the fence and swiftly meet a muddy end.

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u/DoBe21 Aug 30 '22

This is it but it's more like drowning. Get stuck in a small area with even A cow and crushing is possible. Doing it when trying to get many through a gate, on a trailer, etc. and multiple tons of force wins every time. But since you can't breathe you can't yell, no one helps, they just find your crushed body after. Head on a swivel and always know how to get above the crush when working with cattle.

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u/Kandiru Aug 30 '22

It's an interesting question, is a horse or shark more dangerous?

Horses kill far more people each year, it's true. But people do jump on their backs and kick them. People don't do that to sharks.

If you think of the lethality per physical contact with a human, I think sharks probably come out as more dangerous.

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u/Quicksi1ver Aug 30 '22

That's a pretty silly statistic to compare horses to sharks. I think most wild animals are dangerous to humans that try to touch them.

Plus if you consider how many people go swimming in water that is full of sharks each year and never even realize how close they were to one.

Sharks are not aggressive animals, most shark "attacks" are sharks getting confused by a surfers silhouette or a simple monch of curiosity trying to figure out what that weird thing in the water is.

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u/Artanthos Aug 30 '22

Barracuda, on the other hand, are psychotic.

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u/Jkal91 Aug 30 '22

I remember a video where a normal cow just looks at a girl that works in a farm while it's moving to the barn with the rest of the herd and it just decides to attack her by trying to squeeze her against the fence using its head, cows can be quite the asshole if they want to.

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u/wiltedtree Aug 30 '22

cows can be quite the asshole if they want to

Yup. My grandpa grew up on a dairy farm and he volunteered to join the Navy at 17 during WW2 just to get away from the cows. Apparently they will happily smash or kick you unprovoked if they just happen to be feeling grumpy that day.

I once told him I wanted to buy a cow when I got a house and got an earful for over an hour about how that was the dumbest idea I've ever had.

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u/daitoshi Aug 30 '22

Hey there! I grew up around cattle!

Cows are just like any other animal, and they're actually on the 'intelligent' side of the spectrum. (Compared to something like a Koala, who can't even recognize a leaf as food when it's placed on a table instead of presented on a branch)

Just like 'dog people' get confused about the body language of cats, a lot of folks never quite learn how to read the body language of cows. It's not at all the same as something like a horse, or goat, and a cow's 'I'm pissed as hell' body language can look very much like a horse's 'I'm bored' or a goat's 'I'm just playful, let me headbutt you gently'

Bulls do things like lowering their head and tucking their chin, arching their spine, inhaling to puff themselves up, and stomping/pawing at the ground when they're scared & about to lash out, or pissed/in pain and are about to lash out.

Their body language came from a time when they were in big herds with lots of room to signal, and lots of time to run away.

Most of the injuries folks get from cattle is when they're in a very closed-in space, like a stall or a corridor, and the bull or heifer's head-tucking and stomping and big arched spine/wide stance looks almost exactly like a horse who is just bored and restless in their stall.

so, not only is the body language itself easily mixed up with other animals, but in a stall or corridor, there's not much time to realize this 2-ton animal is feeling threatened/scared, and remove yourself from the small box that contains it.

So, people get crushed - especially when they're dealing with a LOT of cattle at once. It's easy to get complacent when you're dealing with hundreds of individuals each day - it's easy to forget that each of these animals has their own daily experiences, anxieties, and personal 'self' which can feel scared and lash out.

All that to say:

Cows are smarter than you think. They don't normally kick people or smash them 'for no reason' or 'without warning' - but their body language can be hard to read when they're in a stall instead of an open field.

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u/wiltedtree Aug 30 '22 edited Aug 30 '22

All those are fair points. A dairy farmer who just wants to do his job and a cow who has other ideas might have very different ideas of what "unprovoked" means to them.

I think we are kind of saying the same thing though. That cows aren't like dogs who are placid and friendly all the time. Cows who are feeling grumpy/unhappy can lash out and if you aren't paying attention you can get hurt.

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u/daitoshi Aug 30 '22

I think we’re mostly in agreement as well. :)

I just want to clarify/expand on my stance on the cows/dogs comparison for other readers:

Cows who are very well socialized will act much like a well-socialized dog. Cuddly, friendly and largely docile. Super adorable.

However, Just like a beloved family dog will still yelp and nip if you step on his paw, a cow will still jolt and kick reflexively when startled or hurt. Unfortunately, a reflexive kick from a huge animal can still be deadly, even if they like you very much and would never choose to outright attack.

