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Holistic Land Monitoring: Learning to read the land

A few weeks ago we headed north to our demonstration site, Springs Ranch, to complete our holistic management baseline monitoring on the ranch. This is a process of collecting data on the land and setting up a process where new data is collected and evaluated each year in order to show change and/or inform management decisions.

To start our project, Spencer and I picked three monitoring spots on Springs Ranch and then headed out in his dad’s trusty (mostly) Jeep with our spreadsheets, pencils, and a dart. Collecting data begins with using GPS to plot your monitoring sites, photographing it in a specific way and then throwing the dart over and over again to achieve randomness in sample collections. Once we threw the dart, we’d tromp over, get down on our hands and knees and inspect the soil to enter data on each sample location. After doing this for two days, over and over and over, I will never look at soil the same way again. I realized how little I know about the plant species in our region (luckily Spencer’s parents had lots of manuals and guide books for us to reference), how an area can appear healthy from a distance, but the soil is closely inspected, a different story is revealed. We think about top soil a lot more now. We marvel at farmers and ranchers like, Gabe Brown, an innovator who knows how to  significantly increase the amount of top soil using planned grazing. We drive by stretches of barren soil or empty city plots now and shudder. Yep. It happened. We are now soil nerds.

Spencer in the Big Meadow monitoring location on Springs Ranch getting ready for hours of dart throwing and data collection. Yay!
Spencer in the Big Meadow monitoring location on Springs Ranch getting ready for hours of dart throwing and data collection. Yay!
We had some curious grassfed helpers at the Badger Hill monitoring site.
We had some curious grassfed helpers at the Badger Hill monitoring site.
Maezy was more interested in looking for fairies in the wild plum bushes. The presence of fairies would, I believe, be a sign of healthy community dynamics in an ecosystem as it takes a pretty magical place to support fairy communities!
Maezy was more interested in looking for fairies in the wild plum bushes. The presence of fairies would, I believe, be a sign of healthy community dynamics in an ecosystem as it takes a pretty magical place to support fairy communities!
Monitoring the upland areas of the ranch was a multi-generational family event.
Monitoring the upland areas of the ranch was a multi-generational family event.

 We also met with our friends Ray and Barbara March during this trip to Surprise Valley. Look for a story about the hub in the January 2015 issue of their magazine and check out their writer’s workshop in September. Spencer will be speaking on Sept. 12 at theirstorytelling event (for those of you who know Spencer personally, you understand how perfectly suited he is for a storytelling event) as part of the Modoc Forum’s writer’s workshop. Isn’t Surprise Valley just the coolest place? The Marches told us about a journalist/author friend of theirs, who wrote The Soil Will Save UsKristin Ohlson. She spoke in Reno at a local bookstore last week. Spencer went to the reading and met a new friend in the author. We are humbled by the wonderful people and amazing work we’ve encountered through this project so far. The positiveness. The hope. The excitement. We are honored to be part of it all.

Spencer and Barbara March, enjoying a summer afternoon in Surprise Valley at her office. What a happy workforce we'd have if we all had offices like this.
Spencer and Barbara March, enjoying a summer afternoon in Surprise Valley at her office. What a happy workforce we’d have if we all had offices like this.