Craig Allen and Walt Schacht: Rangeland
In this episode, we spoke with Dr. Craig Allen, Director of the new Center for Resilience in Agricultural Working Landscapes, and Dr. Walt Schacht, Interim Director of the Center for Grassland Studies. Together, the two centers are working with landowners to research and test out the viability of different rangeland management techniques, especially in the Sandhills. In this interview, they discuss how the University of Nebraska works with landowners, myths about the Sandhills, and the concept of resilience in a landscape.
Special thanks to Margaret Huettl for providing a video land acknowledgement for this episode. To listen to the podcast version, visit: https://anchor.fm/gp-lectures
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[00:00:00.150]Welcome to Great Plains Anywhere,
[00:00:01.990]a Paul A. Olson lecture
[00:00:03.770]from the Center for Great Plains Studies
[00:00:05.430]at the University of Nebraska.
[00:00:08.510]In this episode, we spoke with Dr. Craig Allen,
[00:00:11.370]Director of the New Center for Resilience
[00:00:13.660]in Agricultural Working Landscapes,
[00:00:16.040]and Dr. Walter Schacht,
[00:00:17.570]Interim Director of the Center for Grassland Studies.
[00:00:20.900]Together, the two centers are working with land owners
[00:00:23.700]to research and test out the viability
[00:00:26.340]of different rangeland management techniques,
[00:00:28.820]especially in the Sandhills.
[00:00:30.740]In this interview,
[00:00:31.573]they discuss how the University of Nebraska works
[00:00:33.980]with land owners,
[00:00:35.230]myths about the Sandhills,
[00:00:36.810]and the concept of resilience in a landscape.
[00:00:40.760]On behalf of the Center for Great Plains Studies,
[00:00:42.900]I would like to begin by acknowledging
[00:00:45.060]that the University of Nebraska
[00:00:46.530]is a land grant institution
[00:00:48.770]with campuses and programs on the past, present,
[00:00:51.580]and future homelands of the Pawnee, Ponca, Otoe-Missouria,
[00:00:55.620]Omaha, Lakota, Dakota, Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Kaw peoples,
[00:01:01.310]as well as the relocated Ho-Chunk, Iowa,
[00:01:04.020]and Sac and Fox peoples.
[00:01:05.990]Please take a moment to consider the legacies
[00:01:08.210]of more than 150 years of displacement, violence,
[00:01:12.610]settlement, and survival that bring us here today.
[00:01:16.040]This acknowledgement in decentering of indigenous peoples
[00:01:19.040]is a start as we move forward together
[00:01:21.560]for the next 150 years.
[00:01:24.180]Hi, I'm Katie Nieland.
[00:01:25.660]I'm the Associate Director
[00:01:26.690]at the Center for Great Plains Studies.
[00:01:28.930]Dylan Wall. I'm Education and Outreach Associate
[00:01:31.710]at the Center for Great Plains Studies.
[00:01:33.680]I'm Margaret Jacobs.
[00:01:34.700]I'm the Director of the Center for Great Plains Studies.
[00:01:38.070]I'm Craig Allen.
[00:01:39.080]I'm the Director for the Center for Resilience
[00:01:41.320]in Agricultural Working Landscapes.
[00:01:44.470]And I'm Walt Schacht,
[00:01:46.000]and I'm the Interim Director
[00:01:47.530]of the Center for Grassland Studies.
[00:01:49.600]I was wondering, Craig and Walt,
[00:01:51.230]if you could just tell us a little bit about
[00:01:54.010]what the Center for Resilience
[00:01:55.930]in Agricultural Working Landscapes
[00:01:58.530]and the Center for Grassland Studies together
[00:02:01.420]are studying and working on right now.
[00:02:03.610]Center for Grassland Studies is a center
[00:02:08.960]which was created in 1994.
[00:02:12.050]And it's had a series of directors since then.
[00:02:16.910]And the focus and the reason
[00:02:19.240]that the Center for Grassland Studies was created was
[00:02:22.430]to serve as the unit
[00:02:27.460]that would facilitate integration
[00:02:30.360]of all things related to grasslands.
[00:02:34.660]being in the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources
[00:02:37.850]the focus has of course been on agriculture
[00:02:42.600]and wildlife in particular,
[00:02:45.360]but more recently,
[00:02:48.520]getting into some of these,
[00:02:51.000]broadly, questions related to sustainability
[00:02:55.140]and to management of our grasslands
[00:03:00.370]for multiple purposes
[00:03:02.460]or for a variety of ecosystem services.
[00:03:06.210]So, historically, the center has worked closely
[00:03:09.250]with the school of natural resources,
[00:03:13.180]Department Agronomy and Horticulture,
[00:03:15.050]and in the Department of Animal Science.