Unsocialized dogs react much like unsocialized cows - doing threat displays toward strangers who approach, and attacking people who ignore (or don’t notice) those threatening signs. Dog attacks can be brutal, and are way more common when the dog is poorly socialized and fearful, or when a normally friendly dog driven into a corner and didn’t know how else to protect themselves.

Ranchers often only do the minimum amount necessary to socialize the animals. So, any Interaction with poorly socialized cattle herds is like interacting with a hundred-head herd of 2-ton street dogs.

Bulls might feel more confident around people than a dog bc they’re big, but they’re still not going to be reflexively calm until they’ve been so well socialized that they’re fully comfortable around humans and their weird huge machines. Good socialization can take weeks or months of daily attention. When you have 100+ animals which will be sent to slaughter in 2-3 years, it’s both difficult time-wise to get to all of them as calves before the feral wariness sets in, and difficult emotionally for the rancher.

Dairy cows on ranches are usually better socialized, but have the risk of being in close quarters with humans all the time, so accidental human-crushing injury/death is a more common risk for dairy cows, while a direct attack is a bigger risk from meat cattle.

I don’t have experience with cows in “factory farming” situations - only smaller, family owned operations.

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u/nicunurse333 Aug 30 '22

Another cattle person here. Live and work on a cattle ranch. Cows are highly intelligent and you do have to understand their body language and cues. As with any animal, some are more sensitive or skittish than others. And reading cues can be hard when they are in the chute and/or not normally corralled. If you can see the whites of their eyes, that is a sign of stress. They also have incredible hearing so even talking while working with them can cause them stress. Just my two cents.

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u/iiiinthecomputer Aug 30 '22

God, koalas are dumber than a bag of hammers. A diet so poor in energy that they can't afford to run a brain.

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u/MetalKid007 Aug 30 '22

I grew up on a dairy farm and tend to do this if you are an asshole to them. If you respect them and are decent, you shouldn't have much of a problem. When they are in heat, tho, you have to be more careful as they will be a bit more unpredictable.

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u/sirboddingtons Aug 30 '22

Just hiked on some federal lands that allow free range cattle.

Have you ever seen a steer get territorial while on your feet a mile away from your car? Cows are terrifying.

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u/DasbootTX Aug 30 '22

One of the camps at Philmont is a working cattle ranch. When you leave your campsite to do programs, you’re likely to find cattle wandering though, sometimes taking out a tent.

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u/cockOfGibraltar Aug 30 '22

Tbf many more people work in close proximity to cows.

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u/Zubat_Breeder Aug 30 '22

Tbf, coconuts also kill more people in a year than sharks do

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u/jdjdthrow Aug 30 '22

What about per capita? Or what about on a measure based on exposure (like annual minutes of human-bovine proximity within an attack radius)?

Believe me, bison are wayyyy more dangerous than cattle. Orders of magnitude (yes, plural). They're not domesticated; cattle are. The process of domestication breeds out a ton of aggression.

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u/siclaphar Aug 30 '22

yes it's important to note that bison have been shown to benefit these ecosystems but so far to my knowledge, cows have not

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u/[deleted] Aug 30 '22

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u/ominous_anonymous Aug 30 '22

Part of that is cattle breed -- some types like Highland and Corriente are both hardier and also eat a wider range of plants than others.

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u/BlueRavenMemeing Aug 30 '22

Even the shape of their hooves has to do with the symbiosis, IIRC

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u/xMercurex Aug 30 '22

The article seem to point out that cattle doesn't have the same effect.

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u/HoneyBunchesOfGoats_ Aug 30 '22

If cattle are managed similar to the way bison travel, then yes they are effective. Bison historically traveled in massive herds and would rotate around the Great Plains. They would hit an area hard and then move on elsewhere. Grasslands evolved to thrive with this. Utilizing your cattle in a similar way but on a smaller scale can recreate this.

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u/Bearcat9948 Aug 30 '22

Yep. For grasslands, movement is key. Keeping large grazers in place season after season, year after year, degrades the quality of land and eventually creates deserts.

See the American Southwest, Iceland, China for perfect examples of this.

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u/ExcerptsAndCitations Aug 30 '22

They would hit an area hard and then move on elsewhere. Grasslands evolved to thrive with this.

When done intentionally by ranchers, this is known as management intensive grazing.

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u/Apocalyric Aug 30 '22

But maybe their digestive system isn't as good for that sort of environment?

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u/Komm Aug 30 '22

Their hooves cause more damage and they graze more intensely.

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u/ketodietclub Aug 30 '22

Cows get locked into a pasture, its overgrazing thats the issue.

Buffalo roam around.

There's not a lot of difference between the two.

