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Old Savanna

This week’s blog puts a spotlight on the most valuable and also most endangered habitat in the world, why we’re passionate about it, and what we’re doing to revive it.


Due to the encroachment of the plow, most are probably thinking prairie at this point, but most would be wrong! North American Savanna is the habitat type in the spotlight today with only about 2% remaining. Savanna is basically prairie with trees. The kind everyone loves to see. Problem is, they’re almost gone. Why? Because their 2 most prominent maintainers have left the party… Bison & Fire.


What is Savanna habitat? Imagine if Central Park was left unkept for a couple of years. It’s one of the most ideal, beneficial habitats on the planet.


Why is Savanna so critical? 

Savanna habitat is the ideal blend of partial shade, forage, and mast crops like nuts and fruits. Partial shade helps reduce moisture evaporation from the soil and keeps the soil cooler, propagating delicious and highly nutritious, erosion-fighting, moisture-retaining forages. Partial shade also provides valuable lounges during the midday heat to reduce stress on critters. Flocks of birds that thrive off bison herds also benefit from the savanna and its ideal nesting habitat as well as feasting on the abundant insect & pollinator populations that are supported by the diverse selection of food. The trees also provide a bumper crop of nuts that species from mice to birds to squirrels to deer to elk to bears to bison cherish in the fall.


Over the last 100 years, 3 things have played a major role in the disappearing of this most critical habitat.


First - We removed the massive herds of bison that cultivated and prospered the savannas.

Massive herds of bison would rove through an area every 1-5 years, wreaking havoc on every tree in sight. Some trees survived, most didn’t. This activity created a mosaic of sparse mature trees and a few lucky, young, up-n-comers. It looked like an abandoned park. It’s the perfect blend of shade, forage, scratching posts, shelter, and nesting habitat.  



A Bison Herd in Early Spring Feasting in an Oak Savanna Meadow





A Bison Bull working over a tree





Secondly - We replaced the bison herds with tractors and fences. We compartmentalized our lands based upon what was “tillable” (farmable to grow crops) and what wasn’t (too rocky, too steep, or too wet). The tillable ground was cleared and maintained as open field while the remainder was left alone, permanently pastured, or managed forest for timber harvest. Being left alone is terrible. Timber harvest and permanent pasture is a lesser version of nature’s intended “bison system”. Timbered lands void of large animal interaction suffers. Timber, unbridled, canopies and suffocates itself and any life in it's understory. The “clean” look of a canopied forest is essentially a desert as far as nature is concerned. Outside of a meager mast crop in the fall, there is very little forage or browse production due to the lack of sunlight nor is there any cover for critters to hide. Water cycles in fully canopied forests are poor and erosion risk is high due to lack of ground-level vegetation and root structure. Rain AND sunlight must be able to reach the soil in order for a forest to be truly healthy.



Highly Erodable Stream Bank in a Canopied Forest.





A Healthy Stream Bank.





Unhealthy, Canopied Hardwood Forest with basically no undergrowth.





Aerial of Unhealthy, Fully-Canopied Hardwood Forest.





Healthy Oak Savanna with sparse trees and lots of forage & ground cover.





Unhealthy, canopied Ponderosa Forest with a "desertified" forest floor.





Healthy Ponderosa Savanna with a vibrant understory.





Third - We fired fire. As humans, we are plain scared of it. And for good reason… we’ve got a lot at stake in our homes and loved ones. However, we must embrace fire and find a healthy fire balance. Kicking the fire can down the road only fuels future fires to burn hotter and more destructively, like the terrifying, uncontrollable wildfires we see on tv. Prescribed fire is extremely beneficial for maintaining healthy landscapes and can be well maintained when done as-needed. Fire helps break down debris that is shading the soil & limiting animal impact and turns it into food for new, highly valued vegetation. The alternative to fire is herbicide.



A devastating crown fire.





A scorched earth & sterilized soil from the heat of a crown fire.





A very heathy, low-profile, low-heat, prescribed fire.





A Bison Herd Thriving in a Wisconsin Savanna.





Savannas are critical habitat and we can't afford to loose them. We've been working with the Belwin Nature Conservancy in Afton, MN & Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve of the University of Minnesota in Stacy, MN who are laser focused on sustaining savannas as they were designed to be through fire & bison.
Read more about our partnership journey with each here in our
Regeneration Nation

Belwin Nature Conservancy

Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve





A Beautiful Fire and Bison supported Oak Savanna at Cedar Creek.





A Healthy Meandering Stream at Cedar Creek.





Savanna's Support Diversity.





Nature's system is amazing. Every aspect supports another. Bison support savannas and everything in them, savannas and everything in them support bison. And the overflow is food.
It gets no more simple, no more sustainable, no more beautiful than that.


Thank you for taking part in this most nourishing, most natural cycle of life.



Live Well This Week,

- Sean & the Northstar Tribe


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