Our Bison Impact: Making a Positive Ecological Change
American Buffalo (bison) have been roaming the grasslands of North America for over 170,000 years and are considered the keystone species of the prairie grassland animals. How do bison affect an ecosystem? Bison benefit our prairie grasslands and soil health, which are an armor against climate change. Through bison grazing patterns, bison become gardeners of the prairie, bringing the soil to optimum health and breathing life into not just those microorganisms underground but to all life aboveground.
Environmental Health Impact:
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, support diversity and growth of many plant varieties, soil biomes, and animals, aid in protecting our air and water, and provide “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 carbon has no place to call home other than in our atmosphere, which is the biggest contributing factor to global warming.
What Does CAFO Stand For:
Unfortunately, industrialized agriculture has tilled its way into prairie grasslands, turning the soil functions off and leaving acres upon acres of land degraded, saturated with pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) for meat production are also culpable in the prairie plow-up, as over 70% of crops are grown to feed animals in confinement, another leading contributor to global warming.
Bison Grazing Effects:
Wild Idea’s large-landscape bison ranch model mimics how things once were. Our approach to bison grazing is simple, ancient, and follows nature’s lead, working in harmony with the land. As our bison roam large landscapes (our ranch in western South Dakota requires 35 acres per animal), they naturally fertilize the soil, switching on the soil’s regenerative functions. This allows bison, who are natural soil builders, to create a healthy, nutrient-rich base that provides a banquet of grasses, forbs, and sedges essential for all wildlife (life).
The grass, forbs, and sedges that you see aboveground and that are nurtured by bison grazing are only a small part of these plants. Beneath the ground are many feet of long, tangled roots that are perennial—they do not die in winter. These roots are the engine that powers the plants to suck CO2 from the air, breaking the carbon atoms from the oxygen atoms and sending the oxygen back into the atmosphere for us to breathe. The carbon remains sequestered in the ground, unable to get back into the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas.
Carbon sequestration plays a key role in environmental health. Wild Idea Buffalo Company and affiliated ranches are positively impacting over 400,000 acres of grasslands, which actively sequester over 388,000 metric tons of carbon! Keeping buffalo on prairie pastures helps keep the soil healthy and counteracts the threat that climate change poses to all life on Earth.
In 2015, Applied Ecological Services, Inc. and The Carbon Underground visited Wild Idea’s Cheyenne River Buffalo Ranch to analyze the baseline soil carbon levels in upland terrestrial grasslands where bison had grazed. For comparison purposes, the team of ecologists also sampled and tested the soil of adjacent properties where cattle grazed, or areas that were 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 Apfelbaum, AES Inc.
Why Should Consumers Care About Soil Health:
Grasslands account for about 20-40% of the world’s land area. In grasslands, carbon is stored underground, whereas the majority of carbon in forests is stored aboveground in the woody biomass and leaves. In a stable climate, trees are effective at sequestering vast quantities of carbon. But when forests burn, that carbon is pumped back into the atmosphere. In our current climate reality, with fire seasons that are increasing in frequency and duration, grasslands are capable of sequestering more carbon than forests. Quite simply, grasslands are more adaptive to climate change, keeping carbon underground, safely stored in roots and soil. You can learn more about the importance of soil health and its relationship to gut health here.
Wild Idea Buffalo Company is grounded in soil health, returning the American bison to their native homeland to keep our prairies intact and to protect threatened grasslands. Our efforts in following nature’s lead are key to healthy ecosystems, a healthy planet, and a healthy product that doesn’t come with an IOU.
In essence, regenerative agriculture as practiced on Wild Idea’s home and affiliated ranches is a soil saver, nurturing “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.”
By supporting sustainable, regenerative bison agriculture and our conservation efforts, you are directly supporting positive ecological change. We hope you join us and the growing herd of Earthetarians in regenerating the prairie and keeping carbon stored safely underground while improving our environment and our food supply, one bite at a time.
You can learn more about the health benefits of our 100% grass-fed and grass-finished bison meat here. In addition all animals harvested for food are humanely field harvested in the prairie pastures they graze. You can learn more about that here.