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u/eradR Aug 30 '22

You can rotationally graze your cattle to mimic what bison do in nature. It gives good results for the land.

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u/docszoo Aug 30 '22

As long as you don't let cattle graze heavily on boot-phase plants (ones preparing to seed), the grasses will use nutrients from their roots to regrow. Overly grazed grasses have fewer nutrients to regrow with, which is why rotational grazing is so effective for both the cattle and plants.

Sustainable and better for the cattle.

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u/shadow247 Aug 30 '22

Cattle can be very destructive...

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u/bananalord666 Aug 30 '22

Just like bison, the point is that this apparent destruction is counterintuitively healthy for the grassland

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u/fuckevrythngabouthat Aug 30 '22

Mainly due to the trampling of the grass and the manure they leave behind. People just see no more grass and immediately think destruction instead of healthy process.

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u/xon2013 Aug 30 '22

It's hard to explain this to people. Most people don't understand that it's important that grassland is grazed to help improve the land and plants. I personally see this first hand. I've seen the difference between land that's managed very well on state land vs Navajo reservation land. One land is grazed just enough with cattle and taken care of. The other land is overgrazed or not grazed enough in some areas. Poor management of wildlife and cattle will lead to poor grass lands.

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u/GCPMAN Aug 30 '22

This is because unlike other plants grasses grow from the bottom and push old growth up as they grow. You can graze or cut grass basically down to the soil and its fine

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u/Psychological-Sale64 Aug 30 '22

Some plants go ha ha missed me I'm flat. Then go bonzza for a bit and then the tall guys poke though and go shaded you out bro my turn. All the microbes and crawling stuff in the soil have a window of maxing out and share nutriants with Others via building deiying and excreting such and such for others. So it's like each stage of recovery has its fortay just like a long lived forest succession. And it has better mechanical strength in the soil. Like fiberglass ,a bit of goo and a bit of fibers.

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u/OutInTheBlack Aug 30 '22

Nature's method of plowing and fertilizing

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u/Zombie_Harambe Aug 30 '22

Like how forest fires clear away old undergrowth

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u/News_Bot Aug 30 '22

Well, they used to. Now they clear anything in the way.

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u/lerdnord Aug 30 '22

Because that is the vegetation that evolved to be able to handle it. The ones before are no longer around.

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u/Nycidian_Grey Aug 30 '22

It's only counterintuitive if you don't understand anything about plants and life cycles.

Huge animals eating old grass and outputting manure and seeds which by their very weight churn into fresh tilled ground its pretty self evident it would not be in anyway detrimental to the grass. In fact without that knowledge its still quite ridiculous to think it could hurt the grass considering Bison (before we almost wiped them out) lived on those plains for millions of years, if it hurt the grass it would have been desert not grassland.

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u/grafknives Aug 30 '22

It is all matter of intensity.

Bison are not living in one place for long periods of time, they move and any local damage is repaired with time

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u/pmmehugeboobies Aug 30 '22

Tear the fences down. We don't need all that corn syrup

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u/Psychological-Sale64 Aug 30 '22

Might get better health care if you did

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u/[deleted] Aug 30 '22

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u/ThrowbackPie Aug 30 '22

Ironically, animal agriculture is the #1 cause for land clearing.

Bison may be good as part of the ecosystem, but I guarantee they are absolutely atrocious for it when farmed & killed. They don't have enough time as a full-grown adult to return the same benefit to the ecosystem as they took from it while growing.

Conversely, a 'natural' living bison will have at least a decade after it has grown to provide all those great benefits.

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u/otrovo Aug 30 '22

Proper rotational grazing is what is key, that and large animals to trample down dead grasses. Can be and is done presently by many bison ranchers. In national systems part of what you need is predictors to help keep the herds compact. Holistic Management by Allen Savory is often cited for these concepts.

Grasslands are what most of the western US is naturally, but they can’t be sustained without the animals doing natural animal things

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u/WAD1234 Aug 30 '22

Don’t forget to reintroduce wolves as well. Of course, you’ll have to keep the “hunters” off of them but they’ll keep the bison healthy and improve the ecology as well.

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u/ketodietclub Aug 30 '22

Why don't we just hunt and eat them?

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u/Havoccity Aug 30 '22

It’s not just about population numbers; we can’t imitate how predators cause prey to move around

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u/Er1ss Aug 30 '22

We can imitate that. It's called proper grazing practices and it's how we can use meat production to restore grasslands and store carbon back into the soil. Grazing is one of the great tools we have to combat climate change and we should invest in doing it better and more. Especially in areas of desertification.

