Interview of Lierre Keith, Deanna Meyer, & Stephany Seay ― Resistance Radio

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Hi, I’m Derrick Jensen and this is Resistance Radio on the Progressive Radio Network. My guests today are Stephany Seay, Deanna Meyer, and Lierre Keith. Stephany Seay is the media coordinator with the Montana-based Buffalo Field Campaign, the only group working in the field, in the courts, and in the policy arena in defense of the country’s last wild migratory buffalo, the Yellowstone population.  Deanna Meyer is a long time environmental activist and is a member of Deep Green Resistance and is also the founder and executive director of Prairie Protection Colorado. Meyer’s work currently centers on the protection and preservation of prairie dog communities up and down Colorado’s Front Range. Lierre Keith is a radical feminist activist and author of “The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability.” 

So first, thank you all for your work, and second, thank you for being on the program.

(All) Thank you. You’re welcome.

DJ: So the first question is what are grasslands, or prairies, and what are the relationships between soil, grass, large ruminants, and burrowers like prairie dogs?

LK: Grasslands are any biome where grasses are dominant, and that would include about 31% of the planet’s land mass. Those are the places where grasses dominate. And that includes Antarctica. There are grasses in Antarctica. Grasses are tough creatures and they’ve been at this quite a long time, 120 million years there have been grasses on this planet.

One of the ways that grasses are different from other plants, and this is important to understand if we’re going to get to the second part of your question, Derrick. When you think about most plants, where they grow, it’s at the tip. It’s at the top of the plant. So for instance right now I’m looking outside at my property and I can see that there are a lot of pine trees and redwoods. And they’ve all grown, this summer, about six inches, and there’s a bright green tip to every single branch on these evergreen trees. That’s this year’s growth. I’m sure they’ve grown taller as well. And that’s where the growth happens, at the very top of the plant, right?

That’s not true for grasses. The growth point is actually at the base of the plant and this is because they’ve evolved with grazers of some kind. The technical term for creatures who eat grass is “graminivore” but we think of them generally as grazers. So if you think about a bison, or a cow, or a kangaroo, or a goose; that’s what they eat, grass. And when they eat grass, they don’t actually destroy the plant’s ability to grow again. In fact, they make the plant stronger. The action of grazing grasses actually stimulates growth in the roots, so you’re actually making the plant sturdier by eating it. So you can see that these animals have evolved with these plants, and these plants have evolved with these animals, because the natural action of the animal is actually helping the plant. And this is something we need to understand about the community of life generally. When you evolve together, you do things together. You keep each other alive in ways exactly like that, because you’ve been doing it together, for probably millions of years.

So one thing that perennial grasses are really good at is building soil. I mean, that’s what they do. They pull carbon and methane from the sky and they sequester it. They build soil with it, and the building block of soil is carbon. So that’s why, for instance, when the European settlers first got to the Midwest, that soil was in places 12 feet deep, because for thousands of years plants had been doing this, building soil. It’s all gone now. It didn’t take very long to destroy it. But that’s what the plants had been doing. And they had been doing it with the animals. In particular, the keystone ruminant of that place is the bison, who are almost all entirely gone. But that’s who did that together. So, again, we have to understand how bison work with grasses. We call them ruminants because they have a four-chambered stomach called a rumen. And what’s going on inside a ruminant – we watch them from the outside and it looks like they’re eating grass. So on one level they’re chewing the grass, biting through it and chewing it and swallowing it, but what’s actually happening is that bison, or whatever ruminant, is not actually eating that grass. They’re feeding that grass to the bacteria that lives inside. They’re trading in a very poor quality food, cellulose, that’s really what grass is, mostly, is just cellulose; and they’re feeding it to the bacteria. The bacteria are actually the creatures that can break down the grass, and what the bison is getting out of it is actually very high-quality food, because it’s the protein and fat that are the bodies of the bacteria. So it’s a really interesting, again, community. And the other thing about grasslands, and why this is especially important, is that they tend to be places that are very dry. So in the summertime; we probably all have an image of the Great Plains or the African savannah. It’s brown in the summer, right? Because there’s not a lot of rain. Now if there was more rain it would probably be a forest. That’s why it’s a grassland. And grasses; the other thing they’re really good at is most of their bodies are underground. 75% of the bulk of a grass is underground where it is moist and there’s plenty of biological activity still. On the surface of the soil, of course, everything goes dormant in the summer because there’s no rain and it’s very dry. So all the biological bacteria kind of dries up. But where it stays alive is, again, inside the body of the ruminant. That bison is carrying around this vast bacterial community inside his or her body. That’s what keeps the nutrient cycle moving across all those long, hot, dry summers. Without those bacteria inside the bison it would basically just turn to desert, because there’d be nothing to recycle those nutrients. There’d be no way to break them down, nobody to break down that cellulose. And so it would just pile up. The mechanical weathering that the dead grasses would endure is not enough to break them down in a short enough period of time. So what you’d get is ever-expanding little mini-deserts between each plant and eventually there would just be nothing left.

