Habitat Guideline for Mule Deer

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Principles not recipes
Planned grazing is not a ten-step list of “how to do it.” This is impossible: every owner’s objectives, every ranch, and every place on the planet is different to some degree large or small. Instead, it states principles. Execution of these must by definition involve trial and error. That is

one reason for monitoring: planned graziers assume they are probably doing something wrong which must be identified and corrected as soon as possible. SDG’s are best understood as applications that failed because practices disconnected from planning. There is nothing inherently wrong with paddocks arranged in a circular pattern around shared water. Failure did

not disprove the insights and principles that were not applied (Savory 1983; Savory et al. 1999; Butterfield et al. 2006).

Recovery period the correct starting place
As soon as we can predict rainfalls, grazing planning will be easy. Recovery periods differ from place to place as does rainfall: 2 years is optimistic in the Jornada del Muerto and pessimistic in Ozona. And, those recovery periods are just educated guesses: actual rain, and starting plant condition necessitate monitoring to adjust hypothesis to reality. Also, recovery periods shorten as plant community health improves: I am amazed at how much more quickly our plants respond to rainfall than they used to. No doubt our recovery periods can be shortened in the future, within the limiting factors of season and rainfall (Gill 2007).

The Serengeti Migration:

Ultra-high density rotational grazing

It is proved that there is no advantage to various rotation grazing systems over continuous grazing in range condition or livestock productivity (Heffelfinger et al. 2006, p. 15).
Your conclusions ignore 20 million years of evolution, and the living example of the most productive perennial desert grasslands in the world.
III. Paradigms
“Paradigm” describes the entire constellation of beliefs, values, techniques and so on, shared by the members of a given (scientific) community (Kuhn, p. 175). As Kuhn explains, paradigms are necessary to a scientist. “They include the scientists’ conceptual “tool kits,” their concepts, and without some such tool kit, a scientist is unemployable (Preston, p. 48).” “(M)ost people come to depend on a certain constancy in their environment and, save under special conditions, attempt to ward off variations from this state of affairs (Preston, p. 43).” Paradigms are necessary and produce progress: often dismissed by outsiders as dogmatism, tenacity to a paradigm is what makes normal science possible (Kuhn, p. 152, Preston, p. 85). “The source of the resistance (to new science) is the assurance that the older paradigm will ultimately solve all its problems (and) that nature can be shoved into the box the paradigm provides (Kuhn, pp. 151-152).” Theories do not evolve piecemeal to fit facts that were there all the time. Rather, they emerge together with the facts they fit from a revolutionary reformulation of the preceding scientific tradition (Kuhn, p. 141). When a paradigm changes, the questions scientists ask together with the kinds of answers they deem acceptable are subtly reformulated (Kuhn, p. 142).

Conventional range and wildlife science and practices are crippled in at least three ways by conventional paradigms.

  1. We study natural histories over time frames too brief to form a correct impression of how these natural systems evolved and were functioning when humans arrived, nor, how humans changed the systems.

  1. We do not think holistically.

  1. Deeply-held beliefs regularly override science.

Time frames: In your conclusions about wildlife populations you take as a baseline the period beginning in 1880 and later (Heffelfinger et al. 2006). Plants, animals and microorganisms coevolved in our deserts over at least 20 million years (Martin et al. 1984; Martin 2005). The entire history of the human race on this continent spans only the last 10,000 years: 1/2,000th of that period. Of that 1/2,000th you are focused on only the last 1%, the period since 1880. So, 1/200,000th.
What would you say if your investment trustee told you that he had studied, and learned, all he needed to know concerning the entire history of American financial markets since 1776, by reviewing the last three hours of the last day on which the markets were open, and then would invest for you based on that? Would you consider that sufficient?
Statistically that is what our experts do when they say they have learned all we need to know about our systems by looking at the last 120 years. “Until recently the fauna recorded over the last five centuries has been uncritically accepted as an American baseline; it is rarely viewed as a proposition … to be subjected to penetrating analysis. Those who work toward preserving and restoring the American wildness generally ignore the fossil record … this analysis does not look back far enough … “speciesism” (ignores) the influence of (humans) (Martin 2005 pp.186-200).”
This includes defining the animals that “should” and “should not” be in our empty deserts based on a snapshot taken of remnant species 120 years ago (Heffelfinger et al. 2006). This is an absurdity for several reasons (Gill 2007). “Virtually all extinctions of wild animals in the last