[00:03:21.170]Currently, we've developed
[00:03:24.900]a very good collaborative efforts
[00:03:27.190]with the Center for Resilience,
[00:03:30.961]especially at the Barta Brothers Ranch.
[00:03:34.060]And that is the location
[00:03:36.360]or the center for our activities
[00:03:39.020]related to a collaborative adaptive management research,
[00:03:44.437]particularly with land owners, ranchers,
[00:03:46.480]but also with federal and state agencies
[00:03:50.330]and non-government organizations.
[00:03:53.340]The Center for Resilience
[00:03:54.727]and Agricultural working landscapes
[00:03:57.250]was sort of a nascent idea three years ago.
[00:04:02.230]And with the idea being that Nebraska
[00:04:05.540]is internationally recognized expertise in agriculture
[00:04:09.130]and in a more incipient expertise and resilience,
[00:04:13.310]and that there is sort of a gap
[00:04:17.230]in expertise globally
[00:04:19.200]and sort of applying resilience,
[00:04:21.240]resilience thinking if you will,
[00:04:23.320]to agricultural landscapes,
[00:04:25.550]meaning both row crop agriculture
[00:04:28.350]and grasslands used for grazing as well.
[00:04:33.210]We got a officially formed
[00:04:37.410]via a series of votes,
[00:04:39.720]culminating the APC and Board of Regents
[00:04:42.860]in the fall of last year.
[00:04:45.210]So, we rolled out officially
[00:04:46.750]just during the middle of COVID
[00:04:49.600]not in the greatest time to roll out a center,
[00:04:51.760]so a little quiet, nobody was around,
[00:04:54.930]but it finally happened,
[00:04:56.260]so we're excited about that.
[00:04:57.560]And so we've been a farm for about a year,
[00:05:00.450]and I forget when the timing,
[00:05:03.640]but at some point Walt and I
[00:05:05.470]were asked to step up
[00:05:07.160]and help co-manage the Barta Brothers Ranch
[00:05:10.870]and not really Walt and I,
[00:05:13.190]but the two centers,
[00:05:14.790]because we didn't have a good nexus
[00:05:16.530]with what's going on a ranch like that.
[00:05:20.210]And shortly thereafter,
[00:05:22.180]we had some opportunities
[00:05:23.860]talking about research and directions
[00:05:26.370]to get a program of adaptive management
[00:05:29.640]underway at the ranch
[00:05:31.120]where we could experiment, learn by doing,
[00:05:35.420]so learn by treating management as hypotheses
[00:05:39.060]and explicitly use the ranch for learning
[00:05:45.100]in a way where there's active participation, excuse me,
[00:05:49.240]from the neighboring ranches as well.
[00:05:52.250]So we've undertaken that process
[00:05:55.460]and are underway with that at this time.
[00:05:59.250]So the Barta Brothers Ranch,
[00:06:02.602]it was donated by two brothers
[00:06:06.290]in the Rose Bassett area back in the 1990s.
[00:06:12.580]And so it's different groups of faculty
[00:06:17.180]have been conducting research there
[00:06:19.510]and some extension programs since the late 1990s.
[00:06:24.890]And so it has had an active program
[00:06:27.620]of research and broadly education,
[00:06:31.240]but more recently,
[00:06:35.080]as we looked at the developing programs
[00:06:41.250]related to adaptive management
[00:06:43.800]and especially addressing questions about resilience
[00:06:47.770]on our range land landscapes,
[00:06:51.490]and how we might look at trade-offs
[00:06:57.060]related to different management strategies,
[00:07:02.300]it became evident,
[00:07:03.740]especially with the creation
[00:07:05.900]of the Center for Resilience
[00:07:07.880]and with Craig becoming active
[00:07:11.820]in looking at grassland
[00:07:15.030]and range management issues,
[00:07:16.500]it became evident that
[00:07:18.460]we should begin a program
[00:07:21.970]that focuses on those questions
[00:07:26.473]and to get the ranchers in the area,
[00:07:31.440]as well as representatives from NGOs
[00:07:34.210]and from state and federal agencies
[00:07:36.050]involved in developing research questions,
[00:07:39.510]identifying research questions
[00:07:42.360]and asking questions about the trade offs
[00:07:46.200]associated with different management practices,
[00:07:48.640]as well as different manipulations
[00:07:52.210]or uses of ecosystem services.
[00:07:55.400]So we had a history of working with ranchers
[00:07:59.150]in the Barta Brothers Ranch area.
[00:08:01.930]And so it was...
