Which “rangeland restoration”?


“Restore” is a very big word in infrastructure studies. It’s been applied to: (1) interrupted service provision restored back to normal infrastructure operations; (2) services initially restored after the massive failure of infrastructure assets; and (3) key equipment or facilities restored after a non-routine “outage” as part of regular maintenance and repair.

To be clear, what follows are overlapping examples, but good-enough for our purposes:

–An ice storm passes through, leading to a temporary closure of a section of the road system. Detours may or may not be possible until the affected roadways are restored. This is an example of #1.

–An earthquake hits, systemwide telecommunications fail outright big time, and mobile cell towers are brought in by way of immediate response to restore telecom services, at least initially. This is an example #2.

–A generator in a power plant trips offline. Repairs are undertaken, often involving manual, hands-on work so as to restore back on line. This kind of sudden outage happens all the time and is considered part of the electric utility’s standard-normal M&R (maintenance and repair). This is an example of #3.


Now think of “rangeland restoration” in these terms of 1 – 3, e.g.:

#1: Stall feeding, which is here part of normal operations, is restored after an unexpected interruption in its version of a supply chain. Trucking of water and livestock, which are also part of normal livestock operations there, are temporarily interrupted.

#2: Grasslands have been appropriated for other uses (the infamous agriculture), requiring indefinite use of alternative livestock feed and grazing until a more permanent solution is found.

#3: A grassland fire—lightning strikes are a common enough occurrence though unevenly distributed—takes part of the grasslands out of use, at least until (after) the next rains. Herders respond by reverting to more intensive alternative intensive grazing practices for what’s left to work with.


Now, here are two important implications:

First, rangeland equilibrium—and ecological disequilibrium for that matter—have nothing to do with these comparisons. The benchmark here is the normal operations of pastoralism as an infrastructure with respect to the use of pasture assets. Yes or no: Has routine stall feeding been restored back after an interruption in supply? This is pre-eminently the issue of infrastructure reliability, not range ecology (i.e., the former is an output matter, the latter more an input issue).

Second, the issue of overgrazing is often a sideshow distracting from what is actually going on infrastructurally. Because normal operations—remember, it’s the benchmark used here for comparisons—always has had overgrazing in its operations.

What, for example, do you think the sacrifice grazing around a livestock borehole is about? There is nothing to “restore” the immediate perimeter of this borehole back to. In fact, that “overgrazed perimeter” is an asset in normal operations of the livestock production and livelihood systems I have in mind.


So what?

As I read them, calls for “rangeland restoration” are a contradiction in infrastructure parlance, namely: “rangeland recovery back to an old normal.” Recovery in infrastructure terms is a massively complex, longer term, multi-stakeholder activity without any guarantees following on immediate emergency response to outright full system collapse.

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