Sunday, December 6, 2009

Quivira Coalition Conference, 2009

In Spanish Colonial America, “Quivira” described unknown territory, where an elusive golden dream was waiting to be discovered.

The Quivira Coalition was started by a rancher and two environmentalists. The group does not litigate or mediate between sides in the debate over livestock grazing. Rather, they demonstrate and participate in sensible and sensitive ranching and farming. The Quivira Coalition focuses on “grassbanks, dormant season grazing, planned grazing, restoration, collaboration and education.” We “Quivireños” are nearly alone in the “Radical Center” -- radical because it’s ground breaking to refrain from taking sides in this polarized issue.

Quivira Coalition’s Conferences are a mix of conservation, ranching, science, and art. You can ponder statistical minutia while hearing about research findings, think about the role of grazing when hearing about managing invasive plants, and find yourself tearing up and sniffling during readings from literature about the US West.

At this year’s conference, November 4-6, 2009, we learned about dung beetles from Patricia Richardson, a professor at the University of Texas. I hadn’t thought much about dung beetles since I got back from Senegal, where I found them delightful and entertaining creatures. At the conference I learned that many species of dung beetles are rarely seen, as they live underneath cow pats and bury the manure from below. Only the show-off species roll the dung balls that I saw in Senegal.

We heard about the Desert Ranch's large operation in northeastern Utah. In addition to raising cattle and forage, they provide guided hunting and fishing trips and are a popular birding spot.

Randy Udall, from the Community Office for Resource Efficiency (CORE), warned us that we’ve pumped 2/3 of the world’s oil. He illustrated this with a slide of four beers gone from a six pack. He also pointed out that “Cheap energy of any kind can subsidize stupidity.” Ouch! I’d flown from Boise to Albuquerque for the conference.

Tim and Katie Kline are raising kids, crops, and animals organically on their 80 acres in Ohio. They’re primarily dairy famers and enjoy the opportunity to work through issues while milking together in the evening while the children do homework. Or, as Tim hastened to add, they would work through issues, if they had any. As Amish farmers, they use animal traction for farm work and have no tractors.

I lurked with intent after Linda Hasselstrom read from her work and scored a spot next to her at lunch. I hoped that my writing would improve through the process of osmosis.

An innovative approach from a grass-fed beef farm in Wisconsin showed how collaboration can provide rewards on all sides. In return for hunting access, hunters each contribute six hours of work on the farm. Over the years hunters have roofed the barn, filled the basement with fire wood every year, taken care of the cattle while the owners travel, dug fire line for prescribed burns, and painted the buildings. The original groups of hunters now bring their children to work on the farm, as it’s also their family’s farm.

Craig Allen, with the USGS in Los Alamos, NM described cutting juniper trees, lopping off the branches and spreading them across sites degraded by erosion in Bandelier National Monument. The branches provide “safe sites” for native seeds to germinate and grow sheltered from the sun and drought. Both the new seedling and plants already growing on the site take advantage of water caught by tiny dams formed by the branches. Reestablishing vegetation on the previously depauperate sites fills in the bare areas that had spread across the sites in the past. Criag hopes that the vegetation will become healthy and abundant enough to fuel prescribed fires to keep juniper at bay in the future and to allow fire resistant Ponderosa pine to recolonize the sites.

The writer, conservationist, and thinker, Gary Nabhan, described new seeds of collaboration sprouting in Arizona. At the annual meeting of the Diablo Trust, a collaborative land stewardship group, The Arizona Wildlife Federation apologized to the Trust for the destructiveness of their past negativity (page 5). The two groups are looking forward to working together to manage natural resources in northern Arizona.

Gary’s story reminded us that change can happen in unexpected places and prepared us to welcome more into the Radical Center.

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