Revegetating Mined-out Lands, Nevada

When the Tiptons, Tony and Jerrie of Mina, Nevada, faced the challenge of convincing a team of environmentalists, government land managers, members of their community, and the general public that rural land managers actually can return ecosystems to health and function, they wanted a confirmation from Nature that was unequivocal, unmistakable and unambiguous.

So, they picked the most difficult challenge they could find, an old gold mine site on which all other restoration techniques had failed. On that barren, eroding slope that supported only a few weeds, they set out to test the hypothesis that it is possible to create a grassland by recreating the interdependence between animals that have evolved to graze and plants that have evolved to be grazed.

After broadcasting grass seed onto the site, the Tiptons and some of their team members spread hay over the slope to entice the animals onto it and to reintroduce organic matter into the system.

The animals ate some of the hay and stomped the rest of it, along with the seeds, into the barren dirt. Then they fertilized the mixture with their manure and urine and transforming it into the living thing we call soil.

Next the cattle were moved off, as wild grazers do on their own in a natural system to avoid predators, to leave behind their waste, and to find fresh food. Over winter the land was allowed to rest and gestate. In the spring, after just 6 inches of winter moisture in this high desert, the once barren mine site was the greenest thing in the Reese River Valley. Nature had given the Tiptons her answer, and it was a resounding, “Yes.”

At the end of the growing season, the mine site that had failed to respond to the best technology can offer had outperformed some of the neighbors’ cultivated hayfields. Empowered to work her magic, Nature had outdone technology.

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