business conservation food

Restoring the grasslands with sustainable business

Yesterday I wrote about five business responses to the environment, and how the most ambitious businesses take my mum’s advice and try to leave things better than they found them. Here’s an example of that.

The Great Plains cover a huge section of the American continent, and were traditionally covered with grasslands. These grasslands relied on bison as a keystone species – the bison moved through the prairie, pausing to feed and then moving on somewhere else. Their grazing created room for wildflowers to grow, basically a natural form of grass-cutting and tilling that created new opportunities for other plants, and with a greater diversity of plants come more insects and birds.

This is not uncommon. As rewilding experts have noted, there is more biodiversity in places where large animals cause creative disturbance – like the wolves in Yellowstone, beavers on rivers, whales in the ocean or elephants in the forest. The bison need the grassland, and the grasslands need the bison.

Unfortunately, as you may remember, America nearly wiped out its bison in the 19th century. Hunted for their meat, the vast herds fell from millions to just a thousand or so left on nature reserves. And the grasslands suffered too. Groups such as the Nature Conservancy have been re-introducing bison where they can, but there needs to be an economic incentive to make those efforts sustainable in an era of fragile state funding.

That’s where Patagonia Provisions comes in. Patagonia, as I’ve mentioned before, are a company with a real environmental ethic. That applies to their food division too, and their bison jerky is a neat example of a restorative business idea. They source bison meat from herds that can wander wild, helping to restore the grasslands. Of course, some might argue that it would be better not to hunt the bison at all, but then someone has to pay for that land use in other ways. A sustainable market for bison meat helps to preserve the animals and restore their habitat – and of course the plants, insects and birds all benefit from the return of the key species.



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