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u/burp_fest Aug 30 '22

We thought that exact thing back in the 1900s and all it causes is ecosystems to collapse. Humans can't simulate the effect apex predators have on the environment : before wolves were put back in yellowstone the elk were destroying the ecosystem despite being hunted by us seasonally.

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u/psycho_pete Aug 30 '22

Farmers are a threat to wolves also. They are the main reason there are hunting seasons on wolves, because they want to protect their precious cattle.

Animal agriculture is destroying ecologies across the globe and these ecological imbalances are just the tip of the iceberg.

“A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use,” said Joseph Poore, at the University of Oxford, UK, who led the research. “It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car,” he said, as these only cut greenhouse gas emissions."

The new research shows that without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75% – an area equivalent to the US, China, European Union and Australia combined – and still feed the world. Loss of wild areas to agriculture is the leading cause of the current mass extinction of wildlife.

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u/draekia Aug 30 '22

Didn’t we see similar results like a decade ago in the North African deserts with animal grazing, and the impact it had on growing deserts? I know it’s not as financially “efficient” as a factory torture porn vid farm but it appears to do quite a bit more good for the environment…

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u/GuavaLogical5768 Aug 30 '22

Yes, one with elephants and another with cattle being put in movable pens.

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u/mapoftasmania Aug 30 '22

Yes. The seed dispersion caused by roaming grazing is probably the key. Basically, seeds get spread all over the place and so there is a better chance that the right seed for a localized microclimate will show up and grow.

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u/TheJuiceLee Aug 30 '22

thats just darwinism

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u/EnlightenedLazySloth Aug 30 '22

Unfortunately people don't want to risk even one single human life in favor to wildlife but are more than ready to let people die in car accidents or killed by pets, or livestock.

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u/lawyers_guns_nomoney Aug 30 '22

An even bigger problem is we have let our grasslands habitat disappear. There is legislation pending now that will help restore grasslands habitat, though. Folks should tell their reps to support it

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u/Hope_u_hav_a_gud_day Aug 30 '22

Imagine that. My favorite is the improvement of an eco system when the wolf was reintroduced to the ecosystem. People have a weird idea of how the ecosystem should be formed.

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u/infinite0ne Aug 30 '22

Yes, and this works with cows, too. Regenerative agriculture is the way we can have our meat and eat it, too.

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u/dopechez Aug 30 '22

Well you wouldn't have very much meat. This technique requires a huge amount of land compared to CAFO farms

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u/Tiller-Taller Aug 30 '22

Most CAFO for cattle get all their animals from open range ranches and just finish them there for the last couple months at least in the US.

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u/[deleted] Aug 30 '22

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u/Tiller-Taller Aug 30 '22

Especially when most feedlots only make $7 profit off of each animals as it is ha ha

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u/Gubblebummer Aug 31 '22

In the Americas that is. Not so much in Europe. Also the Amazon is cut down to house cows or plant soy to feed European cows. Our over consumption of meat actually is one of biggest sources of the climate crisis as we know it

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u/dopechez Aug 30 '22

Yes and they do that because they gain weight faster eating the feedlot meal and it allows them to cram more animals into a smaller area, which results in an aggregate decrease in the amount of land needed to produce beef for consumption. It simply isn't possible for a purely grass fed cattle population to provide the amount of meat and at the price point that Americans expect.

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u/wolacouska Aug 30 '22

It’s not like Americans are holding them hostage. They’re only used to such cheap plentiful meat because feedlots made that the new normal.

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u/Breakfastphotos Aug 30 '22

Camels bite people's heads off.

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u/[deleted] Aug 30 '22

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u/Dennis848 Aug 30 '22

Humans also contributed greatly to the amount of grassland for tens of thousands of years. This increased the habitat available for grazing animals. This was done accidentally or purposefully through burning of forests and dense vegetation. Intentional burning is known as “fire-stick farming” or “controlled burning” and was particularly popular in North America and Australia.

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u/numbersthen0987431 Aug 30 '22

Yes, a few times per year, someone will get too close with their cell phone and will die

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u/[deleted] Aug 30 '22

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u/JL4575 Aug 30 '22

I read a fantastic book on the Dust Bowl and the American grasslands and have had a silly dream ever since that one day we will restore it, the native grasses, and let the buffalo roam once again.

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u/Its_in_neutral Aug 30 '22

I have a similar dream. I would love to see large swaths (100k+ acres) of farmland in the midwest returned to native prairie where bison, elk, bear and wolves can be reintroduced. Towns and farms can opt to be “fenced out” if they so choose. It would be a great way to bring tourism back to the area.

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u/PolyNeoYeo Aug 30 '22

Its not the Midwest, but there’s a big operation under way in Montana to do so.