[00:08:06.420]This new phase of research
[00:08:08.810]that we're conducting at the Barta Brothers Ranch,
[00:08:10.800]I mean, it's fairly recent.
[00:08:12.130]So we haven't been conducting adaptive management research
[00:08:15.580]in a defined way until now.
[00:08:19.750]And we are meeting with the ranchers
[00:08:22.230]who want to work with us on this.
[00:08:24.000]We are as well as representatives
[00:08:27.360]from Nebraska Game and Parks
[00:08:29.540]and the US Fish and Wildlife Service and so forth
[00:08:32.240]as well as from the nature conservancy
[00:08:34.270]and the Sandhills taskforce
[00:08:36.200]as we develop these questions,
[00:08:39.960]identify our experimental design
[00:08:43.380]and how we're gonna monitor this,
[00:08:45.090]and we've got a team of UNL faculty working on this
[00:08:49.840]jointly with the two centers.
[00:08:53.100]And so it's progressing really well.
[00:09:00.470]I've been working at the Barta Brothers Ranch since 1998,
[00:09:04.160]and I've just been thrilled with how engaged
[00:09:10.180]and how interested our stakeholders,
[00:09:13.590]those groups I've mentioned are working with us.
[00:09:16.780]One of the benefits,
[00:09:18.000]one of the selling points for adjacent ranchers
[00:09:21.630]is that the Barta is university owned.
[00:09:25.140]So we can do more risky experiments
[00:09:28.590]on the university property,
[00:09:30.880]but have the ranchers who are adjacent
[00:09:33.020]involved in the design, monitoring,
[00:09:35.570]evaluating the data,
[00:09:37.130]but without putting their own ranches at risk,
[00:09:39.810]not that we want to risk the Barta,
[00:09:41.840]don't get me wrong,
[00:09:43.120]but people are hesitant to experiment
[00:09:46.500]where their livelihoods are at risk.
[00:09:48.440]Even a small change in productivity can affect them.
[00:09:52.780]So, the more extreme,
[00:09:55.440]not that we have really extreme treatments,
[00:09:57.860]but the more perceived risky experiments, for example,
[00:10:01.270]fire in the Sandhills
[00:10:02.700]is perceived with great caution.
[00:10:05.130]We can put on Barta Brothers Ranch
[00:10:06.990]and not have adjacent ranchers livelihoods put at risk,
[00:10:11.560]but we can still all learn from that.
[00:10:14.017]And we can still have the experiments
[00:10:15.990]on adjacent ranchers ranches,
[00:10:18.010]but maybe the last extreme ones
[00:10:20.560]where it's less risky to them.
[00:10:23.060]So I saw that as a real benefit,
[00:10:24.890]to the adaptive management approach
[00:10:26.870]and the idea of there is a adaptive management
[00:10:29.880]on large public lands,
[00:10:31.570]in fact, on grazing lands,
[00:10:33.560]but those are restricted purely to public land,
[00:10:36.080]and so it's a little bit different.
[00:10:37.760]We want to engage the private land owners,
[00:10:42.210]but we wanna do it in a way
[00:10:44.030]where we can actually do experiments that can,
[00:10:47.040]well, are potentially risky
[00:10:49.960]and the way to do that is put out in Barta
[00:10:52.250]and let everybody learn
[00:10:54.940]from what we do on university property,
[00:10:57.010]not on their own property,
[00:10:58.650]where their incomes are potentially at risk.
[00:11:02.760]Yeah, I had a question.
[00:11:06.010]What are the big challenges
[00:11:08.350]that face ranchers and ranches,
[00:11:12.130]I guess generally, or more specifically
[00:11:14.460]on the Great Plains
[00:11:16.430]and how does your program try to address
[00:11:21.420]some of those challenges?
[00:11:23.520]Yeah, I'll address a couple
[00:11:26.830]because this is coming out
[00:11:28.080]from discussions with folks.
[00:11:29.450]Our last meeting we had with our stakeholders
[00:11:33.180]we brought in a professional facilitator,
[00:11:35.560]neither Walt or I,
[00:11:36.600]or at least speaking for me, our facilitators.
[00:11:39.580]So it really helped to have a professional there
[00:11:41.790]and elicit information from people.
[00:11:46.200]There's lots of concerns
[00:11:47.220]and they vary from stakeholder to stakeholder,
[00:11:49.740]and it's also very interesting,
[00:11:50.970]their perceptions of what they're doing
[00:11:53.910]very, very differently.
[00:11:55.140]There are some folks who feel like,
[00:11:58.810]the best management practices
[00:12:00.430]they have now are perfect,
[00:12:01.970]then we'll keep working in the future
[00:12:03.630]and others who have more concern
[00:12:06.110]and wanna try new things.
