When wind power was getting up and running, there was a lot of angst about the number of birds being knocked out the sky by the spinning arms. That turned out to be a gearing issue- just spin the blades at a different speed. But even had it been an unsolvable conundrum, would that have been justification for halting wind turbines? Don’t oil and coal and natural gas kill more birds by far?
Perhaps the interior Plains needs of certain birds can’t be accommodated within a world where humans simply MUST learn to produce their food without so much trauma to the larger environment. BUT! If we can grow enough food locally, and shift our diets to focus on the perennial crops, then some of the land that is now farmland will be able to return to conservation easements and other “biodiversity sinks”, which would, in turn, create more Prairie Interior.
Except that conservation easements at this point usually follow “riparian corridors” (rivers and streams), so… edges. Edge species. We need a mechanism that facilitates the intentional and intelligent conglomeration of multiple easements into larger, more cohesive tracts.
This notion of clustering the easements circles back to the permaculture possibilities. If we could take advantage of the community of people who want to grow this way, then a number of us could pitch in and create our collective food forest on one patch and commit a larger space to prairie. This would require new forms of land rights, based less on the primacy of the individual.
When I lived in a group house in (the People’s Republic of) Takoma Park, Maryland, one of my housemates actually owned the house, which was great. Andrew kept rents low for everybody because his goal was to live in a house full of community oriented people he liked (we selected housemates as a group: we all had to like them).
But when Andrew got a job on the West Coast, there was no mechanism that allowed him to sell the house to the housemates at rent-to-own pricing and still give him the down payment he’d need to buy another spot in his new town. At this point, cooperative land purchases are too much the province of the monied, when the people who would be seriously motivated to make it work are usually the working poor.
Perhaps part of the answer is to finally go back and listen to the people who might actually know how to live in community and how to live on this landscape. Granted, when you send a plague through a society based on oral tradition, it’s not just that their elders got sick and died of smallpox, it’s that the cultural equivalents of libraries and universities burned to the ground. So possibly, horribly, maybe it’s too late.
But if not… the Lakota and Winnebago will know the most about living along the upper Missouri River. The Pawnee and Ponca about life along the Platte and the Loup, the Ojibwe and Dakota about life beside the Great Lakes. These are the peoples who know (or knew) about prairie turnips and morning glory roots, wild plums, native beans, the uses of black cherry fruits.
Do I, settlers’ descendant, walk up to our indigenous neighbors and just ask them the uses of this plant and this plant and this plant…? I think I’m better off learning to listen. And better off supporting the tribal colleges, too: the original protectors of this landscape are busy healing from the wounds of colonialism and fighting the pipelines of capitalist pollution that are still, even now, playing out the same arrogant priorities of 300 years ago.
An education system is needed that will protect, nurture, and expand the knowledge that still remains. This is totally in line with the larger goal of sustainable, respectful food systems in concert with the Prairie ecologies. Permaculture without people is not possible.
The next step will unfold on a time scale not at all cognizant of nor beholden to any human’s calendar. Listening and learning without a specific “useful-to-me” goal will reap huge rewards, even if not immediately discernable in my own personal accounting books. Permaculture is about more than me, and more than right now.