This topic probably should have been discussed at the forum’s inception in 2011, but better late than never :)


Two recent articles in the February, 2018 Stockman Grass Farmer covered many good reasons for adding trees in to grazing areas – or grazing areas in to trees. But interestingly, neither author used the words “silvopastures” or “silvopasturing”. Maybe it’s just a case of you say to-mae-tos and I’ll say to-mah-tos, but it got me to thinking about what an unfamiliar word “silvopasturing” is.


At the 2011 Northeast Silvopasture Conference, I issued a general challenge for someone to come up with a better name for silvopasturing… no one did (not just a “better” name, but any name). My colleague Joe Orefice has correctly pointed out that silvopasturing is the internationally-recognized name for the agroforestry practice of growing trees, forages and livestock together in a synergistic, symbiotic and sustainable system. So the terminology is correct, but what good is that if it sounds awkward, confusing or meaningless to most?


Perhaps one of the more significant barriers to expanding silvopasturing is that the very name doesn’t resonate with potential practitioners (unless maybe you’re a silviculturalist – a.k.a. “forester”, like Joe and myself), much less with others who we would like to be supportive of our endeavors (think: government agencies). Unfortunately, “woodland grazing” – though a more descriptive term that would paint a reasonably accurate picture in the minds of most – is what we’ve been trying to distance ourselves from. For a good discussion of the differences between silvopasturing vs. woodland grazing, read Joe’s and John Carroll’s paper in the Journal of Forestry: http://silvopasture.ning.com/profiles/blogs/new-publication-1


In the previously mentioned SGF articles, both authors used the term “savanna” (or, if you’re from the rest of the English-speaking world: “savannah”) to describe the silvopastoral landscapes on their farms. Savanna is another descriptive term which would evoke a somewhat accurate image in the minds of non-silvopastoralists - but a silvopasture is not a savanna. It would, however, be correct to say that silvopastures are savanna-like ecosystems. At the risk of setting off a lengthy discussion (sometimes known as an argument), I would contend that the main difference between a silvopasture and savanna is that silvopastures are intentionally created and managed for the production of timber and livestock outputs. Savannas, or their sub-arctic counterparts – the taigas – are not (unless perhaps you’re a gazelle or reindeer grazier). But their appearances could be similar. Silvopastures and silvopasturing, however, can take many shapes and forms (http://silvopasture.ning.com/profiles/blogs/photo-guide-to-northeas...). For some other good distinguishing characteristics of what constitutes a silvopasture: https://ext.vt.edu/content/dam/ext_vt_edu/topics/agriculture/silvop...

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Brett,

Thanks for posting this. I think one of the challenges with silvopasture and savannas is that in some parts of the country, and world, savannas are naturally existent because of climate and disturbance regimes.  Some of these traditional savannas have seen livestock grazing replace the disturbance regime. A good example is the Montado in Portugal. These fire controlled savannas (that's why cork oak has thick bark to protect from fire) now see less frequent fire but more intensive grazing. 

In the midwest US there were some savanna type ecosystems that were lost due to tree-less agriculture. There's been an effort to restore these ecosystems to their "natural" state using livestock grazing. I think this is impossible to do because the natural state was fire and periodic bison grazing. However silvopasture may be a happy middle ground between the historic ecosystem and treeless agriculture. 

Converting closed canopy forests in moderately wet temperate ecosystems (such as in the northeast) to silvopasture is very artificial since we didn't naturally have much savanna structure. What was here pre-European was largely the result of Native Americans' use of fire. 

In short, I consider silvopastures to be savanna-like but they're far from pristine "natural" ecosystems. The goal of framing since it's inception 10,000 years ago has been for humans to get more out of a unit of land than would naturally occur, hence we manipulate the system to produce the things we want. Ideally this occurs while learning from and working with nature, but in some cases (like silvopasture in the northeast) we veer from what would naturally occur (closed canopy forest). 

Another way to think of this is that savanna is an ecosytem structure - like forest or grassland - while silvopasture is a science based agricultural production system. Putting animals in the woods without managing for grasses is just a feedlot with trees, aka woodland grazing by most.  

Here's a great synthesis on savanna ecology, some of the concepts fit well with silvopasture, some not so much: https://researchspace.csir.co.za/dspace/bitstream/handle/10204/771/... 

At yesterday's workshop in NH.   The question came up about where the term silvopasture came from.   After a brief explanation the person was satisfied.   Being one of the foresters you mentioned in your post, the term to me makes sense and I like it.   I have heard it referred to as 'Agro silvopasture' or just plain 'silvo'.   I do agree that there is confusion among many landowners/farmers to the term but it seems like once they get a little information they get it.   Given that it is a long established agroforestry term, for what it's worth my feeling is we shouldn't change it.   

The only term I can come up with that might be more instantly evocative for the layperson is "Forest Pasture", but I strongly prefer "Silvopasture" for a bunch of reasons. 

  1. As mentioned it is in use in the field and has a specific meaning.
  2. It sounds better than the alternatives.
  3. Because it is slightly unfamiliar to many people it give me time to explain what I mean when I deploy it. "Forest Pasture" or "Woods Pasture" or "Woodland Pasture" has the disadvantage of combining words people already have front and center in their heads. Those terms call to my mind a herd of cows standing in a closed canopy forest.
  4. It's useful to be able to define our terms. Silvopasture is not a weird, 'science-y' word that is difficult to pronounce. With a word that sounds sort of like a neologism (even though it's not) the speaker gets the chance to explain.  

How certain are we that the Native Americans were the primary driver of the "park-like" landscape early Europeans described?

It seems to me it wouldn't take too many eastern bison and various mammoths to keep a fairly humid region, like we have in the northeast, operating in a sort of patchwork mosiac of meadow-scrub-early forest-high forest - with zones of different size depending on soil, aspect, and disturbance history.