[00:12:07.820]So this is a good location,
[00:12:09.740]to get all those people together
[00:12:10.990]and learn from each other.
[00:12:12.450]I think some of the perceived challenges are
[00:12:16.290]the lack of diversity in livelihoods.
[00:12:19.780]So people have talked about,
[00:12:22.400]can we get other livestock in,
[00:12:24.500]things like that
[00:12:27.950]'cause we've really lost diversity in many levels,
[00:12:31.360]not only in livelihoods,
[00:12:32.480]but also in just the vegetation out there
[00:12:34.680]has had a loss of diversity.
[00:12:36.210]So some of our experiments
[00:12:37.990]will try to increase the heterogeneity on the land.
[00:12:41.200]So there is some of that,
[00:12:42.330]but there's also concern about
[00:12:46.100]responding to change
[00:12:47.410]that's occurring globally and locally.
[00:12:49.410]So, cedar invasion, you know,
[00:12:51.660]red cedar's big issue
[00:12:53.130]around the Rose Nebraska area.
[00:12:55.180]You can see it coming in on Barta and adjacent,
[00:12:58.530]and there's a lot of bearing views
[00:13:01.850]on how harmful that is,
[00:13:03.990]how easy it is to deal with
[00:13:05.590]and what approach is necessary
[00:13:07.510]to best control cedar
[00:13:09.120]and cedar is a very fire sensitive species,
[00:13:13.110]so fire is an excellent tool for it,
[00:13:15.490]but culturally in the Sandhills,
[00:13:17.390]there's a history with fire that's been negative.
[00:13:20.260]So, that's a bit of a psychological hill to get over.
[00:13:24.210]So cedar is a big one.
[00:13:26.750]I think people do talk about just changing,
[00:13:30.360]and I think we could just broadly encompassing that
[00:13:33.970]into sort of global change,
[00:13:35.500]which probably does include changing climate
[00:13:38.620]and how we cope with those changes
[00:13:41.450]in heterogeneity and diversity,
[00:13:44.120]in operations is one of those approaches.
[00:13:46.630]Those are a couple of things that I heard.
[00:13:50.570]And if I could add, I think broadly
[00:13:53.920]the challenge for livestock producers
[00:13:58.580]on semi-arid range land is variability
[00:14:04.030]and obviously weather changes from year to year.
[00:14:09.090]So, precipitation is what, you know,
[00:14:12.400]is a primary driver
[00:14:14.070]of what ranchers depend on
[00:14:16.180]in terms of plant production
[00:14:18.010]or forage production.
[00:14:19.110]So, precipitation is variable,
[00:14:23.460]their primary resource therefore
[00:14:27.590]enter annually is variable as well as within.
[00:14:31.560]And so the predictability of production
[00:14:34.430]becomes a real concern
[00:14:36.420]and then the markets for their product
[00:14:39.890]is quite variable.
[00:14:43.180]And so, there's a lot of challenges
[00:14:47.510]that in producing a consistent product over the years
[00:14:52.330]that has high value.
[00:14:55.670]Yeah, and I'll throw in two more things there is,
[00:14:59.160]I did mention cedar,
[00:15:00.250]but related to management, etc,
[00:15:04.080]just the idea of biological invasions period.
[00:15:06.600]There's a number of herbaceous species
[00:15:09.040]that affect production and production value
[00:15:11.240]and problematic and affect management,
[00:15:12.957]and in fact, livestock grazing.
[00:15:15.300]So that's an issue.
[00:15:16.650]And of course we are talking about the Sandhills
[00:15:19.260]and there's always this perception
[00:15:21.750]that the Sandhills are fragile.
[00:15:24.210]And most of the fragility perceived
[00:15:26.560]has been focused on the potential
[00:15:28.570]of turning that back into a moving dune system,
[00:15:33.370]which is interesting because folks
[00:15:35.450]have managed very well to keep that grassy,
[00:15:38.060]and we see very few blowouts now, in fact,
[00:15:42.016]our primary endangered plant species is endangered
[00:15:45.770]because we've eliminated blowouts
[00:15:47.660]and interesting ironic outcome.
[00:15:51.280]But by while people have been focusing on avoiding
[00:15:55.010]and very successfully
[00:15:56.010]in avoiding these blowouts or moving sand,
[00:15:58.970]the cedar issue is sort of come in
[00:16:00.690]and it's just like moving sand.
[00:16:04.560]A cedar infested range land also
[00:16:08.420]has very little value for livestock production
[00:16:13.100]and a blowout is simply a depressional wind
[00:16:18.570]cause depressional feature
[00:16:20.910]that's relatively devoid of vegetation.
