Carbon sequestration plays a key role in environmental health. Wild Idea Buffalo Company and affiliated ranches are positively impacting over 300,000 acres of grasslands, which actively sequesters between 90,000 to 5,100,000 metric tons of carbon!
The green grass you see in a healthy buffalo prairie pasture is only a small portion of the plants that you see. Beneath the ground are many feet of long, tangled roots that are perennial - they do not die in the winter. The roots are the engine that power the plants to suck CO2 from the air, breaking the carbon atoms from the oxygen atoms, and sends the oxygen back into the atmosphere for us to breathe. The carbon stays in the ground, and remains sequestered there, where it cannot get back into the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas, which causes global warming. Keeping buffalo in prairie pastures helps keep the soil healthy, our climate from changing and threatening all life on earth.
Our ancient approach of grazing buffalo is quite simple and works in symbiotic harmony with the land. By giving our bison large landscapes to roam (our bison on the Great Plains prairies require 30 acres per animal), they naturally fertilize the soil as they graze, switching on the soils regenerative function. By following nature’s lead, bison, who are natural soil builders create a healthy, nutrient-rich ground base, which provides a banquet of grasses, forbs and sedges that is essential for all wildlife (life).
There are a handful of functions that healthy soil performs: nutrient cycling, water relations, biodiversity and habitat promotion, filtering and buffering, and physical stability and support of plant systems. These functions strengthen soil nutrients, regulate drainage and flow of water, supports diversity and growth of many plant varieties, soil biomes and animals, aids in protecting our air and water and provides “anchoring support for human structures” along with creating a mechanism for roots of plants.
Essentially, soil is the foundation for life. Without these soil functions working in tandem, our soil is left lifeless and devastated, with carbon having no place to call home other than in our atmosphere, which is the biggest contributing factor to global warming.
In 2015, Applied Ecological Services, Inc. and The Carbon Underground visited the Wild Idea Ranch to analyze the baseline soil carbon levels in upland terrestrial grasslands of those areas that were grazed by the bison. For comparison purposes, the team of ecologists also tested/sampled the soil of adjacent properties that were grazed by cattle or those areas farmed that also had the same soil types and history as our ranch.
“This analysis documents sandy soils found in the lower floodplain portion of the River Pasture on Wild Idea’s Cheyenne River Ranch has more than 1 kg/m2, or 10 metric tons, of additional soil organic carbon present compared to the same soil type across the fence on government property (Buffalo Gap National Grasslands along the Cheyenne River). The larger 25,000 acre Buffalo Gap pasture is grazed intermittently by cattle during the growing season and serves as the winter pasture for Wild Idea’s Cheyenne River Ranch’s bison herd. This is evidence that continuous light and hard grazing by cattle on the government property in the same soil type is not building soil organic carbon at a comparable level as what is occurring at the Wild Idea Cheyenne River Ranch’s – River Pasture.” Steve Appelbaum AES Inc.
Unfortunately, industrialized agriculture has tilled their way into prairie grasslands, turning the soil off, and leaving acres upon acres of land degraded, saturated with pesticides and chemical fertilizers. In addition, CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations) for meat production are also culpable in the prairie plow up, as over 70% of crops grown are used to feed animals in confinement, a leading contributor to global warming.
Healthy soil and prairie grasslands are our armor against climate change. In essence, regenerative agriculture is a soil saver – “a world of organisms with symbiotic relationships that support the growth of plants to feed us, recycle nutrients from decomposing plants, provide structure and water holding capacity to our land, control diseases and pests, and sequester carbon.” And, this is where the bison play such a vital role – through their grazing patterns, they become gardeners of the prairie, bringing the soil to optimum health and breathing life to not just those microorganisms underground, but to all life’s inhabitants above ground.
Grasslands, which account for about 20-40% of the world’s land area have been found to store more carbon than forests. Compared to a forest, carbon is stored underground, whereas forests store the majority of carbon in the woody biomass and leaves. Because forests are more susceptible to fires, as the trees burn, the carbon is pumped back into the atmosphere. Although trees (in a stable climate) do store more carbon than grasslands, in our current vulnerable state of global warming (and fires) we are losing significant amounts of carbon that is stored in our world’s forests. In turn, grasslands are more adaptive to climate change – the carbon is underground, safely stored in the roots and soil.
Wild Idea Buffalo Company is grounded in soil health, keeping our prairies intact and protecting these threatened grasslands by returning the American Bison to their native homeland. Our efforts in following nature’s lead is key to healthy ecosystems, a healthy planet and a healthy product that doesn’t come with an IOU.
We hope you join us and the growing herd of Earthetarians, and help regenerate the prairie, keeping carbon stored safely underground, while improving our environment and our food supply, one bite at a time.