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Reshaping traditional drainage engineering to include or be replaced by green infrastructure, in particular with land management practices like advanced grazing, can help decentralize stormwater in more natural, effective, and sustainable ways. By approaching drainage via advanced grazing, soil organic matter is increased, in turn increasing soil water holding capacity and thereby ultimately reversing desertification. This has the potential for a tremendous return on investment in the form of improved water security, flood control, dust mitigation, water quality, as well as reduced wildfires and soil loss.

Researchers have long concluded that both wild and domesticated grazing animals are a major cause of desertification. What researches have failed to understand is that the animals themselves are not the problem. Instead, the problem is the way humans have managed grazing animals. Prior to adverse human impacts of industry and agriculture, migratory grazing and predatory animals were part of a balanced system. The historical record supports this idea. For instance, the journals of explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark make frequent reference to herds of grazing animals large enough to provide some protection from predatory attacks.

Such a migration pattern benefits grasslands in several ways. While overgrazing leaves soil bare and unlikely to recover due to the extreme changes in daily temperature within the soil microclimate and no grazing causes hardening of the soil surface increasing runoff and preventing plants from getting sufficient water, natural “just right” grazing patterns have none of these desertification-causing issues. In fact, when “just right” grazing is combined with the application of nitrogen from animal urine and manure and the tilling action of hooves in the soil, the grass decays biologically, providing for healthier regrowth, while the land rests during the break in the migration cycle. In fact, in some, if not most, areas, the soil has become so degraded that including cattle in the herd can be important as a way to add weight and thereby have a bigger effect on breaking up the soil surface.

This is the central premise of the planned grazing approach developed by ecologist and Holistic Management pioneer, Allan Savory. See the next entry in this series, What are the Savory Institute and Savory Hubs?, to learn about resources that can help you explore and implement planned grazing and Holistic Management.