50,000 years (were) … caused by humans.” “No American terrestrial habitat, from sea to shining sea, has been “natural” for some 10,000 years (Martin 2005 p. 3, p. 200).”

Failure to think holistically: Communities of living organisms: plants, animals and microorganisms, are symbiotic. These function interdependently with water, mineral and sunlight cycles (Savory et al. 1983; Savory et al. 1999; Butterfield et al. 1996). In general, conventional practice treats these as if they function separately when in fact, they all are part of one “whole.”
“Reductionism” is the scientific methodology growing out of assumptions that we can isolate one variable and study it apart from everything else. It is a powerful tool which has yielded many scientific advances. However, the idea that complex desert systems can be reduced to a few variables, of which one can be isolated and studied while the others are held constant, reflects a basic misconception of how these systems work. There are thousands of interlinked variables: the system is too intricate to understand beyond recognizing that these complex

relationships exist. Changing any variable affects everything else. Soon that affects the variables we think are constants. This reductionist paradigm constantly leads people to focus one-dimensionally, on for example single-species wildlife management protocols, over-grazing, or the mistaken belief that elk, cattle and predators compete with, rather than function synergistically, with mule deer.

Be holistic and realistic. Fix mule deer habitat and nature will fill it with mule deer. How best to restore habitat? Shall we keep fighting nature with low-density set-stocking, and reduction of wild species, and then try to repair the damage with the tools of fire, poisons, bulldozers and further animal reductions (Heffelfinger et al. 2006)? That approach has always failed. Instead, why not incorporate these tools and animals into protocols that mimic nature?
Exotics are bad? Including humans? The deeply-held conventional belief that exotics are undesirable is unsupportable when re-considered in the context of longer time frames and

recognition that plants cannot be restored without a diverse animal community, from which, in the Desert Southwest, 90% of large native species are extinct or missing due to 10,000 years of human impact. And humans, the exotic keystone species responsible, must manage this

restoration (Savory et al. 1983; Savory et al. 1999; Butterfield et al. 2006; Martin et al. 1954; Martin 2005; Gill 2007). This diverse animal population will include some other exotics.
Our best habitat restoration tool is an exotic bovid, Bos taurus (cow) which is a proxy for a missing native bovid, Bison bison (buffalo) (Martin 2005; Gill 2007; Savory 1983; Savory et al. 1999; Butterfield et al. 2006).
Consider another species: the burros being shot out at Big Bend Park. Animals like these long predate humans on this continent. “If burros and other equids did not graze in wild America 500 years ago, it does not matter where their ancestors had lived for the previous 50 million years” “(Grand Canyon NPS managers) ignored the fact that New World vegetation had evolved in the presence of herbivory by equids (Martin 2005 p. 190, p. 186).”

After 20 million years of co-evolution, plants and animals have come to be different sides of the same coin. Properly managed animals are our best, cheapest, and ecologically most sustainable habitat restoration tool. But tools can be misused and do damage. Just putting in lots of animals without proper management will lead to harm. Yet, without animals, habitat restoration is impossible. But which animals shall we choose?

In this context, which question produces more useful answers: (1) “Was this species here 120 years ago? Or, (2) Was this species or something similar here until humans arrived, and can it best fill an empty niche in the animal community necessary to restore habitat for mule deer?” Gill 2007; Savory 1983; Savory et al. 1999; Butterfield et al. 2006; Martin et al. 1984; Martin 2005).