So the bison keep the prairie alive by being habitat for that bacteria. You have this incredible cycle where the bison are eating the grass and keeping the bacteria alive inside them. It’s a tradeoff for getting fed by the bodies of the bacteria. Out the other end comes moisture; urine and some nutrients as well. And so across the summer that actually helps provide some moisture for the rest of the living community.

And then of course you have apex predators like humans or whomever. Some of the bison are going to get eaten by people or by bears or by wolves. But eventually we all die and we get reabsorbed into the soil and broken down again by that biological activity. But if one of those beings is taken out of that cycle everything degrades to desert. You have to have every part of that for the whole thing to keep moving. So that’s what life is: these very complex relationships between all kinds of different creatures. All of them together make that web of life. They’re the ones that keep it going around, and we can add in prairie dogs, we can add in all the other animals and plants that are part of that biotic community, but that’s a short version of how they all need each other and the roles that they each play.

DJ: So do either of you, Stephany or Deanna, want to add to that?

SS: I can’t touch that. I just learned a lot. I guess with the buffalo, too, migration is another one of their gifts, as far as helping to maintain and create the prairies and grasslands. Tilling the soil with the hooves, seeds getting caught in their fur, their wallowing that creates aquatic habitat for amphibians and birds, and other species. And of course their poop, which is like gold on the landscape. But yeah, that was great, Lierre. Thank you.

DM: Yeah, and it just made me think in listening to it of how – it makes me so sad, because I look at everything now and I think about even what the effect is of the meadows where I live now being populated with Timothy-grass, that isn’t nearly as sturdy as those native grasses were that had most of their bodies underneath the soil. And just to add, with the prairie dogs, in learning a lot about them; it’s amazing to learn how much they also contribute to bringing up minerals to those grasses and how they free the water table so that the moon actually pulls the groundwater up and down through the holes of the prairie dogs and the voles and different kinds of burrowing animals, and how essential that is for rain and for life in general, and for the nutrients, so they are made available for the plants, which give them to the bison and to the antelope and the other grazers. It’s just amazing, and thank you for that too, Lierre. I learned a lot from hearing that, but it’s just amazing how everything is so connected and it’s so, it hurts so bad to think about how long it took for all of our, all of these different living communities to be healthy and how fast that health has just been annihilated.

LK: And people used to know this. This was observable to anyone who cared to understand. What that means is you have to look at all the creatures around you and have some level of respect for them, to think “This is somebody who can teach me something. What do they know, what do they do? What is their role in all of this?” That it matters. Like that we see these other creatures as beings who deserve respect. And I am reminded here of: there was this very famous story in 1950 when the U.S. government wanted to get rid of a whole bunch of prairie dogs because supposedly they were destroying, you know, whatever. They’re always these ridiculous excuses, right? But it was near the Navajo reservation and the Navajo elders literally said “If you kill all the prairie dogs, there will be no one to cry for the rain.”

And they were exactly right. It’s the prairie dogs that bring the rain. But of course the scientists, they just thought it was silly, like it was some ridiculous folk tale. Why would you pay attention to this? So they killed all the prairie dogs, and what the Navajo said came true completely. All they had was solid-packed soil that couldn’t absorb any rain, and then there’s this fierce runoff and devastating erosion. And all of the things that the Navajo knew because they had lived in respect with these creatures for hundreds, thousands, whatever, however long they were living together. It was a relationship of respect and they were able to observe “when we have prairie dogs we have rain.” When there are no prairie dogs something goes wrong with the water table. So this is what happens when we don’t understand and respect those relationships.

