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Wednesday, June 25, 2014 at 2:00 p.m. in room

Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation

1324 Longworth House Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20515.

Statement of John Wick, Rancher, Nicasio, California


Thank you for convening this important meeting and inviting me to share our research and experience with soil carbon sequestration on grazing lands. My name is John Wick and I am a rancher from Northern California, speaking today on behalf of the Marin Carbon Project. The Marin Carbon Project is a consortium of ranchers and land managers, researchers, extension specialists, non-profits, and local and federal agencies working on improving rangeland productivity and sustainability (see attachment 1 for a list of members and their affiliations). One way that our group differs from some others is that we work closely with researchers and extension from some of the country’s best universities to take a rigorous scientific approach to measure changes in soil carbon from management. While there are a lot of claims of management approaches increasing soil carbon, many of these do not turn out to be true when you actually measure the soil. This is a key important point, as poor management can have long lasting detrimental effects on the health and productivity of public lands, and has resulted in soil carbon losses (Lal 2004, Bai et al 2008).


Research does show that increasing the carbon content of rangeland soils improves the drought resistance, decreases erosion, and increases forage production (Havstad et al. 2007, DeLonge et al. 2014). It also, by the way, is better to store carbon in soils than in the atmosphere where it apparently wreaks havoc with the climate.


I want to start by answering the question: Can management sequester carbon in rangeland soils? The answer is YES. Every year I produce 50,000 pounds of grass-fed beef on land that was once considered heavily degraded. We restored the productivity of our land by replenishing the soil carbon content. Under the guidance of Dr. Jeffrey Creque, a rangeland ecologist and Dr. Whendee Silver a biogeochemist from UC Berkeley, I have implemented a management approach that stimulates grass growth. Those grasses use carbon from the atmosphere, and feed animals that produce food and fiber. Some of the carbon from the plants ends up in the soil, primarily through the production of more root biomass (Ryals and Silver 2013), and can stick around for decades to centuries (Ryals et al. 2014a). Research by Dr. Silver and her group showed that rangelands grazed by dairy and beef cattle had much more carbon when the ranchers applied manure or compost to the soil (Silver et al. 2010). In our region, we dispose of manure from feedlots and dairies by spreading it as a thin surface dressing on the land. The material works its way into the soil and acts as a slow release fertilizer, growing more grass and increasing soil carbon. However, spreading manure can have a host of pollution and public health issues (Lewis et al 2010, Atwill et al 2006, Tate et al 2006); it can also produce a lot of greenhouse gases (Davidson 2009). If you compost it before you spread it, it is pathogen and weed free, and produces a lot less greenhouse gas (DeLonge et al 2013).


After a one-time ½ inch compost application in 2008 to experimental plots on my ranch, we have measured a 50% increase in forage production for the last 5 years (Ryals and Silver 2013, additional data available upon request). This is also true for other ranches where this was tested. The soil gained an additional ton of carbon per hectare each year (Ryals et al. 2014a). That represents over half a ton of extra forage and one and a half tons of CO2 captured per acre per year.


Models showed that this will likely continue for decades as the compost continues to slowly break down, with all the co-benefits associated with increased soil carbon, including drought resistance and less erosion (Ryals et al. 2014b). Scaled to just 5% of California’s grasslands each year, this practice would offset all of the state’s annual agricultural and forestry emissions (DeLonge et al. 2013). All of this has been published in peer-reviewed scientific papers over the last 3 years.


We have now expanded onto several local dairy and beef operations to further explore the opportunities to scale up this practice. The potential is big. A report to the California Air Resources Board showed that if California, the biggest dairy producer in US, were to capture its entire organic waste stream, it could make enough compost to apply to 5% of the state’s rangelands each year. We have recently created a market protocol for this practice, now under review by the American Carbon Registry (provided with supplementary material), providing land managers an opportunity to participate in carbon trading to help support carbon sequestration in rangeland soils.


In closing, I would just repeat that rigorous, peer-reviewed science shows that it is indeed possible to increase soil carbon sequestration on grazed lands, and that doing so initiates a cascade of beneficial effects that improves their ecological condition. We have used compost, but there are likely other approaches that work well. It is absolutely critical however, that we that we use rigorous science to support our management decisions. That will in turn support our public lands and the livelihoods of the people who depend upon them.


Atwill, E.R., K.W. Tate, M. Das Gracas C. Pereira, J.W. Bartolome, and G.A. Nader. 2006. Efficacy of Natural Grass Buffers for Removal of Cryptosporidium parvum in Rangeland Runoff. J. Food Protection. 69:177-184.


Bai, Z.G., D.L. Dent, L. Olsson, and M.E. Schaepman. 2008. Global Assessment of Land Degradation and Improvement. 1. Identification by Remote Sensing. Wageningen: International Soil Reference and Information Centre (ISRIC).


Lal, R. 2004. “Soil Carbon Sequestration to Mitigate Climate Change.” Geoderma 123 (1): 1–22.


Lewis, D.J., E.R. Atwill, M.S. Lennox, M.D.G. Pereira, W.A. Miller, P.A. Conrad, and K.W. Tate. 2010. Management of Microbial Contamination in Storm Runoff from California Coastal Dairy Pastures. J. Environmental Quality. 39:1782–1789.


Havstad, K.M., D.P. Peters, R. Skaggs, J. Brown, B. Bestelmeyer, E. Fredrickson, J. Herrick, and J. Wright. 2007. “Ecological Services to and from Rangelands of the United States.” Ecological Economics 64 (2): 261–268.


DeLonge, M. J. Owen, W. Silver. 2014. Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Opportunities for California Agriculture: Review of California Rangeland Emissions and Mitigation Potential. NI GGMOCA R 4. Durham, NC: Duke University.


Ryals, R., and W.L. Silver. 2013. “Effects of Organic Matter Amendments on Net Primary Productivity and Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Annual Grasslands.” Ecological Applications 23 (1): 46–59.


Ryals, R., M. Kaiser, M. Torn, A. Berhe, and W.L. Silver. 2014. “Impacts of Organic Matter Amendments on Carbon and Nitrogen Dynamics in Grassland Soils.” Soil Biology & Biochemistry 68: 52-61.


Silver, W.L., R. Ryals, and V. Eviner. 2010. “Soil Carbon Pools in California’s Annual Grassland Ecosystems.” Rangeland Ecology & Management 63 (1): 128–136.


Davidson, E.A. 2009. “The Contribution of Manure and Fertilizer Nitrogen to Atmospheric Nitrous Oxide since 1860.” Nature Geoscience 2 (9): 659–662.


DeLonge, M.S., R. Ryals, and W.L. Silver. 2013. “A Lifecycle Model to Evaluate Carbon Sequestration Potential and Greenhouse Gas Dynamics of Managed Grasslands.” Ecosystems: 1–18.


Tate, K.W., E.R. Atwill, J.W. Bartolome, and G.A. Nader. 2006. Significant E. coli Attenuation by Vegetative Buffers on Annual Grasslands. J. Environmental Quality. 35:795-805.