Beliefs override science: Often in desert range and wildlife science, scientific facts are ignored because these conflict with deeply-held belief. This is a case in point. The list of authors and

sponsors of Habitat Guidelines for Mule Deer are a Whose Who of the range science and wildlife community. Yet these scientists, in evaluating planned grazing, have endorsed a process replete with mis-definition, contradictions, omissions and misstatements, arriving at conclusions unsupportable as matters of scholarship, science, fact, or logic. Are we to be surprised that these conclusions align with long-held conventional views on range science including in particular, the recommendation of continuous stocking on perennial desert grasslands? This could be the poster-child for science trumped by deeply-held belief.

This lack of scientific objectivity is best understood in the context of paradigms. Paradigms (p. 16) involve conceptions of method, of what counts as a problem, and of what counts as its correct solution (Kuhn, p. 85). Scientists who subscribe to a paradigm “do not regard its basic character as open to question. They do not feel they’re following a paradigm at all. They are simply investigating the actual structure of the world.” When a scientist cannot solve a puzzle in a way that makes it fit the paradigm, this is a failure not of the paradigm but of the scientist (Kuhn, pp. 52-3). A scientific community spends most of its time applying theories, not testing them by looking for negative evidence (Preston, p. 49). As a matter of historical fact, scientists don’t respond to crisis by giving up their paradigm. They don’t compare their paradigms directly

with nature and they don’t treat “anomalies” as falsifying instances even though in the vocabulary of philosophy of science that is what they are (Kuhn, p. 77).

My career experience has forced me to think “outside the box” and to rely on planning and process as the best means of economic self-defense. These are powerful tools when respected. I have learned to my regret that manipulation of assumptions and data towards desired conclusions

abuses planning, and process, and creates bad decisions. These lead to failure. In terms of achieving the outcomes we want, the only path is to demand objectivity of ourselves and those on whom we rely.

One does not need a scientific degree to recognize the loss of objectivity outlined previously in this paper (pp. 3-4; 9-10). Furthermore, understanding why this happens does not justify the process or result.

“(W)e trust scientists because we are convinced that they are acting in a scientific fashion, and this is not defined as what(ever) large numbers of people who call themselves scientists decide to do (emphasis added). When we discover that this assumption has played us false – that the scientists are being unscientific – even well-informed laymen can make the relative discriminations (Preston, p. 91).”

Doctors killing patients
My grandfather was born before the civil war. When he was a young man in 1870, there were no hand-washing or surgical instrument sterilization stations in American hospitals. Doctors weren’t ignorant: thousands of years of medical arts had taught them to diagnose and treat. Anatomy, chemistry and the technology of instruments was well advanced. Yet surgical patients routinely died of post-operative infection and the most dangerous place to be if you were sick or giving birth was a hospital. In 1870, the role of microorganisms in disease transmission, including post-surgical infection, was not understood. Infection was blamed on “miasmas”: atmospheric vapors. But about then a British surgeon began building on the discoveries of Louis

Pasteur. He began practicing what would today be considered rudimentary sanitary procedures. His innovations were fiercely resisted. The idea that tiny invisible organisms could make people sick was contrary to everything that was “known” and was ridiculed by his colleagues. Nevertheless, he persisted, with dramatic results, and the history of modern medicine begins then.

The foregoing is analogous to where we are today with range science. Conventional practitioners have great knowledge. Habitat Guidelines for Mule Deer and its incorporated studies are full of useful ideas and correct conclusions. But many basic prescriptions do vast harm to habitats and animals. What is lacking are the organizing insights on over-rest and sufficient recovery periods, which are to range science what the infection insights were to the medical arts. “The scientist who embraces a new paradigm is like the man wearing inverting lenses. Confronting the same constellation of objects as before and knowing that he does so, he nevertheless finds them transformed through and through in many of their details” (Kuhn, p.112, 122).
One reviewer of Structure of Scientific Revolutions said that Kuhn had assembled from various quarters, truisms which previously did not quite fit, and exhibited them in a new pattern in terms of which our whole image of science is transformed (Preston, p. 61). With respect to range science, I would say this of Savory’s concepts of planned grazing.
One funeral at a time
Corpernicus’ contemporaries thought him insane for saying the earth moved. One hundred years after his death there were few “Copernicans.” Newton’s work was not generally accepted a half-