And it’s terrifying to me, because we’re talking about keystone species in this vast swathe of the continent that’s all gone. Less than one tenth of one percent of the original tallgrass prairie remains. That’s the tiniest little number. And just the number of animals that used to live there. There were maybe as many as 40 million pronghorn antelope. There were 10 million elk. There were 10 million mule deer. There were 2 million mountain sheep. We’ve got the 60 million bison that are gone, and somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 billion prairie dogs. I cannot even imagine that many animals. The largest prairie dog colony that was ever recorded had 400 million prairie dogs in it. It was 250 miles, this prairie dog town in Texas. And they’re all gone.

DJ: I’ve been thinking of some math over the last week, because I’ve been thinking about this interview. Stephany, how much does the average adult buffalo weigh?

SS: A mature bull weighs 2000 pounds. A mature female around 1800.

DJ: Okay. So if we have 60 million buffalo, and including calves, let’s say they weigh an average of 1000 pounds, just to make the math easy. That’s 60 million times 10 is 600 million, times 100 is 6 billion – 60 billion pounds of meat. Is that not correct? If you have 60 million buffalo and they each weigh 10 pounds that would be 600 million pounds. If they weighed 100 pounds that’s 6 billion. So 60 billion pounds of meat. And if they live an average, once again to make the math easy, an average of 10 years each, that’s 6 billion pounds of meat, 6 billion pounds of dead buffalo every year to be eaten by somebody. The biomass here is just stunning. The amount of food for everybody else. And there’s one more thing I want to throw in, which is, in the 19th century and prior to that there was an insect called the Rocky Mountain locust. And there was one famous sighting in 1875 that was 198 thousand square miles of locusts. They weighed 27.5 million tons and consisted of 12.5 trillion insects. That’s the greatest concentration of animals that has ever speculatively existed, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. And less than 30 years later the species was extinct. That’s because of plowing and because of destroying the prairie. And my point is that this is just a lot of biomass that’s been taken away. I mean, if you have all those prairie dogs, that’s a lot of biomass, a lot of meat running around. And if you have all these locusts that’s a lot of meat running around. The prairie seems to be starving, and now I’ll shut up and let you take that.

LK: Yes, and where it all went was into the atmosphere. So here we are with global warming. All tillage systems contribute to global warming. That’s what they do. They take stored carbon in the ground that’s literally the soil, and they add oxygen by tilling, and that causes all the organic matter to decay and it releases this vast amount of carbon. And this is why, little-known fact – yes, year 1800 to now there has been this dramatic rise in carbon. Everybody knows the hockey stick graph and all that. But if you back that graph up about 10 thousand years, we actually added as much carbon to the atmosphere in that first 10 thousand years as we did in the last 200 years. And what happened 10 thousand years ago was the beginning of agriculture. So yes; I mean certainly fossil fuel has been a huge accelerant to that, because it only took 200 years from 1800 to now. But we began this 10 thousand years ago. We began doing it by releasing all that carbon, by destroying the soil, is what we did. And that’s where we are now.

There are all kinds of measurements that they take that will show this, that there’s just been this huge, slow, steady, rather large amount of carbon has been added to the atmosphere because of agriculture. The particular bump was rice agriculture was one of the worst, and that especially adds a lot of methane because of the water that’s used in growing rice in paddies and whatnot. But the point really is that all of that incredible, lush amount of life that was here was literally vaporized. And it’s been turned into just atmospheric destruction. That’s where it all went.

DM: It always makes me think of how detrimental our story is, of who we are, you know? That since 10 thousand years ago and especially in the last 200, to be able to even conceive of what has been lost and the means by which it was done is just, the whole idea of the ignorance of all of us believing, or this culture believing that these creatures and the land and the grasses and the buffalo and the prairie dogs and the birds and the locusts and other insects have nothing to teach us, and that we’re the ones who are gonna show them – I can never wrap my mind around the fallacy of that type of understanding.

DJ: One of the reasons I’ve wanted to interview – I’ve interviewed each of you individually and one of the reasons I wanted to interview you together was because I was hoping that this interview would be, that you could manifest in this interview what the buffalo, grasses and prairie dogs and others manifest in the real life. So can you talk more about not – I mean, you’ve done this some, but can you talk more about the interactions between the different species, and not just these species, but … I know, Lierre, you mentioned the other day that gopher tortoises perform a similar role to prairie dogs in the American Southeast, and how many species did you say are dependent on gopher tortoises for burrows?