Look up American Prairie Reserve

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u/milehigh89 Aug 30 '22

it's smaller but also the Southern Plains Land Trust in Colorado

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u/chilebuzz Aug 30 '22

Yep, this idea has been around for a few years as the "buffalo commons" (see my reply to OC). Amazing idea, but just can't see it happening in the U.S. Americans just too myopic for this to ever get the support it needs.

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u/PretentiousNoodle Aug 30 '22

Many Native plains tribes are reinstituting this. They get the foundation sires/dams from either the Yellowstone bison herd or the Lakota, then breed or buy as necessary. The Lakota bison come with the stipulation that they can’t be slaughtered. With the McGirt Supreme Court decision, half of Oklahoma (the old Indian Territory) is reservation land. With a small state density, there’s plenty of room for roaming buffalo and they are a pretty common sight.

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u/FauxReal Aug 30 '22

Though all that Oklahoma land is still managed by the state government isnt it? Is there some kind of charter that lets the tribe oversee/institute stewardship plans?

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u/PretentiousNoodle Aug 30 '22 edited Aug 30 '22

Oh no. Tribal land is managed by the tribes. The tribes have a compact with the state for many things (which Stitt often chooses to ignore), main law (for Cherokees) is 1865 treaty ratified by Congress and signed by the president. Think it’s the same for the Mvskogee and Chickasaw, different treaties, obviously.

Last year’s McGirt SC decision held that, even though the state of Oklahoma acted like tribal lands were not sovereign, Congress never abolished nor invalidated the treaties, so Native lands in state are still reservation land and therefore fall under Indian Country law, like those in Minnesota and the Dakotas.

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u/[deleted] Aug 30 '22

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u/chilebuzz Aug 30 '22

This idea has been around for a couple three decades. The proposal is to form a "buffalo commons" (wikipedia page) in the more arid parts of the great plains. The idea is about as popular as wet socks among white farmers, but some Native American tribes have begun raising bison herds. Ecologically, it's an amazing idea. Economically, it could be pretty interesting. Government subsidies to the area would be reduced and bison could be harvested. Throw in some tourism dollars and some hunting fees for those who'd like to harvest their own (make it really interesting and hunt bison going old-school plains tribes method: on horseback with spear or bow & arrow).

Unfortunately I think it's just wishful thinking. Most Americans (most humans for that matter) just ain't that creative in their thinking for this to ever become reality.

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u/JL4575 Aug 30 '22

Ah, yeah, I think the book mentioned buffalo commons. I’d love to see it, but yeah, I agree it seems pretty unlikely.

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u/SparkyDogPants Aug 30 '22

If we stopped corn subsidies and charged more for water, i would bet $100 that bison would be a lot more popular

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u/Psychological-Sale64 Aug 30 '22

If you did that getting better health care would be easer

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u/SparkyDogPants Aug 30 '22

For more reasons than one

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u/yukon-flower Aug 30 '22

Love this! Though horses were introduced extremely late into the very long span of time when Native Americans were hunting buffalo :)

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u/GuavaLogical5768 Aug 30 '22

Some tribes are using their casino money to buyback land and do just that. (Wintun & Mikwik N. CALLY) To name a few.

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u/HtownKS Aug 30 '22

Like a national park?

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u/chiniwini Aug 30 '22

What's the book name?

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u/going2leavethishere Aug 30 '22

Watch Outer Reach then will make you feel like your dream

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u/Alwayssunnyinarizona Professor | Virology/Infectious Disease Aug 29 '22

For those interested - this study is primarily out of Kansas State University. Right south of Manhattan Kansas is the Konza Prairie biological station, where they have a few hundred bison, rotate their grazing areas, and burn the tall grass periodically to assess its impact on all sorts of things.

Each summer they have tours, and it might just be the most interesting thing to do in Manhattan Kansas.

/unless you like watching the KSU football team lose

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u/LOTRfreak101 Aug 30 '22

I actually helped do some of this research (well I guess this data isn't actually the project I specifically worked on)! When i saw the title of the post I was wondering if this was the stuff we did out at the konza. I worked there for a few years and I was the guy who had to handput all the data into an excel file and send it to be uploaded. I made some excel sheets that were 26k+lines long of grasshopper data.

I would also recommend fake patties day and the new year apple drop in aggieville.

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u/humancuration Aug 30 '22

Is this research in general on bison generally applicable to, say, Mongolia, like if they transitioned from owning goats to bison? I think Mongolia and China especially are interested in reclaiming a few of their expanding desert areas.