[00:16:24.610]The wind moves out the sand
[00:16:26.580]and it creates a depression
[00:16:30.200]that then is vegetation free
[00:16:32.450]and may tend to spread in some circumstances.
[00:16:36.646]It's just like a sandy area
[00:16:38.150]that's devoid of grass basically.
[00:16:40.350]Yeah and called blowout
[00:16:41.750]'cause it's a wind feature
[00:16:43.100]and it's really that the sand is blown out
[00:16:45.690]of that area almost literally.
[00:16:47.960]And the species you're talking about
[00:16:49.650]is blowout penstemon, correct?
[00:16:52.189]Is one of the endangered Great Plains species,
[00:16:55.270]that's where doing this online
[00:16:57.430]and many people maybe have never been here
[00:16:59.430]that are watching this.
[00:17:00.640]Can you maybe talk a little bit about
[00:17:02.760]what makes this landscape
[00:17:04.810]that you are working in unique and different.
[00:17:08.400]I think one of the attractive things
[00:17:09.990]that we find about the Sandhills is that
[00:17:13.500]it's not only the largest
[00:17:18.720]stabilize dune formation in the world,
[00:17:23.120]but it's because grasslands continue
[00:17:26.010]to get converted to other things,
[00:17:28.510]particularly crop lands,
[00:17:33.200]it's one of the largest contiguous grasslands in the world.
[00:17:38.639]So, it represents one of those grassland systems
[00:17:44.490]that are still in place and functioning.
[00:17:51.500]And it's good as a representative
[00:17:59.060]of a grassland ecosystem
[00:18:01.690]that is managed for livestock production,
[00:18:06.290]but it's also dominated by native vegetation.
[00:18:12.000]And of course, associated with that
[00:18:14.340]then is that below the Sandhills
[00:18:17.140]is the Great Plains or the Ogallala Aquifer,
[00:18:21.340]which is one of the deepest
[00:18:23.960]and largest dock aquifers in the world
[00:18:27.460]and provides for a rich hydrology
[00:18:33.330]and a lot of streams and rivers
[00:18:37.560]originating in the Sandhills.
[00:18:40.100]And yeah, they have a system still functioning,
[00:18:45.600]even though it's heavily impacted
[00:18:47.700]by production agriculture,
[00:18:50.450]beef cattle production,
[00:18:53.840]truly is a unique system.
[00:18:55.820]Yeah, I guess I'd add non-technically
[00:18:57.830]as a non Nebraskan,
[00:19:00.170]it's an amazing ecosystem,
[00:19:03.887]and it's amazing to me,
[00:19:05.070]how many folks even in Omaha Lincoln area,
[00:19:08.700]haven't been to the Sandhills,
[00:19:10.420]it's a phenomenal, iconic grassland
[00:19:13.210]that's world class in terms of extent
[00:19:18.770]and intactness and its value as well as with water,
[00:19:24.100]how the water comes to the surface in many,
[00:19:27.380]between many inter dunes
[00:19:29.850]And so you have these wonderful water resources
[00:19:32.380]gives rise to some amazing rivers
[00:19:35.890]that feed the plat
[00:19:37.030]and help us irrigate agriculture
[00:19:39.930]and provide drinking water for urban areas.
[00:19:43.830]And I might also add its...
[00:19:46.640]To my knowledge,
[00:19:47.473]I believe this is perhaps
[00:19:48.580]it's the darkest place feast of the rockies.
[00:19:51.350]So it's a phenomenal as a population density
[00:19:54.150]that would make it frontier
[00:19:55.570]of this early 1890s still.
[00:19:57.630]It's just an amazing place
[00:20:01.030]even without getting into the technical aspects
[00:20:03.390]of water and diversity and soils and all that.
[00:20:06.250]It's just a, it's a surprise
[00:20:09.860]I think to people unfamiliar like I was
[00:20:13.530]to Nebraska, before moving here,
[00:20:15.410]I had no idea what the Sandhills were
[00:20:18.620]and I suspect there's still little international,
[00:20:23.680]or even national recognition
[00:20:24.930]of what the Sandhills are,
[00:20:26.800]pretty unique resource
[00:20:28.160]we have here in Nebraska.
[00:20:29.850]Can you talk a little bit about
[00:20:30.700]this concept of resilience,
[00:20:32.480]which we've seen kind of
[00:20:33.770]that word spring up more and more.
[00:20:36.030]And I think it seems like
[00:20:37.500]it's sort of a new thing
[00:20:38.860]for people to talk about.
[00:20:40.720]So can you talk about a little bit
[00:20:41.730]from your perspective.
[00:20:43.160]Yeah, I think I can cover that real briefly.