LK: I think it was 200. It might have been 400. It was a lot, and it was because they don’t dig their own burrows. They literally have no home without those tortoises.

DJ: So Deanna, can you talk a little bit about the creatures who would – you’ve talked about rain. Can you talk about some of the beings who would not have homes without prairie dogs? And also the ones who would not have food without prairie dogs. Because presumably badgers would go hungry without them.

DM: Yes. And they also use them for their shelters, too. They borrow their burrows. But the ones who are absolutely connected to them are the ones we’re seeing that are just about gone, which are the black-footed ferrets, who are critically endangered. That’s a sad story in itself because the ones that are left have just been put in a program and interbred with the same family over and over and over, and they’re pretty much in bad shape genetically, to put it mildly. That’s because they cannot live without prairie dogs. They’re 98% dependent on them as a food source and for their shelter. Black widow spiders, snakes, other reptiles use their burrows, bunnies, all kinds of different creatures depend on their burrows for existence. All the birds and the raptors and the eagles, the golden eagles, they all switch their food source from summer to winter, from streams and rivers to prairie dog colonies. This was when there were fish in our creeks and rivers.

So 180 different species – ferruginous hawks, burrowing owls absolutely need prairie dogs. They’re threatened, and of course they should be critically endangered. They suffer very much when prairie dogs go away. They need their burrows. They use their burrows for having babies and for raising their families. The whole prairie system really; it’s 180 they say but it’s probably more; depend upon and need prairie dogs to have a healthy community that build upon each other and feed each other, and certainly the buffalo, whom Stephany could talk about too, in terms of how prairie dogs go where buffalo are, and vice versa. They keep the grass nice and nutrient rich and the buffalo keep it clipped, because prairie dogs like to have clipped grass in taller grasses so they can see predators. It helps them a lot. They call them the keystone species. Somebody referred to them once as the “candy bars of the prairies.” I’ve also heard, and believe, too; that the prairie dogs and the buffalo are the bookends of the prairie. They’re the two ends that hold up the rest of the features and without those two you lose a variety of everybody.

SS: Very well said.

DJ: And did you want to talk more about the relationship between buffalo and different species? You’ve mentioned that a little bit.

SS: Yeah, buffalo are also, as well as being a keystone species they’re an umbrella species, meaning that if they’re doing okay then everybody in that community is going to do okay. It’s hard to know, because the last remnant population is holed up locked in Yellowstone. So they’re not wild buffalo out on the prairies where they should be.

But one animal in particular who has a very strong connection to the buffalo, which is getting stronger, is the grizzly bear. Yellowstone grizzly bears; thank goodness they got reinstated with Endangered Species Act protection just last week, which was a big victory. They’ve been under ESA protection for 40 years. And they have evolved with buffalo for hundreds of thousands of years. And because of climate change, their food sources are diminishing, and so they’re turning more and more towards eating more meat from buffalo and elk, and from buffalo in particular. So in the springtime after the harsh winters take lives of buffalo and the grizzly bears wake up, they depend on finding that meat. And with the loss of army cutworm moths, the whitebark pine nuts and the Yellowstone cutthroat trout, buffalo are becoming more critical for them. And yet Yellowstone rounds up and captures and kills hundreds of buffalo every year, removing that biomass from the landscape. Grizzly bears are probably the most important animal as far as who the buffalo are feeding right now, a nonhuman. And of course we have to look at all the buffalo cultures, indigenous people who are sick, and so many people dying from diabetes because they don’t have buffalo in their diets anymore. And that’s the food that they evolved with also. So those are two people that come to mind most significantly, with the buffalo. But they feed everybody. When they die; magpies, ravens, crows, eagles, coyotes, wolves, grizzly bears; everybody gets to eat.

So they’re a huge gift, and with their absence a lot of others are suffering as well.

DJ: I remember reading an account from I think it was the 1830’s. It was down in Texas, saying that they saw packs of 200 or more wolves together. There would be a pack that would hang out. And it would seem to me that the only way that can happen is if they have access to tremendously abundant food sources. It’s like when you see the Kodiak bears near the salmon streams. The reason they can all gather like that is there’s just a shedload of food. And it’s the same with the buffalo. I want to go back to the math I was doing a little while ago. If you have six billion pounds of dead buffalo every year, spread across the Great Plains, that’s a lot of food for grizzly bears or … and I’m presuming that most of that actually ends up being eaten by insects, who are the great recyclers of the planet, and then returned into grasses.

