Regarding Holechek and Briske, and Rebuttals by Teague, Gill & Savory

Correcting Misconceptions about the Supposed Discrediting of Savory’s Approach

By Seth J. Itzkan Planet-TECH Associates Somerville, MA. 02144

June 2011. Updated May, 2013


This paper investigates the grazing management assessment reports authored by Briske (2008), and Holechek (2000) in light of their claims regarding methodologies for grassland restoration advocated by Allan Savory.

Rebuttals to the Briske and Holechek conclusions are provided by Teague et al. (2008), Gill (2008, 2009a, 2009b, 2009c), and Savory (2000). The Briske and Holechek papers conclude that methodologies for grazing management that they attribute to Allan Savory are not advantageous. The refuting authors claim that Briske and Holechek, though correct in their assessment of the grazing systems evaluated (rotational and short duration), err in their association of those systems with Savory. The studies cited by Briske and Holechek, according to the refuters, represent rote grazing methodologies that trivialize the complexities of land and livestock interactions and are not representative of the Holistic Grazing strategy advocated by Savory (1999) in which planning and monitoring for grassland health are central tenets. In fact, contrary to discrediting Savory, the refuting authors claim, the Briske and Holechek studies actually advance Savory’s theses. The studies prove exactly his claim that nonadaptive grazing systems will fail. Additionally, the refuters cite many cases of adaptive grazing management producing desirable environmental and economic results.

This paper finds the refuters’ arguments have merit. The studies reviewed by Briske and Holechek were not evaluations of the Savory method of planned grazing and not reflective of its efficacy. Clarity on this matter is becoming increasingly germane within the environmental community where there is a growing interest in grassland restoration to mitigate global warming.

Ranching, wildlife management, finance, oil & gas, real estate development and management.
  • Stephen Q. Schafer e-mailed me these questions:

    Hello, Christopher Gill,

    We were introduced by email and I’ve enjoyed reading your weekly bulletin since. Now I’m asking for your opinion about Savory methods. I recently stumbled on a critique that is some ways seems more telling than many of those prompted by AS’s early TED talk.

    From your experience at Circle Ranch, do you think Briske et al are correct? The article is old, but I had not seen it before when scanning the many critiques of Savory.

    (1) It contradicts claims that all excess CO2 in atmosphere could be put back into soils. A follower of Savory myself, I’ve never been able to subscribe to that.

    (2) It – accuses is the right word – Savory of misusing photographs, which if true is a bad mark.

    (3) It says that a crust on arid soils that would be broken by livestock may be protective against erosion, that this crust should be protected. not walked on.

    My wife and I were recently at Canyonlands where our well-informed guide told us that large areas of the high desert (5000 ft) soil are armored with a thin plating of lichen or some such that is so brittle if stepped on that visitors are asked not to go off the trail . Ditto at Arches. The crust apparently protects against wind erosion.

    Can you attribute some of the improvements you have seen at Circle Ranch to holistic grazing with cattle and other hoofed grazers trampling the ground for a limited time?

    I read Briske et al. to be saying that desertification cannot be reversed or slowed by Savory methods but you must think otherwise.

    Thanks for any insight you can give,


    To which I replied:

    Hello Stephen,

    Allan promotes a holistic decision-making process, not a grazing system per se. It incorporates this physiological insight: plants need animal impact to be healthy. Length of the grazing (time), its intensity (animal numbers) and recovery period (rest between grazings) must be right or plants are harmed.

    David Briske’s basic conclusion is that animal impact is not necessary for plant health, but, if you must have cattle, then a few animals, kept permanently in one pasture (low density set-stocking) is the best way to graze. In this conclusion, David is wrong, based on our 20-years of experience at Circle Ranch.

    David did no original research. He compiled and summarized the conclusions of others. Read this paper in which I personally read and evaluated the same studies on which David relied. NOT ONE TESTED PLANNED GRAZING. I wrote David more than once asking him to name just one paper which he believed had studied and disproved planned grazing – he never has identified that paper.

    Meanwhile Richard Teague, another Texas A&M professor did another peer-reviewed paper which disproved David’s conclusions:

    Here is a summary of the back and forth:

    Since those exchanges, widespread adoption of Management Intensive Grazing (MIG) methods wherein huge numbers of livestock are moved hourly, followed by long recovery periods have been so successful that there is not much left to debate as to whether overgrazing is caused by too many animals (Briske), or the length of grazing and recovery periods (Savory). Quoting Groucho: “Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?” It is pretty amusing to see the traditional low-density, set-stocking advocates try to retrofit decades of bad range advice with the undeniable success of MIGs – while avoiding any use of the ‘S’ or ‘H’ words.

    But holistic regenerative management pursuant to formalized planning that places social and environmental outcomes on a par with profits is far from accepted by the traditionalists who believe in the industrial methods of agriculture and the fake science of Invasive Species “Biology”.

    1 & 2: Allan can defend his photos, and other calculations. Allan is a simplifier. I would say of him what I say about Trump: Always take him seriously but don’t necessarily take him literally.

    3: The nicest thing I can say about the idea that soil covered with impervious crust shedding all water is better than soil open to rain in order to grow plants is that it is really dumb.

    Regards and I hope this helps,

  • Allan Savory sent this comment on this exchange:

    Thanks once more Chris for helping bring sanity and integrity into the endless academic attacks on what they think is my work, but never is. Illogically when my work was plagarised in Texas and published as the work of Texas universities it was scientifically sound. But when the original author arrived in the US the original work was not. I still have a copy of their publication in 1978 of their version of my work – that they now keep attacking.

    I am not sure what photos I am alleged to have used wrongly or doctored. Someone needs to tell me what that is about. The most telling pictures of theirs I have used were the ones in my TED Talk of a research plot desertifying. Those I took with their permission (otherwise could not use on TED) they published those in their white paper on climate change, including what I quoted them saying the desertification was due to “unknown causes” – they just cannot understand that resting land is a major action leading to desertification (paradigm paralysis is the sympathetic explanation for this).

    Not sure if you ever read Carl Hart’s book High Price – a black tenured professor at Columbia who describes academic behaviour as being worse and less ethical and honest than that of the drug gang Miami hood in which he grew up as a gang member. I thought it was only me but see this is a more widespread problem.

    Eventually if we are to survive with hope for future generations people will have to understand the holistic framework is far more than the addition of the tool of livestock – as I have tried to convey in these blogs you may not have seen

    Wallace-Wells followup

    To which I replied:

    Thank you Allan; let me say how much I admire the stubborn courage with which you have persevered – and in the process changed range thinking and practices so much.

    My shorthand for holistic planning is that it is strategic planning process that places social and environmental outcomes on equal footing with profits. The thinking goes far beyond ranching and is a solid framework for everything we do. The livestock insights are as revolutionary in wildlife management as ranching. The importance of this thinking to environmentalism cannot be overstated: In my opinion this will be your lasting contribution.


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