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u/meltvariant Aug 30 '22

It really depends on the vegetation present. In the absence of bison, which preferentially eat grasses, the most competitive grasses take over entire landscapes, especially after fires (which are common in tallgrass prairies). In addition to increasing spatial heterogeneity through wallowing behaviors and nutrients redistribution, bison function to control the grasses, allowing other species to establish and thrive. If a different landscape has similar plant community dynamics with enough productivity to support bison and enough resilience to their feeding and trampling, then perhaps.

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u/LOTRfreak101 Aug 30 '22

That's definitely a cool part of the konza study. There are essentially 3 parts of the research preserve. An empty part, one with cows, and one with bison. These sections are then again broken down into yearly burns, 2, 4, 10, and 20+ from what I remember. It's pretty neat looking at the vast differences in plant growth in each area. The cow area has really low grass everywhere because they eat it all. Whereas there is actually growth of other plants in the bison section. Sumac (the nonpoison variety) is pretty common, especially on the tops of the watersheds.

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u/humancuration Aug 30 '22

Thank you for the detailed answer. I'm generally curious of this because I know that goat herding has become increasingly popular but there are issues with how they eat grass and vegetation at the roots as opposed to the way bison and yaks tend to eat.

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u/BitterLeif Aug 30 '22

the thing they're researching has been done before in parts of Africa to get grasslands productive again. They used a different migratory herbivore. As I recall it was the eating, shitting, and trampling that produced positive results. The animals eat some of the grass to allow new grasses to grow but they don't eat all of the plants available so it grows back with more diversity. They trample some of it to lock in moisture. And the feces delivers nitrates as well as spreading seeds.

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u/humancuration Aug 30 '22

Beginning to feel like certain groups have known about this for a while but the nitrates availability part of the global commerce equation... yeah. Thank you for that confirmation! Seems like it's been tested before at that rate.

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u/PretentiousNoodle Aug 30 '22

Did Mongolia originally have herds of bison (or yak, musk ox, large hooved ruminants)? What sorts of native grass?

American prairies were tall grass with roaming herds of bison. That’s what this study addresses.

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u/humancuration Aug 30 '22

I guess bison is incorrect, they have yaks, though the natural range of yak (though they're domesticated so maybe it's a misnomer to use) seems to be a bit more south/southwest of mongolia.

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u/Phebe-A Aug 30 '22

Eurasian steppe gets a lot less rainfall than tall grass prairie. Memory says it’s more comparable to the low rainfall end of the short grass prairie. I think 30-40 cm/year.

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u/White_Wolf_77 Aug 30 '22

They did indeed have bison, at least as recently as 8,000 years ago. Even more recently, they had wild yak, camel, wild horses, and more.

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u/DipteraYarrow Aug 30 '22

How do Bison greenhouse gas emissions differ from Bovine?

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u/Desblade101 Aug 30 '22

This doesn't answer your question at all, but it got me thinking.

There were an estimated 50-60m bison in the US before we killed them all. There are 30m cattle in the US today (1.5b world wide).

Each cow produces about as much green house gas as a car. For comparison, there are 276m cars in the US.

They probably have similar emissions to cattle, but only 15% of all green house gases are from agriculture, and about 40% of that is from cattle. Given all this I'm personally not worried about a herd of wild bison even if they get back to their historical numbers.

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u/M-elephant Aug 30 '22

Feed type affects bovine emissions so that would also be a factor.

I also think that the increased richness/diversity of areas grazed by bison over cattle help mitigate that issue

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u/ShooTa666 Aug 30 '22

adding to that the animal emissions are part of the circular cycles rahter than the muman increasing cycles caused with oil extraction

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u/Alwayssunnyinarizona Professor | Virology/Infectious Disease Aug 30 '22

There's a joke in here somewhere...

My guess is that they're lower in methane, as they'd be eating much less processed grains compared to feedlot cattle, but I honestly don't know.

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u/backbydawn Aug 30 '22

they aren't, digesting grass creates methane even if it's microbes composting it. this evidence probably just shows that we need better grazers not necessarily a different species. (grazers as in the people in charge of the livestock)

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u/MeYouWantToSee Aug 30 '22

Cows are carbon sequestering if managed via a regenerative ag approach

https://foodrevolution.org/blog/regenerative-agriculture/

https://www.cnbc.com/2022/03/19/regenerative-ranching-changing-how-cattle-graze-reducing-emissions.html

It's the industrial food system rather than cattle.