Can any of you talk about the relationship, talk more about – you mentioned the candy bars. Can you talk more about the relationship, perhaps, between all of these dead creatures and then the soil?

LK: Well, that’s really what soil is, right? It’s dead plants and dead animals that have been acted upon by increasingly smaller creatures, until eventually you get down to the bacteria. And they are the ones who are really doing the basic work of life, because they’re the ones who ultimately liberate all of those nutrients into a small enough package that the rest of us can then reuse it. So without the bacteria of the soil, we’re all dead. None of us can do that. They are the only ones who can do that for us. All of the nutrient cycles would just grind to a halt without the bacteria. And the amazing thing about soil is how very alive it is. One tablespoon of soil, I think about a tablespoon – that can contain over a billion different living creatures. A billion creatures! Now extend that out over 2000 miles 12 feet deep. Just the amount of life that was here once! And it’s mostly all gone. It all got traded in for corn and wheat and 40 million really sick cows. All of those animals and all of those plants that really, as a cycle, as a community, could have gone on until the sun burned out, and for what? The place is being utterly desertified, and nobody’s even happy. The animals who are left are really sick. Those 40 million cows are incredibly sick. They’re not having good lives, and they make food that’s not particularly good for people. And all of it for what? It doesn’t even make any sense on the surface of it.

All the creatures that I mentioned, the 10 million elk, the 40 million pronghorn, 2 million mountain sheep, 60 million bison. They’re all gone. Millions and millions traded in for this tiny little collection of sick cows. It doesn’t even make any sense.

DJ: Well, let’s talk about land productivity, because people talk about how agriculture increased production. And if we just look at these numbers that you just said, there is, again – and let’s exclude humans from this picture for a moment, because some of the biomass has been turned into humans – but this is actually, the prairies are actually much less productive now than they were when they were functioning. Any of you can take that.

DM: I’m trying to wrap my – like I always do, and I’m sure all of us feel this, on this call, how sad and devastating this whole reality is. Because of course – I always wonder, you know, we always talk about there was this many, there was that many. Well, we know that it was way different than life is now, and that the plants and everybody worked together. And then we have this big monster who comes in and eats up everything as fast as possible and destroys that relationship between everybody. And watching now, just like in what I’m seeing now, which is absolutely devastating, are the prairie dog colonies that are left up and down the Front Range, which is being gobbled up fast, really fast. Now we’re pushed down to what Lierre said, one tenth of one percent, what we have left of our grasslands. That number right there should scare anybody. And when you see these little, you can see it in driving up and down, and even when Stephany came and visited me, you see these little tiny one or two acre lots, and you all have seen it, Derrick, Lierre; with these prairie dogs that are crammed in there and they look like they’re just in a very bad situation. They don’t have their community at all anymore and they’ve got this, they are having to learn how to deal with no grasslands, right? Just dirt, and how do they survive off of weeds? How do they eat bindweed? How do they do all that?

And they do. They manage to do it. But to see that broken, the broken web of life, and to see the lack of birds and the lack of grasses, and the lack of just living communities everywhere is such a loss that it’s just so hard to even be able to put it in words and to express how horrifying that is, and then to be able to even use our imaginations to understand what was here, because I don’t think we could ever even conceive of how important that was. And I think that’s our problem, too, is that this culture refuses to understand the enormous significance and beauty of that community and how that community is what gave us this responsibility and gift of living.

SS: And then how this culture also views the prairie dogs that still exist, and the buffalo and wild ones that still exist, that there are too many.

DM: And they’re vermin, they’re diseased. They need to all die. And that’s the basic attitude of the culture. The mother culture just ripping up everything. Even the little tiny remnants that are alive need to be poisoned.

LK: It’s just this level of hatred that I’ve jus never been able to wrap my mind around. They just hate every living thing. I just can’t figure it out. Why? I mean, half of these creatures are so cute anyway. How can you hate a prairie dog? And then you have super-majestic creatures like bison and wolves. How can you hate them? They’re so amazing. And then, they just do. Like, everything has to die. What are we going to be left with? We’re all going to starve with no oxygen. It doesn’t even make any sense.

