Choose Variety for Conservation

If you don’t care about the long-term results, then sure one size fits all… It seems like we have to learn the same lessons over and over. In 1986, I was a new District Conservationist in the Carroll Field Office in West Central Iowa. NRCS was just rolling out the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). In those first years, we conservation planners wrote one CRP plan after another, for pure stands of smooth bromegrass on CRP. It only took a few years before the wildlife biologist realized that a solid seeding of smooth bromegrass was almost worthless for wildlife habitat. From solid stands of bromegrass, we migrated to solid stands of switchgrass. Switchgrass initially provided better habitat. But in time, biologists realized switchgrass became so dense that many species of wildlife would not use it for habitat. Next, we tried a 3-way mix of native grasses. That was a little better, but eventually we found we needed to add forbs (wildflowers) to get the diversity we desired. Even that wasn’t enough. It is only in the past 6 to 8 years we have realized that all seedings need disturbance…tillage, fire, or grazing.  What we know now is that all grassland habitats will steadily decrease in habitat value 5 to 8 years after the initial seeding without some type of disturbance. A few months ago, I read an article entitled Allowing variance may enlarge the safe operating space for exploited ecosystems. As I read the article, there was one concept that caught my attention

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