A Savanna Life in a Technological World

Savanna Ecosystems are Deteriorating and My House was Collateral Damage

Savanna Ecosystems are Deteriorating and My House was Collateral Damage

Did I mention that our home burned down in the Nuns Fires in Sonoma County last month? Well, I’m casually bringing it up again for two reasons. First of all, given all that’s happened, we at Grounded Land and Livestock have a product that you might want to consider, reduce heavy fuel loads through livestock grazing in Sonoma County. Second, these fires provide an uncommonly direct and visceral example of a much larger pattern in the world, which is this: humans evolved a dependency to savanna ecosystems, and that dependency is just as strong today. I will save the first point (the advertisement) for next week. This week I will stick to the second point, the soapbox.

Forget PG&E.* The Nuns Fires in Sonoma County were caused by the deterioration of the savanna landscape, the landscape that we and many of the other organisms in our ecosystem evolved with. This ecosystem was shaped by fascinating large animals that ate grass and shrubs. In natural conditions, those animals would move over the landscape in a particular way.

For a much more in-depth discussion of these animals see the book  Savanna, How Modern Problems were Born out of Prehistoric Extinctions. When humans killed off most of these animals and changed the movements of the ones that remained, the landscape filled with combustible brush. Since this is evolutionarily uncharted territory, it is substandard habitat for the wildflowers, butterflies, and songbirds that call this ecosystem home. Hunter-gatherer humans would find little food in this sort of environment and the fires last month show that we have not changed our habitat preferences. This makes for strange bedfellows, with butterflies and multi-million dollar homes needing the same habitat to survive.

For millions of years, the lives of our ancestors and their communities have been tied to the fate of savanna vegetation. That is still the case today. To me, the most unusual thing about these Nuns Fires in Sonoma County is that the connection between real human problems and the deterioration of savanna ecosystems is very clear. However, every aspect lives are affected by the deterioration of savanna habitats. From our diseases and addictions, our food and our housing, our political and social structures. In most facets of our lives, the connection to savanna vegetation has been obscured by many layers of technology but savanna touches our lives in many other ways that are no less real. Just less obvious.

Next week I will touch on the three tools we have to address the problem of heavy fuel loads in the landscape and the strong prejudices many people have to use them in our landscape.

*PG&E is our electric utility whose power lines ignited the Nuns Fires in Sonoma County last month.

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