DJ: You know, I think about – I was just this morning thinking about passenger pigeons and how there were more passenger pigeons than every other bird in North America combined. And we’ve all read the stories of them being in flocks so large they would darken the sky for days at a time. And how many creatures like that have to be driven extinct by this culture?

And I mentioned the Rocky Mountain locust. They were driven extinct. And we went from 60 million bison down to a minimum of, what was it, a hundred or however many?

SS: There were like 23 or so that saved themselves.

DJ: And they saved themselves.

SS: They saved themselves.

DJ: One of the things that I don’t understand is that we consider the ability to recognize patterns as one sign of sentience. And how do we consider ourselves a sentient species when we can just list off being after being like this, whether it’s the Mekong catfish or the Eskimo curlew? These beings with these unimaginable – the great banks of cod, and they’re just run through. People somehow still think that this can continue. This boggles my mind, that we consider ourselves a sentient species in the face of this.

LK: Yeah. I don’t really have anything to add to that.

DJ: Speaking of sentience, there’s a different direction I want to go in for a moment. Speaking of sentience, we’ve talked about their importance for prairies, and their interconnectedness with other beings, but can we talk for a moment about – you know, there’s still this human supremacism that really runs the culture, and can we talk about: even on sort of human terms, the intelligence of prairie dogs and the intelligence of buffalo and the intelligence of grasses? Can you talk about their ability to communicate, their ability to show affection, whatever? Can you just run with those in any direction you want to? Let’s start with prairie dogs.

DM: Prairie dogs are so amazing. I just don’t understand how anybody could sit and look at prairie dogs for even a short amount of time like five minutes, and just look at them and deny that they have immense feelings. I have these pictures that I took last year and I posted them again on our page, of this mom and her baby. She had her on the ground tickling her. They were kissing, they were hugging. It was all very obvious that they were very interconnected, and if you sit out and look at a colony like the one that I have up at my place, luckily, you can hear all of them communicate with each other, and if a bird flies by you can hear the sirens and all of them get into their positions and they all pay very close attention to each other. They have little groups of families, their coteries. Some of them hate each other. Some of them love each other. And they have rules, like if there’s a predator anybody can come down into anybody’s burrow, but only if there’s a predator. They’re not allowed to do that during non-threatening times. You can’t just go into anybody’s burrow. You have to go into your own. They have territorial lines and they all, together, care very much about the entire, all of the coterie. They all kind of watch out for each other and you see the personalities. It’s something that would be very important for people, if they were going to pay attention ever again, to realize and learn about community, because we’re not doing the greatest job of community with any of our living nonhuman community members, or each other either. The state of disrepair that we’re in, in terms of community, and getting along and being able to, even those of us who care and passionately love these animals and want to do what it takes to save them have a very hard time working together without getting involved in drama, because we have forgotten what community is, and what the importance is. And the importance is to have responsibility and protect life. And it seems to me that when you watch prairie dogs, if you just do it with an open mind, that they will teach you that if you pay some attention.

SS: I think the same definitely can be said for the buffalo, and that’s what they have done for us. I mean, we live together there in the land where they live, and we learn so much from them about how to be good family members and take care of each other. It always feels so stupid to me to even have to talk about this. Of course they love their life as much as we love ours. Of course they love their children and their brothers and their grandmothers as much as we love ours. It’s just insane to even have to discuss it.

Buffalo have mourning ceremonies. When a comrade is shot or is dying or dies, they come. Even to bones and gut piles. They come and they have these crazy intense ceremonies where they’re circling and circling and making these really intense sounds, and then they eventually move on. They pay their respects and then move on. But it’s so silly to even have to talk about that.

And of course moms and calves with their deep bonds. There have been times when there would be these crazy hazing operations, which involve state and federal and local agencies. Cops and cowboys and helicopters, horse people, chasing these buffalo out of Montana into Yellowstone, moms and calves getting separated, moms breaking off, running after their babies. Calves getting orphaned. And I think, Derrick, I told you that story that one time about that big hazing operation on Horse Butte when we found a calf there, an orphaned baby girl, a few days later. And we were like: the only way she’s going to survive is if she gets to another group of buffalo. They will adopt other calves. And we thought we might be able to help her out but we were failing. And all of a sudden we turned around, and at the top of the butte were these two females, adult females looking exactly where she had ran into these woods. And so we were like let’s get out of there, they’re coming straight for her. And they did. And they found her. And they were both pregnant. She was not even their calf.