century after the publication of the Principia. As Darwin wrote in his Origin of the Species, “Although I am fully convinced of the truth of the views given in this volume …, I by no means expect to convince experienced naturalists whose minds are stocked with a multitude of facts all viewed, during a long course of years, from a point of view directly opposite to mine. … (B)ut I look with confidence to the future, - to young and rising naturalists, who will be able to view both sides of the question with impartiality.” And Max Planck (theoretical physicist, Nobel Laureate, and founder of quantum theory), reviewing his career in his Scientific Autobiography sadly remarked that “a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it (Kuhn, pp. 149-151).”

It would be depressing indeed to conclude that better range and wildlife science must await the demise of today’s leaders in these fields. We are out of time: the ongoing degradation of billions of acres of desert grasslands, the consequent destruction of our planet’s largest terrestrial carbon sump, to say nothing of the loss of whole communities of wildlife including mule deer, is simply not acceptable. In North America, notwithstanding the efforts of so many well-intentioned and highly-educated range scientists, desertification continues and wildlife populations decline. Desertification happens slowly: the changes pass largely unnoticed day-to-day. Viewed over a century, they are breathtaking. In the Desert Southwest, stocking rates of the 1890’s sound like science fiction today (Heffelfinger et al. 2006 p.11, Savory et al. 1999). We are losing the fight,

yet it doesn’t have to be that way. Range science can move forward. But, it must open its mind to scientific insights which conflict with its deeply-held beliefs. Around the world, thousands of practitioners are applying planned grazing principles on tens of millions of acres, with amazing results, www.holisticmanagement .com. Incorporating these insights, and together synthesizing better practices, we can start to move rangeland, habitat and mule deer restoration outcomes in the right direction.
Otherwise, like the physicians of my grandfather’s youth, with hearts full of good intentions and minds full of millennia of accumulated knowledge, our range and wildlife doctors will go on inadvertently killing their patients, because they cannot, or will not, incorporate two revolutionary facts into their range science: to be healthy, desert plants must be thoroughly grazed, periodically, and then they must be allowed to fully recover before they are grazed again. In addition to being visibly obvious (p. 16 & 17), these two facts are self-evident when viewed through the prism of (1) evolution and the consequent symbiosis between plants,

animals, microorganisms and the interdependence of these and water, mineral and sunlight cycles; and (2) the way pre-human systems functioned. (Savory 1983; Savory et al. 1999; Butterfield et al. 2006; Martin 2005; Gill 2007).

An invitation

You state that what we are doing is impossible. I reply: come and see the impossible in action. Explain how we can take 3 times your possible AD’s using many times the animals you say are appropriate: numbers which you say will harm the land. Explain why our infiltration is

improving along with forage production. Observe our populations of wild animals and domesticated exotics and see if they suffer from “competition.” The only thing I ask you to

bring is an open mind. This is a sincere invitation: come, and use Circle as a laboratory to advance our common goals for mule deer.

Chris Gill
Christopher Gill
Enclosure: Literature Cited

cc: Members, Mule Deer Working Group

Members, Western Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies

Staff Members Texas Parks & Wildlife Department


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Gill, C. 2007. Circle Ranch Strategic Plan 2007-2010. Not published. Available from Christopher Gill & Associates, 4040 Broadway, Suite 510, San Antonio, Texas 78209. $25.00.
Heffelfinger, J. R., C. Brewer, C. H. Alcalá-Galván, B. Hale, D. L. Weybright, B. F. Wakeling, L. H. Carpenter, and N. L. Dodd. 2006. Habitat Guidelines for Mule Deer: Southwest Deserts Ecoregion. Mule Deer Working Group, Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.
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