Empowering Decisions at the Soil Surface


Photo by Hugh Donovan

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Many of us have engaged in correspondence and discussions about learning the practice of Holistic Management over the years. This blog will take our discussions to another level so we can get more holistic decision making on the ground, where we find meaningful leverage.

Finding Leverage for Life
Think about it. All life on our planet (as we know it) comes from the ecosystem processes. Improving the function of these processes will make life more resilient . Water begins to absorb, at the soil surface. Plants begin to germinate and grow, at the soil surface. Plants begin to decompose and build soil, at the soil surface. Tools effecting ecosystem function engage at the soil surface. The greatest marginal reaction and leverage point for improvement of life on our planet lies at the soil surface.

Empowering Decisions at the Soil Surface
This blog will explore how we can better develop markets, policy, investment, knowledge, and skill that will empower those making decisions at the soil surface.


Blog overview


We have two more mass killings fading into history without any meaningful action. Shootings are extreme symptoms of some imbalance. The root cause of that imbalance costs our communities more than we know.

It seems commonsensical that prudent background checks and access to military assault weapons need to be addressed. Beyond that, what is amiss in our community?

I think being more conscious of guiding those experiencing typical growing pains could better support our next generations to make empowered decisions at the soil surface. That begins with having an intolerance for bullies and nurturing the desire to aspire.

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We have Data. Where’s Yours

Daily blatant lying has become the norm. Letting lies lie can be dangerous if left to become a false reality. This can be particularly damaging when making decisions at the soil surface.

My neighbor in Wyoming pointed out this tendency to me years ago. Clyde told me that when something happens, it seems so significant that we can’t imagine ever forgetting. Yet, time has a tendency to warp our memory to shade the event in more dramatic or rosy hues. Monitoring can clear the lens of our perception.

After my first Holistic Management training, I came home with a new awareness of ecosystem function. I became certain that our water cycle was dragging down our ranch’s land health. After establishing permanent trend and condition transects, it became obvious that the mineral cycle was the most dysfunctional part of our landscape.

As old-time holistic manager, Greg Simonds famously said, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” This seems obvious but more importantly we need data to interrupt confirmation bias, develop a line of discussion for the uninformed, prepare a check and balance for the mis-informed, and establish a line of defense for the bullies. These characters may even be us.

A changing planet brings more scrutiny to land managers’ results. Many complex indicators weave an ecosystems tapestry beneath our feet and we cannot expect to make solid management decisions without knowing a site’s stability and/or trend. The question is not whether we should monitor our ecosystem health but how best to establish a baseline and monitor our context over time.

We have data, where’s yours?

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Skipping A Beat


For the past two years, I have been dealing with a nasty hip pain. I worked hard in physical therapy and exercise to heal without surgery. I learned that sometimes we just need to sleep in the bed we made for ourselves.

The Holistic Management decision-making process begins where we are, no matter what state that may be. We start with the state of our lands ecological health, today. We begin with the state of our bank account, today. We begin with the relationships we have with our family, our crew, and our community, today. We begin with the state of our infrastructure on our ranch and in our community, today.

This blog uses my hip pain to demonstrate how we use our holistic context on a daily basis. Every morning we wake up to the reality of our being. Every day our starting point begins here. Acknowledging the truth of our reality defines our ability to move toward our desired quality of life. Every decision we make begins by acknowledging truthfully, where we are, now, and continues with how we are going to get to create our future resource base necessary to achieve our desired future.

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Trying To Think Like a River

Like always, Tony had "get the blog out" on his calendar. He carved out big chunks of time to write this month and produced a solid piece. Writing does him good.

Before he publishes the blog, Tony reads it to me over breakfast. Usually, I throw a few blows that he easily sifts through. The other day, I felt it in his tempo that he was hoping I’d say, “Yeah! Publish and let’s go sort heavies.” Well, I didn’t. He knew it wasn't fleshed out and the tone just didn’t feel right for the time.

Our discussion shifted to the news of the day; the unthinkable tragedy that has befallen New Zealand. Our condolences to our grazing partners and others who call New Zealand home.

We then turned to discuss Gabe Brown’s great book Dirt to Soil which we are both reading. His recollections of the late Neil Dennis reminded us of the first time we met him in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

We were joining a large gathering of folks during Holistic Management International’s conference at the Long Branch. There was a slew of people all sitting at one table in a tiny space. Tony can’t stand those situations. “I can’t hear. I can’t engage. What the hell does it take to get a drink around here?”

Luckily, Neil and his wife Barbara were sitting next to us, and we sparked up a conversation. As anyone who has had such a fortune surely can imagine, it turned out to be one memorable evening. After dinner and drinks, Niel gregariously stood up and said: “Oh! You are the ‘Think Like A River folks!”

As an encore, we are sharing: Think Like a River – Finding Peace of Mind through Holistic Management. It seems fitting to share with you given the previous blog on log jams and the mood in which we find ourselves.

In a couple of weeks, Tony will be getting a hip replacement. Thanks to all of you, upstanding (literally) cowboys who have been saying “Don’t you think you need to get that hip taken care of Tony?” This is all to say, Tony will have ample time to think and write, so look forward to new material next month.

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