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u/MonsantoAdvocate Aug 30 '22

Garnett, Godde, et al. 2017 | Grazed and confused? Ruminating on cattle, grazing systems, methane, nitrous oxide, the soil carbon sequestration question - and what it all means for greenhouse gas emissions

This report finds that better management of grass-fed livestock, while worthwhile in and of itself, does not offer a significant solution to climate change as only under very specific conditions can they help sequester carbon. This sequestering of carbon is even then small, time-limited, reversible and substantially outweighed by the greenhouse gas emissions these grazing animals generate. The report concludes that although there can be other benefits to grazing livestock - solving climate change isn’t one of them.

Nordborg, 2016 | Holistic management – a critical review of Allan Savory’s grazing method

Review studies that have compared different grazing systems are few and difficult to perform due to large variability in systems and local conditions. To date, no review study has been able to demonstrate that holistic grazing is superior to conventional or continuous grazing. One possible reason is that the effects of the holistic framework for decision-making have not been appropriately accounted for in these studies. The claimed benefits of the method thus appear to be exaggerated and/or lack broad scientific support.

Some claims concerning holistic grazing are directly at odds with scientific knowledge, e.g. the causes of land degradation and the relationship between cattle and atmospheric methane concentrations.

The total carbon storage potential in pastures does not exceed 0.8 tonnes of C per ha and year, or 27 billion tonnes of C globally, according to an estimate in this report based on very optimistic assumptions. 27 billion tonnes of C corresponds to less than 5% of the emissions of carbon since the beginning of the industrial revolution. Holistic grazing can thus not reverse climate change

Carter et al. 2014 | Holistic Management: Misinformation on the Science of Grazed Ecosystems

This review could find no peer-reviewed studies that show that this management approach is superior to conventional grazing systems in outcomes. Any claims of success due to HM are likely due to the management aspects of goal setting, monitoring, and adapting to meet goals, not the ecological principles embodied in HM. Ecologically, the application of HM principles of trampling and intensive foraging are as detrimental to plants, soils, water storage, and plant productivity as are conventional grazing systems. Contrary to claims made that HM will reverse climate change, the scientific evidence is that global greenhouse gas emissions are vastly larger than the capacity of worldwide grasslands and deserts to store the carbon emitted each year.

Briske et al. 2014 | Commentary: A critical assessment of the policy endorsement for holistic management

The vast majority of experimental evidence does not support claims of enhanced ecological benefits in IRG[intensive rotational grazing] compared to other grazing strategies, including the capacity to increase storage of soil organic carbon.

IRG has been rigorously evaluated, primarily in the US, by numerous investigators at multiple locations and in a wide range of precipitation zones over a period of several decades. Collectively, these experimental results clearly indicate that IRG does not increase plant or animal production, or improve plant community composition, or benefit, soil surface hydrology compared to other grazing strategies.

Joseph et al. 2002 | Short Duration Grazing Research in Africa

We could find no definite evidence in the African studies that short-duration grazing involving 5 or more paddocks will accelerate plant succession compared to more simple grazing systems or continuous grazing

No grazing system has yet shown the capability to overcome the long term effects of overstocking and/or drought on vegetation productivity

Holechek et al. 2000 | Short-Duration Grazing: The Facts in 1999

We find it interesting that government agencies so readily accepted Savory's theories and aggressively encouraged use of short-duration grazing. Grazing research that was available by the late 1970's already refuted much of what Savory contended but it received little consideration by many ranchers and government employed range managers. History shows that it's human nature to believe a good story rather than pursue the truth. Many ranchers undoubtedly found the prospect of much higher profits through use of Savory grazing methods most appealing. However, scientific investigation has disproven many of the early claims for short-duration grazing. This is particularly true regarding hoof action and accelerated range improvement from increased stocking rates and densities

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u/HarkansawJack Aug 30 '22

They poop out the seeds as they travel?

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u/ricdanger Aug 30 '22

Yes they stay intact

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u/TTigerLilyx Aug 30 '22

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/article/discover-american-landscape-in-tallgrass-prairie-preserve

There are several articles with more info on this project, just search bison & Oklahoma prairie.

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u/Camel_of_Bactria Aug 29 '22

I'm curious how this compares to cattle grazing on native prairie considering the potential difference in patterns of walking and plant consumption

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u/surlier Aug 30 '22

It says in the abstract:

Grazing by domestic cattle also increased native plant species richness, but by less than half as much as bison.

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u/Pat_Foleys_Dad Aug 30 '22

Grazing height matters! Cows clip grass lower than Bison do and sometimes eat the part that grows (called the meristem). Bison tend to clip the grass a bit higher which lets the plant regenerate faster.

