Jim Howell - Conserving and Restoring the World's Grasslands - Mountain & Prairie Podcast
Jim Howell is the CEO of Grasslands LLC, which is the land management arm of the Savory Institute, an organization that Jim co-founded. Both Grasslands and Savory focus on conserving and restoring the world’s grasslands through what they call “Holistic Management.” We discuss the details of Holistic Managment in the interview, but the basic idea is that the world’s grasses evolved to be grazed, and they need to be grazed in a natural manner to be healthy and resilient.
Jim and his team use livestock to mimic natural grazing patterns from hundreds of thousands of years ago, long before the world’s grasslands were covered with people, fences, houses, and cities. Savory and Grasslands’ results speak for themselves—after just a few years of holistic managment, their ranches are measurably healthier, more productive, more biodiverse, and more financially successful.
Even if you have absolutely no interest in grazing or ranches, you still need to listen to this interview, because the work Jim and his team are doing has a positive effect on land, people, plants, animals, and communities all around the world. Anyone who considers themselves to be conservation-minded and loves the outdoors needs to understand Jim’s work. I have no doubt that you’ll gain a new appreciation for the role that livestock needs to play in conserving grasslands around the world. Even if you’re a vegan living in New York City, you’ll gain some valuable insights from Jim’s point of view.
Jim is also an experienced world traveler, an avid reader, and an author, having written one of the best books I’ve read on land and conservation in the West and beyond: For the Love of Land: Global Case Studies of Grazing in Nature’s Image. And on top of all of that, he finds the time to run ultra-marathons and has completed some of the most challenging 50-mile trail races in Colorado.
Between Jim’s professional and personal interests, we had a lot to discuss. It was a fun conversation filled with valuable information, so I hope you enjoy.
4:05 – How Jim describes his work
5:45 – How Grasslands’ Holistic Management differs from other ranch management practices
8:00 – Why are grasslands important?
11:00 – The natural history of grass
14:30 – Importance of grazing animals’ grazing behavior
17:30 – History of grass and animal relationships in the U.S.
18:40 – How modern commercial grazing differs from natural grazing patterns
22:00 – Comparing the health of grazed land versus National Park land where grazing is prohibited
26:15 – How grazing leads to more healthy soil and grasslands
27:50 – Common mistakes that conservationists make when evaluating grassland health
29:15 – Methods and results of measuring grassland health
31:15 – Specific methods for holistic grazing
35:30 – Length of time to truly understand a ranch’s grazing potential and needs
37:00 – Challenges related to the human component of ranching
40:30 – What are common objections to holistic grazing?
41:40 – The intellectual challenges of holistic grazing
43:50 – The economic benefits of holistic grazing with specific examples
48:20 – Jim’s unconventional path to ranching
52:20 – Jim discovers Savory’s work
55:15 – Jim’s travels and work on ranches around the world
57:40 – Lessons learned from traveling and working abroad
1:00:10 – How Jim started running ultra-marathons
1:02:50 – How humans evolved to run long distances
1:04:55 – Advice for people who want to run ultras
1:09:15 – Jim’s favorite books
1:12:50 – Favorite documentary
1:13:45 – Jim’s favorite place in the West
1:14:55 – Jim’s request of the listeners
1:17:30 – Grasslands and Savory contact information