And they came from the whole other side of this tremendously big butte. How did they know? They knew. And they found her and they took her in.

And another thing that happened this spring. We were with an adult female who was pregnant, and she was dying. She was trying to give birth and she couldn’t. And we were with her. And as we sat with her, different groups of buffalo came to pay their respects, to check up on her, to see what was going on. And in the end, this one solitary female came and bedded down next to her as she drew her last breath.

There are so many things you could talk about. So many things. It just makes me insane that we even have to have that kind of discussion.

DM: Right. And it makes me think, too, like with Lierre, because you know more about the grass community, but I always think about the trees and the grasses too. These animals are – it’s stupid to even talk about it if you ever paid attention, but the grasses and the trees and all the other plants and bacteria in the soil and everybody gets ignored REALLY badly. They probably experience the worst lack of love from this human community than anybody, because people can’t even pay attention to the fact of the love that we see between animals. So I’d like to hear more about what you think about the grasslands and how they communicate with each other, because that’s something that people don’t pay attention to.

LK: Plants generally are really good at taking care of the whole community. So, for instance, if somebody’s getting attacked by an insect they’ll send out the chemical signals. That’s how they communicate. They don’t make words like we do, but they send out chemical messages. So they’ll send out chemical messages saying “Oh, I’m getting attacked,” and everybody else in the local community then can start immediately producing insecticides in their own bodies, to help drive off whatever insects they’re getting eaten by. But they’ll also send help through their root system to the plant that’s being attacked. They’ll send those chemicals so that this plant has a chance to at least fight off whomever is attacking.

They will do these kinds of things for each other all the time. It’s only when we recognize that it’s possible to find sentience in plants that we’re going to find it. Because up until that point, of course, everybody’s like well they’re just insensate salads, why would you care, it’s just grass. But once scientists actually started to look into it – if they did communicate, how would it be and what does it mean? That’s when you find out that it really is a community where they’re all communicating. They’re helping each other, they’re telling each other there’s a problem. They’re sending each other supplies when they need them.

A lot of the really deep-rooted perennial plants perform functions that nobody else can. Their roots are deep enough that they can actually break up the rock. The bottom layer beneath the soil is rock and those plants are able to break that up, and then they can bring the minerals to the surface of the soil in their own bodies and that’s where the rest of us get those minerals. You and I cannot eat rock, but the plants can do it. So that’s how we get them, ultimately.

There are a lot of amazing things like that. Also during the really dry season, that’s where all the activity is, where all the water is, under the soil, but it’s the actions of the plants that keep even a little bit of the water coming up. When other animals wander through and eat a plant, even if it’s a really dry plant there’s at least some water in that. They are, I don’t know what word to use. Donating themselves, sacrificing themselves, who knows? There’s water in their bodies that keeps everybody else alive. We’re all in it together, right? And that, I think, is the wisdom that’s been lost.

DM: It’s interesting, too, that nobody – I’ve never heard anybody, anyway, call plants or grasses keystone species.

LK: Right. And they’re it.

DM: Yeah.

SS: Yeah, that’s pretty insane, isn’t it?

DJ: You know what I wish? I wish we could do this interview again and add somebody who loves insects the way that all of you love your respective, the ones you’re talking about. And add somebody else who loves poop.

SS: There’s someone out there.

DJ: Because when you have 60 million buffalo, there’s going to be a lot of poop, which leads us directly to insects, because insects are going to be one of the main eaters of that. And then that’s going to lead us to birds, because they’re going to be eating insects, and that’s going to lead us to who eats meadow larks. Ah, hawks. And then the hawk dies and then it gets eaten by insects, and then etc. etc. It keeps going.

DM: How scary is it that insects – I always think, like, when I was a kid, because that’s the only reference I have during my lifetime. When we would drive into Denver or any time we’d drive, at this time of year and through the summer, our windshields would be so smeared with dead bugs that we had to scrub them all the time. And now there’s not one ever. Ever. There are no smashed bugs on any windshield ever. That, to me, is just so scary and terrible.