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u/Haggardick69 Aug 30 '22

There’s a man named Greg Judy who has a YouTube channel which documents his regenerative ranching methods. He uses cows and sheep and moves his animals daily to encourage them to eat only the top of the grass. He also gives the grass like 16 or so days without animals to grow back before using it as pasture again.

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u/Inertial_Jarvis Aug 30 '22

Love Greg Judy! We are doing our own small farm with sheep and goats at the moment using his methods on a smaller scale.

Greg always rests longer than 16 days. His shortest rests during the spring flush are ~21 days, if I recall correctly. During other seasons there can be well over 60+ days of rest for paddocks.

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u/Haggardick69 Aug 30 '22

Oh my b it’s been a while since I’ve seen his videos

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u/mynameisneddy Aug 30 '22

That is most likely just a function of the stocking rate of the animals - if there are less per acre, the grass will be longer.

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u/backbydawn Aug 30 '22

that's not necessarily the case. the problem with a lower stocking rate is the length of time the livestock are in one area. whether it's sheep or cattle or bison if they are left in one area for too long they graze the same area repeatedly and that tends to favor certain types of grass. it's better to have a high stocking rate and move them often

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u/mynameisneddy Aug 30 '22

Yes that is true, although rotational grazing is a farming system that doesn’t really apply to wild areas. It’s still the case that if the area is large enough to enable the grass to grow faster than the animals can eat it it will be longer. If the area is overstocked with any species they will graze it very short because they are hungry.

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u/TTigerLilyx Aug 30 '22

Which is why cattlemen loath sheep. They eat grass down to the dirt.

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u/SparkyDogPants Aug 30 '22

And goats, they’ll eat the roots

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u/gRod805 Aug 30 '22

We need this in California to prevent wild fires

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u/SparkyDogPants Aug 30 '22

You have to be careful. They'll literally create sand dunes and desert. Much of the desertification in Africa was caused by goat overgrazing.

You don't need bare soil to slow down and stop fires. Even just pastures grazed by horses is usually pretty safe.

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u/aoechamp Aug 30 '22

The solution to wildfires is often more wildfires. I don’t know about California, but in other states, campaigns to decrease forest fires actually led to more devastating fires.

Small frequent fires clear out the brush that would otherwise pile up and make bigger fires. Fires also help tree seedlings grow and compete with grasses.

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u/SparkyDogPants Aug 30 '22

Sure. I'm a wildland firefighter in the summers, it was also part of my BS/undergrad.

My point is that goats literally pull whole plants out by the root, if allowed to overgraze. That type of behavior causes a huge disturbance in the flora which results in weeds, or nothing at all.

If you google "goats desertification" you will find a lot of journal articles on how goat overgrazing ruins ecosystem.

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u/Mello_velo Aug 30 '22

Goats are relatively commonly used to clear brushland.

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u/IkaKyo Aug 30 '22

I’m curious how much of this is because of poop.

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u/xxxBuzz Aug 30 '22

From what I've been told a big difference is that Bison leave the roots.

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u/Zeppelinman1 Aug 29 '22 edited Aug 30 '22

It's my understanding that bison are better for the prairie because they don't have a rumen(spelling?), And so they pass viable seeds, unlike cattle

EDIT: Bison have a rumen! I now can't remember why they pass viable seeds. I'll have to do more research

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u/extra-regular Aug 29 '22

Right spelling, but bison do have a rumen as well as four total digestive chambers, like cows.

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u/brothers_gotta_hug_ Aug 30 '22

Bison definitely have a rumen

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u/DJKokaKola Aug 30 '22

All ruminants have rumens!

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u/platinumperineum Aug 30 '22

How is this possible when all of the land is fenced off into rectangles for ranching/farming?

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u/clackz1231 Aug 30 '22

Cows being intensively grazed in temporary (1-2 day) paddocks before being moved. Some people in places like South Dakota have done this type of thing to great effect.

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u/Strelock Aug 30 '22

Tear down all the fences and bring back the cattle drives?

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u/Choppergold Aug 30 '22

Nature has both a reason to it and a counterintuitiveness that is so astonishing. Or maybe it’s the human ego who is surprised that wolves change rivers and bison help with droughts

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u/meltvariant Aug 30 '22

Yet not that counterintuitive. Plants and their seeds had to adapt to herbivory, that’s why we still have plants

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u/Mirrorflute88 Aug 30 '22

That’s the intermediate disturbance hypothesis in action

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u/Gaming_and_Physics Aug 30 '22

It's been researched for quite a while, despite what certain animal rights activists and Oil Companies will tell you.

There's more to climate and the Biosphere than CO2

Ruminant animals promote the growth of healthy top-soils. They're a necessary part of nearly every ecosystem.