[00:20:46.040]Resilience is a term that's been used for a long time.
[00:20:49.790]It has a long history in medicine and psychology
[00:20:54.170]and then a new use of the term came up more recently.
[00:20:57.686]So, it's confused things a bit.
[00:20:59.670]So resilience really means two things
[00:21:01.960]which can be reconciled pretty well.
[00:21:05.100]Resilience has come to mean
[00:21:06.750]it's original definition,
[00:21:08.540]which is return time following a disturbance.
[00:21:12.840]So in this, a lot of folks in agriculture their concern,
[00:21:16.710]if we're hit by drought or flood,
[00:21:18.890]how quickly can we recover?
[00:21:21.540]And it's a legitimate and important question.
[00:21:24.550]And in most cases, following disturbance
[00:21:27.840]return time is all you need to know,
[00:21:30.050]and it's a fairly simple metric
[00:21:32.790]and it's pretty understandable,
[00:21:34.450]but there's a lot more to resilience theory than that.
[00:21:38.060]And that's because in some cases
[00:21:40.690]you can disturb a system so badly
[00:21:43.550]that you cross a tipping point.
[00:21:45.820]And when you cross that tipping point,
[00:21:48.260]the system just cannot recover by itself.
[00:21:51.800]It fundamentally changes state, if you will.
[00:21:56.220]As an example, grasslands,
[00:21:58.730]the Sandhills in particular
[00:22:00.710]could exist in the grassy state,
[00:22:02.470]which is what we have now,
[00:22:03.980]but we also have a treed state coming and expanding.
[00:22:08.040]That's completely different,
[00:22:09.350]and it's hard to go back from tree to grassland again.
[00:22:13.430]It's not simply a matter of recovery,
[00:22:16.770]you have to break several
[00:22:19.470]sort of self organizing interactions
[00:22:23.090]within that system.
[00:22:24.070]For example, you can burn all the cedar trees
[00:22:26.750]out of a cedar forest very quickly,
[00:22:28.830]but each tree is putting out millions of seeds.
[00:22:31.750]So what comes up after a fire isn't grass,
[00:22:34.960]it's cedar again, they're much more quickly.
[00:22:37.270]So somehow even in the most trivial,
[00:22:40.190]you somehow have to break that cycle
[00:22:42.880]by repeated fires or very intense management
[00:22:45.790]to get grassland back.
[00:22:47.640]So, resilience has come to mean a return time,
[00:22:52.410]but in the deeper definition,
[00:22:54.980]it encompasses this idea
[00:22:56.450]of return time following disturbance,
[00:22:59.000]but also these cases
[00:23:00.750]where you cross a tipping point
[00:23:02.800]and the system collapses.
[00:23:04.480]And those are more concerned,
[00:23:06.340]especially where livelihoods are involved.
[00:23:08.450]The gospel, and as an example of a system collapsing,
[00:23:13.000]salinization of ag lands
[00:23:14.890]are an example of the collapse,
[00:23:16.270]'cause you can't get those back.
[00:23:18.260]Water logging of ag soils which we see
[00:23:20.660]in the Murray basin say of Australia now,
[00:23:23.280]you can't get back easily.
[00:23:25.587]So, resilience means both things.
[00:23:28.950]Craig, I believe it was you that mentioned
[00:23:32.210]the perceived fragility of the Sandhills.
[00:23:36.420]I was just curious to know
[00:23:39.100]if there were any other myths or misconceptions
[00:23:42.090]that are very common about the area.
[00:23:45.260]There's probably a number of myths.
[00:23:47.780]One is that it is fragile,
[00:23:49.820]I think that one persists pretty well,
[00:23:52.510]and I think going along with that,
[00:23:54.920]fragility is a pretty general statement,
[00:23:57.620]I think is a fear of fire
[00:23:59.630]that fire will cause
[00:24:01.200]the collapse of the Sandhills,
[00:24:03.660]that's a potential myth,
[00:24:05.830]we need to test that more,
[00:24:07.140]it's something people are very cautious about.
[00:24:10.170]I think, public has their own myths
[00:24:13.950]that are unfamiliar with the Sandhills
[00:24:15.980]about what's out here,
[00:24:17.120]but most people don't know,
[00:24:19.454]so those are just sort of uninformed.
[00:24:23.310]I don't know if it's a myth,
[00:24:24.690]it's just, we don't know
[00:24:28.115]to some people would be a myth about that.
[00:24:31.050]The current vegetation cover
[00:24:33.980]and therefore the Sandhills as a system
[00:24:38.070]are in better condition and more resilient
[00:24:43.400]with this very much vegetation cover
[00:24:47.440]that's dominated by perennial grasses.
