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Gardeners Of Eden: Rediscovering Our Importance To Nature Paperback – August 4, 2005
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"Dan Dagget sees the world freshly, in a way that may save it, or at least save our capacity to participate creatively in its dynamics. This is the most important conservation manifesto since Aldo Leopold's 'Land Ethic.'"
About the Author
Dan Dagget has been an environmental activist and ecorestoration consultant for over thirty years, fighting coal strip mines in Ohio and uranium mining near the Grand Canyon, designating wilderness areas, and working to resolve conflicts between western ranchers and environmentalists. He is the author of Beyond the Rangeland Conflict: Toward a West That Works, and lives in Santa Barbara, California.
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Following the pattern established in Beyond the Rangeland Conflict, Dagget records his journeys throughout the West’s ranching country, interviewing the people (the Gardeners of Eden) and photographing the lands that are flourishing under their restorative care. The evidence shows—in dramatic, pictorial ways—how well the land fares when managed by conscientious ranchers. We now know that for many centuries millions of buffalo, deer, and antelope grazed the land, pulverizing and manuring the soil as they followed their migration patterns. We also know that millennia before 1492 American Indians routinely burned swaths of the land every other year, thereby controlling growth and enriching the soil. (Were such fires used today, the catastrophic fires periodically devastating vast sections of the West would be minimized!)
As Charles Mann says: “‘Indians retooled whole ecosystems to grow bumper crops of elk, deer, and bison,’” using fire to control “‘underbrush and create the open, grassy conditions favorable for game’” (p. 27). Today’s ranchers are learning to duplicate these aboriginal wise-use methods, often helping native grasses and vegetation replace invasive species (e.g. sagebrush, salt cedar, thistles, junipers) that often flourish under the “Leave-It-Alone” approach and generally degrade the land. Yet despite their success—and despite the efforts of Dagget and others to share their strategies—few policy-makers and bureaucrats note the fact that carefully-grazed land is far more healthy than wilderness left to its own devices.
Instead, various governmental agencies are spending billions of dollars, allegedly protecting the land by “leaving it alone” while it degrades at an alarming rate. Imprisoned by the Green ideology that “nature knows best,” federal policy-architects have “brought us to the absurdity that the actual condition of a piece of land is irrelevant to determining if it is healthy or not” (p. 18). It is now clear to Dagget that “the Leave-It-Alone assumption is woven into our very concepts of nature (especially evident in urbanites), of what nature is and how we are related to it. It is nothing more than our culture’s story of the creation of nature—the story of the Garden of Eden—adopted as policy. The Garden of Eden story is the establishment, within our culture, of the assumption that humans are separate from nature, that we are not a part of it, and that we are not animals but something different. Lots of people who consider themselves to be irreligious or even antireligious subscribe to this piece of religious dogma” (p. 22).
What’s needed, Dagget says in his final chapter, is a “new environmentalism” attainable by “becoming native again.” The Leave-It-Alone policies imposed by the preservationists now leading environmentalist groups and federal agencies have clearly failed both the land and its residents. As the evidence now demonstrates, we need a new approach that truly restores the land and increases its productivity. For example, ranchers in North Dakota practicing “holistic grazing” now “experience an average return on their money of 16 percent. Practitioners of other approaches, mostly seasonal grazing, report a 2 percent gain” (p. 142). By becoming native again and recovering the wise-use policies that made the West what it was centuries ago, this wonderful region could regain its vibrancy.
Dagget’s books embrace both a sound environmental ethic and a high regard for human enterprise. Would that his wise words and images could shape the convictions and policies of our nation.
Conflict, writes Dagget, is one of the major economic sectors to emerge from America's public lands. And Dagget himself is definitely a player. In the 1990s, he broke ranks with the advocacy-oriented Sierra Club on the grounds that results on the land counted more than prescriptions or beliefs. He began to follow the experiments of people such as Tony and Jerrie Tipton in Nevada, who were restoring grasslands on sterile, salt-encrusted mine tailings with cattle and hay where conventional prescriptions of technology and rest from grazing had failed utterly.
Using cattle to restore land, Dagget found, collided with what people "knew": that cattle could not restore land, they invariably degraded it. Therefore the grassland atop the mine tailings was invisible or irrelevant. It was, he says, like showing pictures of dog tricks to a cat fanatic.
The book is a wide-ranging and rapid survey of the remarkable achievements of some the Lost Tribers, which will be engaging and hopeful news to most. The theme running through is that human management has been crucial factor in creating many of the environments that we mostly now regard as natural. By ignoring or denying our participation in the landscape, we have become aliens--but in following the examples of the Lost Tribe, there are substantial opportunities to change our attitudes and behaviors, and become more native to our landscapes.
These are powerful and deep issues. Dagget's Lost Tribers are practicing a kind of interdependence that offers tremendous opportunities to regenerate degraded lands and communities--opportunities that didn't exist in the old set-piece between extraction and preservation.
An understanding of basic ecosystem processes underlies much of what the Lost Tribers have accomplished, and many of Dagget's readers might benefit from a basic description of the water cycle, for example, or how the biological carbon cycle operates differently in moist environments than in seasonally arid ones. But his book, outlining as it does this new conflict emerging from the old, stale one, will be a powerful creative force for change.
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In Gardeners of Eden, Dan Dagget explores a new dynamic of...Read more