LK: Yeah, I started to notice that about a decade ago. And it became very apparent to me maybe five years ago. I never, never have to get dead bugs off my windshield, and it used to be just a feature of life when I was a kid. Terrifying.

DJ: So we have about three or four minutes left and I would like, and I’m not particularly known for ending on happy notes. But I would like for the three of you to describe how grasslands and prairie dogs and buffalo and everybody else could come back? What would that look like and what would the processes involved, including, obviously, starting with stopping destroying them. But we’re going to take that for granted for a moment.

SS: As far as the buffalo go, it’s so simple. Leave them alone and they will restore themselves. They will walk their ancient paths again. They’re trying to do that year after year after year, and if we get out of the way, they’re gonna go. They’re going to restore themselves throughout their native range. And they can take down fences. They can do that and we can help them out. It’s just that simple. Stand back.

DM: I’d say the same thing, and Lierre can probably talk to that too. But we need to also educate our women and talk about our human populations too. And to be able to, like she said, instead of managing, I mean that’s what everything’s based on. Wildlife refuges, they have to be managed to death. We have, like any public lands are managed to death. Stop managing. Managing’s just killing. Let go, and then deal with the whole issue of stopping the destruction. Like we always talk about, we need resistance. We need serious people to resist, because if we don’t stop the destruction, I don’t know what we’re going to do. We’re going to be gone.

LK: There are a lot of people who care very passionately about what is happening to our planet. But in my experience they don’t understand the nature of the problem, fully. It’s like well, we’re just, it’s just greed or something. That’s not actually it, though that is certainly part of it. The nature of the problem is actually agriculture. That is where the wound begins, because it is an inherently destructive process. It’s biotic cleansing. It means taking over an entire continent, or two or three or four, and just growing humans on it. And so we have to stop doing that. We never had a right to do it. It has destroyed everything. It has destroyed the planet. It has destroyed the atmosphere. It’s destroyed human society. It’s given us militarism and colonialism and patriarchy and slavery, and it’s also destroyed our health.

So there’s really no reason to continue this. If we stopped the war that is agriculture, and simply let the grasses come home, they will fix it. The grasses and the bison and everybody else who comes along will know how to fix it. All we have to do is stop destroying it.

And the stupidest thing in all this? We’d actually have more food. And that’s the craziest part of all of this.

DJ: Well, is there anything else any of you want to say on anything about grasslands?

DM: I know one thing that’s a positive thing. It’s that when I’m feeling really down and low, which is often, I think like anybody who recognizes reality – I look at the grasslands and the buffalo and the prairie dogs, especially, where I am, the prairie dogs. And I say holy – I mean, they’re still – they are resilient. And they can come back. Look at Rocky Flats and these really bad waste sites where more wildlife, Chernobyl, whatever. If it’s left alone and people have reserved it for wildlife the way that they do, these animals can heal, I agree, too, if we step back. So I can feel some optimism there, knowing that bacteria, and grasses, and the prairie dogs and the buffalo; they know what to do. And if we can just stop – when I’m feeling like it’s all over, there’s no way anything is going to turn around, we have no idea, because these healers, that’s what they are. And they’re still here. That’s pretty miraculous.

DJ: Years ago, a very smart Anishinaabe woman wrote to me about my comments about hope and how I say we need to give up on hope, because hope is a longing for a future condition over which we have no agency. And she wrote to me and said that’s true, but there is a role for hope, because, she said, if all you do is hope that salmon survive, then that sort of hope or prayer is really obscene, if that’s all you’re doing. But once you take out the dams and you stop industrial logging and you stop industrial fishing, then you have to hope that the river accepts your offering.

And so it’s the same thing. If we just hope that buffalo survive and we don’t stop the impediments to their survival, that is an obscenity. But if we remove the obstacles to their survival, then we have to pray that the buffalo accept that offering, and that they act on it. Does that make sense?

SS: Yes. Come help me take down the Stephens Creek trap in Yellowstone.

DJ: So i would like to thank you so much for all of your work, and I would like to thank listeners for listening. My guests today have been Stephany Seay, Deanna Meyer and Lierre Keith. This is Derrick Jensen for Resistance Radio on the Progressive Radio Network.

Filed in Interviews by Derrick Jensen
No Responses — Written on October 21st — Filed in Interviews by Derrick Jensen

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