“…hardly anyone, to my knowledge, is expressing concern about the removal of humans from the roles within the ecosystem that we have evolved to play, and that Nature has evolved to have us play. Nor is anyone conducting studies to determine what these roles were or what changes have occurred because we no longer fulfill them. Most important, perhaps, no one is trying to reintroduce humans into the environment to have us resume our duties as hunters, herders, gatherers, and whatever else, even though we’re going to great ends to restore animals that have played much less significant roles.”
On a recent camping trip in eastern Oregon I stopped at the visitor’s center for the historical Peter French Round Barn in Harney County. The barn and the visitor’s center are well worth a visit. The visitor’s center has an amazing book selection, mostly concerning the American West. I wanted so many, but I had to choose just one: Gardners of Eden: Rediscovering Our Importance To Nature by Dan Dagget. I was particularly drawn in by cover quotes from one of my favorite ethnobotanists, Gary Nabhan, author of several books about indigenous plant use in the Sonoran desert. I was surprised I had never heard of this book, but when I saw that it was published by a charitable trust it all made more sense. The author is a former environmental activist, and the book in many ways looks like a glossy brochure for an environmental group, laden with pictures, side quotes and, large margins. That is not a bad thing, it was an easy and beautiful read that I devoured in just a few days.
Disgruntled and frustrated by “leave it alone” environmentalism, Dan gives numerous examples of how human interaction is an integral part of natural ecosystems, and how most ecosystems rely on disturbance of some kind such as fire or grazing or harvesting to be healthy. He is a particular fan of the “poop and stomp” method of habitat restoration whereby cattle are brought into a desertified area such as an abandoned mine, which is strewn with hay and straw and native seed, which they eat and grind into the ground fertilizing it while at the same time creating divets with their hooves for rainwater to collect in. Another method he is a fan of is the building of trincheras which are small stone dams that pool water and stop erosion. Being much like the small dams that children build for play, these do not stop the water but merely slow it, and it is not important or devasating if they wash out because the idea is you can build dozens or even hundreds of them on one stream.
This book comes off as one long rant, which some people might find annoying. I find it humorous. It would make an excellent companion to Samuel Thayer’s latest wild foods guide Nature’s Garden which is also hilariously ranty. My only criticism is that the book focuses mainly on the west/southwest and that I would like to see more non-cattle ranching related examples of how modern humans can restore ecosystems. It would be great to see it expanded for more bioregions, and while I personally have no problems with the use of domestic animals raised humanely and on a small scale, I would love to see some other examples, okay, do I need to spell it out? This may not be happening in too many places, but I would like to see hunting and gathering being deliberately used for restoration, and also to keep environments from deteriorating further. The author points that when the Forest Service is making management decisions it does not prepare impact statements for leaving the land alone, even though this could be very harmful. Wouldn’t it be amazing to see a public policy that actually required hunting and gathering!?
I’m an anarchist at heart, but I like to play a little game called if I were President of the World, (this can entertain for days on a roadtrip) and if I were president of the world I would turn over the management of public lands to the tribes which originally inhabited them with similar restrictions on development but allowing traditional cultural uses including dwelling and gathering. In fact, a National Park Service rule that would allow tribes to collect plants minerals from parks and that admits that traditional gathering helps preserve plant communities has been been propsed, but it is experiencing strong backlash from a group called Public Employees for Environmental Purposes who believe that doing so would open the door to commercial level harvest and threaten endangered species. (National Park Service Moving To Let Tribes Collect Plants, Minerals From Parks For Traditional Practices), Naturally, there are also racist undertones to the resistance.
Another idea that I’ve had would be to start a land trust or hunting and gathering collective of some sort… The quote I used in the introduction also bespeaks of ecopsychology: how does shirking our duties as caretakers affect not only the land, but our bodies and minds? Perhaps Gardner’s of Eden Volume II is a book I need to write. So if you are currently working on a project of this nature, lets talk.