[00:24:50.450]And I don't mean just dominated,
[00:24:51.890]I mean, they are maybe 90% of the weight
[00:24:57.850]in actual cover of the Sandhills
[00:25:01.550]is my perennial grasses.
[00:25:05.220]There's certainly with old photos
[00:25:09.380]and documents that the Sandhills 100 years ago
[00:25:16.140]had much more bare sand,
[00:25:18.410]there were blowouts,
[00:25:20.587]there are very few blowouts now,
[00:25:23.340]there was bare sand
[00:25:25.600]and that there were more annual plant species, more,
[00:25:33.950]what do I wanna say?
[00:25:34.783]You know, weedy species,
[00:25:35.900]broad leaf species, what we call forbs.
[00:25:38.910]And so that vegetation landscape
[00:25:42.360]looked much different,
[00:25:44.330]probably had greater diversity of animal species
[00:25:49.100]and fire was a common factor involved
[00:25:54.740]in periods of over utilization by herbivores
[00:25:58.850]so that the amount of active sand
[00:26:03.220]or amount of sand moving,
[00:26:04.380]the amount of bare soil,
[00:26:06.560]the diversity of plant species,
[00:26:09.130]everything from annuals to perennials,
[00:26:11.700]from forbs to grasses was greater.
[00:26:18.040]And so with the grassland cover that we have now,
[00:26:22.580]which has been managed for,
[00:26:24.530]largely by livestock producers,
[00:26:27.520]and I'm not saying that negatively,
[00:26:29.400]but they manage it for perennial grass,
[00:26:32.150]a continuous cover of continuous grass,
[00:26:35.170]or for minimizing that variability in forage production
[00:26:41.460]from year to year,
[00:26:42.470]as well as from pasture to pasture,
[00:26:44.680]they manage their cattle in such a way
[00:26:47.590]to optimize the level of perennial grass production.
[00:26:52.090]And so, that's one of the questions
[00:26:55.010]we're asking with our collaborators
[00:26:58.490]there at the Barta Brothers Ranch
[00:27:00.370]is can we manage for greater diversity
[00:27:05.090]of plant types, get more annuals in there,
[00:27:09.590]create more bare ground in places,
[00:27:12.000]create different habitat for a diversity
[00:27:15.340]of animal species.
[00:27:19.785]And therefore related to resilience.
[00:27:23.540]What is more resilient,
[00:27:25.260]is perennial grass cover,
[00:27:27.120]dominated grass cover that we currently have
[00:27:29.950]or something Craig mentioned,
[00:27:33.410]the word heterogeneity,
[00:27:35.050]where there's more diversity structurally
[00:27:37.770]in vegetation composition wise,
[00:27:41.880]what's more resilient.
[00:27:43.670]And can you manage,
[00:27:46.070]as a livestock producers
[00:27:47.480]as a beef cattle producer,
[00:27:48.680]can you manage for a more diverse landscape cover
[00:27:54.120]than what we currently have without seeing a,
[00:27:58.610]maybe not a collapse,
[00:28:00.290]but at least a reduction in beef cattle production
[00:28:04.470]while maybe you're creating more diversity
[00:28:06.200]for animal habitat.
[00:28:11.008]Now, I grew up in a traditional range,
[00:28:15.200]conventional range management,
[00:28:16.780]where pretty old grass cover
[00:28:18.960]is what we all want,
[00:28:21.130]but in the end it creates
[00:28:23.810]a pretty good level of homogeneity
[00:28:27.810]and you wonder then about
[00:28:29.670]the diversity of wildlife habitat
[00:28:31.840]and what it means in terms of resilience
[00:28:34.050]and soils and so forth.
[00:28:36.750]So I think that's something personally
[00:28:41.610]as a research scientist,
[00:28:42.750]I've struggled with over the years
[00:28:44.783]to get at a point where we can test
[00:28:47.190]some of those conventional theories
[00:28:52.780]about what is a healthy range land
[00:28:54.960]and the Sandhills, I think is an ideal place
[00:28:59.118]to work on questions about that.
[00:29:02.190]I think there's an interesting paradox there too.
[00:29:05.210]I think folks were nervous of moving dunes.
[00:29:10.390]I think they perceived that
[00:29:11.850]there were tipping points in the system,
[00:29:13.720]so they've managed and very successfully
[00:29:16.690]to eliminate blowouts
[00:29:18.050]and make the system really grassy.
[00:29:20.550]So while everybody is focused
[00:29:22.210]on the danger of poised by moving dunes,
[00:29:25.740]everybody sort of turned their back
[00:29:27.340]on the issue of tree invasions.
