When and what to conserve, restore, or generate?

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Picture courtesy of Mark Simmons, Director of Landscape Research and Design, Ecosystems Design Group at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Group, Austin, TX

” id=”yui_3_17_2_4_1447453256354_690″ style=”line-height: 0; overflow: hidden; padding-bottom: 554.484px; position: relative; text-align: center;”>Picture courtesy of Mark Simmons, Director of Landscape Research and Design, Ecosystems Design Group at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Group, Austin, TX

This is an important picture that I hope we will all spend time understanding as it provides the road map to a huge issue in climate change resilience.  The picture speaks directly to the not so simple issue of conserving our land.
If I could change this graph in 1 way, it would be to split the graphic into two questions.  The above graphic does an excellent job of dealing with soil quality of conserved lands, which I will explain below.  What the picture doesn’t explain how many of us understand land conservation.  YES, we need to conserve huge quantities of land in order to reverse the increase losses of rainwater to drought/hot dry winds (i.e. evaporation).  Evaporation in inches/year can easily be greater than our total annual rainfall.
What I want people to understand is the distinction between conserving the quantity of land (which conservation groups are working hard on), and the quality of that land.  Because we have conserved a quantity of land does not mean that its quality is worth preserving, yet.  In many cases, the land has existing conditions that are similar to ‘generate’ in the above picture.   We need to make that soil more functional so that it can withstand the pressures and forces of climate change.  Only when we have the performance levels of those soils (part of the respective ecosystem) then can we say that the quality is worth conserving.
The hard part of this is that the cost of generating soil quality, so that it is worth conserving, is quite significant.  It is often more than the purchase cost of the land.  This creates a difficult economic issue.  
Why is the land of such poor quality?  Soil erosion, wind erosion.  Our agricultural practices many years ago were ignorant of these issues until it was too late.  While we have restored good practices, nobody has figured out how to finance soil quality improvements such as minerals, compost and mulch in a scalable way.  
This is the new job of soil economics.  Stay tuned.

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