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Management

Documentary features Wyoming’s Durham Ranch

Written by Jennifer Womack
Gillette — Wyoming’s Durham Ranch, located between Gillette and Wright, is featured in a documentary that will begin airing on PBS next month. Viewings of the film, The First Millimeter: Healing the Earth, will take place in Gillette and Wright early May.
    “You can think of plants as the bridge that connects atmospheric carbon with soil carbon,” says a scientist during the film’s opening remarks. The documentary, by Emmy award-winning filmmaker Chris Schueler, details the role animal agriculture can play in sequestering one to two billion tons of the estimated 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide humans release into the atmosphere each year.
    “We would only have to improve carbon percentage by one percent on our 450 million hectares of agricultural soil in Australia and we could sequester all of the planet’s legacy load of carbon,” states Christine Jones, PhD.
    Stanford Professor Christopher Fields, PhD. observes, “You can think of soils as a bank account that has the capacity to really build up very large quantities of capital moving into the future.”
    James Hansen, PhD, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies adds, “Our agricultural practices could be modified to bring CO2 back down much more quickly.”
    This documentary in- cludes interviews with leading scientists as well as personal stories from farmers and ranchers on three continents to examine how carbon sequestration in topsoil can not only curb global warming but also increase biodiversity and fertility, lessen the use of fertilizers and pesticides and utilize rainfall much more effectively.
    Among the film crew’s visits is a stop at the Durham Ranch, where they interviewed ranch owner John Flocchini, manager of the ranch’s buffalo operations.
    “The health of the land is imperative to what we do, and the health of the animals is imperative to what we do,” says Flocchini of the ranch’s bison and cow operation. “It affects everything from your death loss to your productivity to your weaning weights, your conception rates, everything is tied to the health of the land.”
    “We’re trying to simulate the way it was 300 years ago with the bison herds roaming. There were very large herds and there were predators and they functioned jointly, the predators helping to keep the buffalo in tighter groups affecting the ground differently and they would keep the animals moving from place to place. Also, when you have large herds together they’d come into an area and graze it off quickly and they would continually move on, providing the time necessary for the grasses to recover.” He details the interdependence that exists between plants and animals.
    “All that’s gone wrong on this land is grazing the conventional way, believing that overgrazing is controlled by animal numbers,” says Hollistic Mangement International Founder Allan Savory, using a wildlife park as an example. “For many, many years government has tried to limit the numbers that the animals have, but limiting the numbers doesn’t help at all, the people just get poorer and poorer and the land suffers more from a greater degree of partial risk because there are inadequate animals to keep the grasslands alive.” Savory says timing of grazing and keeping animals moving through an area is important.
    Flocchini says Wyomingites will have two opportunities to view the film locally before it begins showing on PBS. The first will take place on May 6 at 7 p.m. in the Heritage Room at the Camplex in Gillette. The film will again be played on May 7 at the Town Hall in Wright beginning at 7 p.m.
    Jennifer Womack is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..