[00:29:29.210]And instead of the threat now of
[00:29:32.210]sort of processing a tipping point,
[00:29:33.910]isn't now from moving sand,
[00:29:35.890]it's from tree invasion.
[00:29:37.370]And so it's sort of an ironic situation to be in.
[00:29:41.940]You address one problem,
[00:29:43.830]and another problem jumps up
[00:29:46.010]and in resilience we often,
[00:29:48.780]it's hard to operationalize what is resilient,
[00:29:51.710]I mean, how resilient are the Sandhills
[00:29:54.390]is a huge question,
[00:29:55.580]and it's hard to answer.
[00:29:56.830]Is much easier asked how resilient is X to Y.
[00:30:01.810]So how resilient are the Sandhills
[00:30:03.950]to blowout or moving sand
[00:30:05.920]and how resilient is the Sandhills to cedar invasion,
[00:30:09.430]those kind of questions
[00:30:10.900]are much more operational level,
[00:30:12.900]but when you focus on one
[00:30:14.500]in improving enhancing resilience
[00:30:16.660]and stepping away from a tipping point for one,
[00:30:19.260]you may be backing into a different tipping point,
[00:30:21.790]and I think that's sort of the situation we're in now.
[00:30:25.210]I fall into the category of people
[00:30:26.970]who do think the Sandhills is fragile.
[00:30:29.370]So I bet a lot of our listeners are like that.
[00:30:32.310]So, you're suggesting
[00:30:35.340]it's not as fragile as we think, right?
[00:30:38.820]So could you kind of develop
[00:30:40.960]and explain that a little bit.
[00:30:43.300]Well, I guess I would explain it like this is that,
[00:30:48.780]maybe that's a myth that the Sandhills are fragile,
[00:31:02.310]I guess the fact that
[00:31:04.840]the Sandhills still persist today
[00:31:08.210]when we've lost
[00:31:09.940]all kinds of other ecological systems
[00:31:13.550]does suggest it's less fragile
[00:31:16.380]than all those other systems that we've lost.
[00:31:19.910]I also base that in part
[00:31:21.630]on the biocomplexity project that
[00:31:25.000]Davewood Dean headed up,
[00:31:26.701]which was centered at Barta,
[00:31:29.720]where they removed vegetation
[00:31:31.470]to see how easy it was to get moving dunes,
[00:31:35.300]and years on, have been unable to get moving dunes.
[00:31:40.290]To follow up on Margaret's question,
[00:31:43.390]I think some would argue then that
[00:31:48.110]one of the reasons the Sandhills
[00:31:51.680]has not collapsed or declined is because
[00:31:59.330]land owners do accept that it's fragile
[00:32:01.760]and therefore manage it much more closely
[00:32:05.510]than they would say the Loess Hill
[00:32:08.780]which are just south of the Sandhills,
[00:32:13.360]because you can mismanage the Loess Hill
[00:32:16.210]from a grazing perspective
[00:32:18.320]and the hills will still hold together, right?
[00:32:21.220]They'll still produce something and remain cover,
[00:32:23.840]whereas the Sandhills will blow away so to speak.
[00:32:29.220]So, there is that,
[00:32:31.850]and also generally the Sandhills
[00:32:34.720]are only used for grazing
[00:32:37.070]generally there aren't other human induced disturbances,
[00:32:42.380]like cropping that has caused,
[00:32:46.640]it had become a potential source
[00:32:49.100]of disturbance and collapse.
[00:32:52.960]So yeah, it's certainly a complex issue.
[00:32:57.680]Not only what do you define as fragile
[00:33:01.170]and the collapse of the system
[00:33:03.010]to how are those systems been managed?
[00:33:06.438]Is there anything else that I didn't ask
[00:33:08.010]that you wanted to let people know?
[00:33:13.050]I'd like to put in the plug for,
[00:33:15.830]so, the Barta Brothers Adaptive Management
[00:33:18.630]is a really collaborative project.
[00:33:20.570]We talked about the stakeholders,
[00:33:22.070]the ranchers, state and federal agencies, NGOs,
[00:33:25.890]but there's also a bunch of faculty involved
[00:33:28.320]with a lot of expertise from social science
[00:33:31.150]to cattle production, to economics,
[00:33:34.170]to spatial sciences and more.
[00:33:36.350]And so all, you know, it's not just Walt and I,
[00:33:39.720]it's a whole group of folks addressing this issue
[00:33:42.820]and we hope it to be a long-term productive project.
[00:33:48.680]We'd like to thank doctors, Allen and Schacht
[00:33:50.770]for speaking with us today.
[00:33:52.560]Find all of our short Great Plains talks and interviews
[00:33:55.700]as videos and podcasts
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