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Washington's Holistic Management project holds first statewide meeting

YAKIMA--Last week the Washington State University/W. K. Kellogg Foundation Holistic Management Project had its first statewide meeting. This four-year project is training 160 people across the state in the leadership skills developed by Stephen Covey, in a consensus-building approach developed by Bob Chadwick, and in the concepts and practical decision making known as holistic management that was developed by Allan Savory.

Project director Don Nelson, a faculty member in the Animal Sciences department at Washington State University in Pullman, said "we are seeking to achieve a transformation, not merely a modification, of the decision-making process and how people interact with each other. This won't happen overnight." Without such a transformation, Nelson said, we'll continue to get the outcomes we've been getting--continued biodiversity loss, chronic deficits, and conflict.

Allan Savory keynoted the two-day meeting in Yakima. He described holistic management as a simple and commonsense process, but different than the decision making humans have used previously. An individual or group of people decide how they want their lives to be, what they need to produce to achieve it, and what the resource base needs to be like to sustain this production forever. Decisions are made according to this holistic goal, and the process assures that actions are environmentally, financially, and socially sound. With decisions affecting the ecosystem, you assume you might be wrong, and monitor accordingly.

The Colville Tribe, a major partner with Washington State University Cooperative Extension in the project, has been managing holistically as a government. Savory told the 250 attendees, "I think people worldwide are seeking good government, not ideological government. I think we're barking up the wrong tree in seeking ideological governments, as we've done for hundreds of years. I think the first government to manage holistically will probably never be removed from power, as they will begin to manage with common sense and humanity, which is what we're seeking. I really think you're seeing something historic in what the Colville Tribe is doing."

The crowd consisted of many of the project participants from all areas of Washington, many of whom are crop and livestock producers and resource managers, plus invitees from the Yakama Nation, from the Colville Reservation, and others.

Featured speakers also included Tom Frantzen, an Iowa hog producer and practitioner of holistic management, Dan Dagget, author of Beyond the Rangeland Conflict: Toward a West That Works, and Gregg Simonds, former manager of the Deseret Ranch in Utah.

Simonds told the crowd that the best hedge against the price risk in agriculture was to be a low-cost producer. "When you are a low-cost producer," Simonds said, "you tend to be very environmentally sensitive because the only way to get costs down while maintaining production is to be very sensitive to the things that come free--sunshine and water from the sky. It becomes a premium to know about that."

Simonds criticized the large cattle that were prevalent in the Northwest, saying that smaller cattle generally could do a better job of converting sunlight and working with the range. On the Deseret Ranch, Simonds cut the cost of production nearly in half while improving ground cover and biodiversity. Water is the scarce item on the western range, and thus it is critically important to manage for ground cover, which Simonds did with time and timing rather than control of cattle numbers. "If you don't have ground cover, water runs over the ground instead of into the ground."

The critical thing for cattle producers, Simonds noted, was to know where you're headed and know where you're at. Most don't even know their true cost of production, he said.

Iowa farmer Tom Frantzen stressed in his talk that agriculture equals sunlight plus biology, and that the human and financial aspects were usually much more critical than the technology. "When technology is master, you get to disaster faster," he said. Holistic management has meant an increase in quality of life for the Frantzen family, an increase in financial security, and an increase in soil health. Frantzen emphasized that these outcomes are related, not opposed.

Tammy Yeakey, a participant in the project training and a land manager for the Department of Natural Resources, said that "the project has meant looking at a new perspective, a new way of looking at things."

"It's made me a lot more aware of what others are expecting, and what others are looking at, as opposed to what I am looking at. It's opened up the communication, it's really created--in my line of work especially--a lot more win-win situations. Every time I go to one of the classes, I'm able to take that right back and apply it my home life, in my job, in my dealings with people. It's really enhanced me as a person, and enhanced the job I do for Department of Natural Resources."

Yeakey manages thousands of acres, including dryland farm ground, irrigated ground, and rangelands in the Ellensburg area. What she learned in the training "dovetails perfectly with our Coordinated Resource Management groups on the permit ranges, where we're trying to do projects like riparian restoration, and the impact is not just to landowner, but 10, 20, up to 30 different landowners, and I'm able to utilize all the skills that I've gained here in doing projects like that, and having them be a functioning project instead of just sort of a wish in the sky. Everyone is involved and everyone benefits."

In addition to the responsibility to generate income from state lands, Yeakey says that her department also has a stewardship responsibility for its lands. "We need to maintain those, not just for the next year, or two, or ten, we need to maintain those and enhance those into perpetuity, and we can't do that without looking at the land and the people as a whole--there's just no way you can do it."

The holistic management concepts have played a big part in the development of a Habitat Conservation Plan for state lands, Yeakey says. She also credits the training with improving her relationship with her husband.

"We sat down and discussed long-term goals, such as where we want to be when we retire, and what sort of financial resources we would like to have. We also sat down and discussed likes and dislikes, and found out that a lot of what we were assuming about each other was not necessarily so."

Dave and Julie Dashiel are cattle and sheep producers from Hunters, Washington, and participants in the project training. Dave Dashiel said that the training "has made us think over our decisions a lot more in depth before we jump in with both feet, and made us think things through a lot more. We know which direction we're going before we take off."

Julie Dashiel said "We've thought more about quality of life, and family, and things that are important to you. We've tried to spend more time with our children, and I quit a very stressful job that didn't meet my quality of life goals. We were able to cut about $20,000 off our feed bill this year, and that helped a great deal."