See past tunnel vision

It’s difficult to maneuver the steep banks, as I slide down into the murky creek below. I find a nice skipping rock and hand it to my boyfriend, John. It’s his first time visiting our farm.

It’s a beautiful, sunny, October day, and then he says it: “You guys have some bad erosion happening here.” In just those words my beautiful fall day comes to a screeching halt. My immediate thoughts are “Wait, what?” but then I look up at the steep banks and the murky water below and I think, “Wow… how have I become blind to this?”

I have lived here my whole life; the eroded streams that are the norm in Northeast Kansas had become the norm to me. My story isn’t unique; we as landowners have the tendency to develop tunnel vision with the land that we see every day. Sometimes it just takes different eyes to see what is going on. Now, seeing is one thing; but to truly make a difference in the landscape, we need to think and manage sustainability.

With that said, I want to clear up a few things on sustainability, because I think that is where we, especially wildlife professionals, get it wrong. What is sustainability? I think Aldo Leopold said it best, “Examine each question in terms of what is ethically and esthetically right, as well as what is economically expedient. A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” For something to be sustainable, it must benefit the resource, the consumer and be economically beneficial to the producer.

So how do we work to regenerate the landscape and become sustainable? Is it possible? Absolutely. Just look at producers like Gabe Brown and Joel Salitan. But for us to work toward sustainability, it might mean changing the way we think.

First, we must shift our focus to include the long-term goals. As producers, we have the tendency to focus solely on short term gains, but we tend to sacrifice the long-term benefits. We might have to include in our thoughts, “How will these decisions affect the land 20 years from now?” We must think about all of this while still taking into consideration the issue at the present.

Working toward sustainability also means that we strive to increase diversity. This diversity includes the diversity of species in a rangeland and microbes in the soil, as well as our operation itself. Diversity prepares us and helps cushion us from the damages when the weather isn’t in our favor or the corn prices put us in the red.

To work toward sustainability, we must also be out on our land observing what is happening and asking questions. “Why are the trees stunted in the south part of my timber? Why does this section of my field have slow water infiltration?”

By being observant of the landscape, we can become more proactive and better land managers. We can get out there and notice that small patch of sericea before it dominates the pasture. Getting out there and making these observations not only makes us better stewards, but it also helps us appreciate the land. It provides that excuse to get away from our busy schedule and skip rocks in that Muddy Creek.

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