Joe Orefice said:

Brett,

Thanks for posting this. I think one of the challenges with silvopasture and savannas is that in some parts of the country, and world, savannas are naturally existent because of climate and disturbance regimes.  Some of these traditional savannas have seen livestock grazing replace the disturbance regime. A good example is the Montado in Portugal. These fire controlled savannas (that's why cork oak has thick bark to protect from fire) now see less frequent fire but more intensive grazing. 

In the midwest US there were some savanna type ecosystems that were lost due to tree-less agriculture. There's been an effort to restore these ecosystems to their "natural" state using livestock grazing. I think this is impossible to do because the natural state was fire and periodic bison grazing. However silvopasture may be a happy middle ground between the historic ecosystem and treeless agriculture. 

Converting closed canopy forests in moderately wet temperate ecosystems (such as in the northeast) to silvopasture is very artificial since we didn't naturally have much savanna structure. What was here pre-European was largely the result of Native Americans' use of fire. 

In short, I consider silvopastures to be savanna-like but they're far from pristine "natural" ecosystems. The goal of framing since it's inception 10,000 years ago has been for humans to get more out of a unit of land than would naturally occur, hence we manipulate the system to produce the things we want. Ideally this occurs while learning from and working with nature, but in some cases (like silvopasture in the northeast) we veer from what would naturally occur (closed canopy forest). 

Another way to think of this is that savanna is an ecosytem structure - like forest or grassland - while silvopasture is a science based agricultural production system. Putting animals in the woods without managing for grasses is just a feedlot with trees, aka woodland grazing by most.  

Here's a great synthesis on savanna ecology, some of the concepts fit well with silvopasture, some not so much: https://researchspace.csir.co.za/dspace/bitstream/handle/10204/771/... 

I’m fairly comfortable thinking that Native Americans and fire were a driver of savanna structures in the northeast at the time of European arrival. One other player may have been that these were closed canopy forests with large trees at a wide spacing because large trees need more space. Climate may also have played a role. I’m not familiar with rainfall dynamics at that point in time. 

I am not familiar with any bison evidence or native folklore of bison in the northeast at the time of European arrival. Western NY and Western PA being an exception. Mammoths and post ice age bison roamed this area after glacial retreat but were gone when the taiga left. I’m not too comfortable comparing glacial retreat ecosystems with our current forests because everything is so much different: climate, seasons, soil development, hydrology, disturbance regimes, and dominant vegetation. European colonization is only one point in time and I don’t mean to imply that the conditions at that time are what our region ‘should’ be. Timeframe post-glaciation is really key when comparing then vs now or vs a different then. 

As far as Native Americans and ecology of forests/savannah its important to mention the "pristine myth" that is so pervasive in ecology and history in general. The landscape was quite open and managed by native peoples prior to European colonization, to a degree where there was said to be MORE dense forest 100 years after colonization than before - why? Because the removal of native people through disease and conquest took those who were managing the land intensively off the land, which dramatically altered forest composition. Of course, its easy to over generalize, since there was high variability throughout the region.

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2002/03/the-pristine-m...

The problem with "Forest Pasture" is that this is already defined by USDA and commonly practiced - up to 15 - 20% of all pasture in the Northeast are "Woodland Paddocks" which mean places with trees where farmers dump their animals - NOT managed systems of trees/livestock/forage.

Edmund Brown said:

The only term I can come up with that might be more instantly evocative for the layperson is "Forest Pasture", but I strongly prefer "Silvopasture" for a bunch of reasons. 

  1. As mentioned it is in use in the field and has a specific meaning.
  2. It sounds better than the alternatives.
  3. Because it is slightly unfamiliar to many people it give me time to explain what I mean when I deploy it. "Forest Pasture" or "Woods Pasture" or "Woodland Pasture" has the disadvantage of combining words people already have front and center in their heads. Those terms call to my mind a herd of cows standing in a closed canopy forest.
  4. It's useful to be able to define our terms. Silvopasture is not a weird, 'science-y' word that is difficult to pronounce. With a word that sounds sort of like a neologism (even though it's not) the speaker gets the chance to explain.  

Steve, have you seen the USDA define “forest pasture”? In the census of Agriculture they just say woodland pasture and let respondents self classify their pasture. The 15-20% stat could include some silvopasture but likely it’s just fenced off woods. That journal of forestry article Brett linked to above presents the USDA numbers and discusses the caveats. 

Joe,

I suppose I should have been a little more specific about the time frame I envisioned various patchworks of meadow-scrub-forest developing. I also am pretty comfortable with the idea that the intentional, human ignited fires could have been the primary driver of an 'open' forest 500 years ago.

My understanding is that many (most?) trees native to the northeast have been around for a couple million years. Same with most of the megafauna in the fossil record up until an eyeblink ago geologically speaking. I believe the dormant buds that many hardwoods harbor along their trunks and large branches are evolutionary baggage from a time when ragged delimbing by a mammoth or giant ground sloth was a distinct possibility...

In any case, you intuited the general thrust of the argument I wished to make (poorly as I may have done so) - that looking back to what was can inform the present, but it is not necessarily something we need to aspire to recreate.

Hey Joe:

Sorry, I was typing this fast so it didn't come clear...no, I haven't seen USDA specifically define "forest pasture", unlike woodland pasture as you discuss in that excellent article you wrote.

What I mean to say is that really from the layperson perspective I think both "forest pasture" and "woodland pasture" are essentially seen as the same, I have heard them used both to indicate fenced off forest, which yea is that 15 - 20% range I quoted from census...

As terms then, both feel compromised and its why I see the word "silvopasture" as best, even if it takes more explaining. I often define "silvics" when introducing people to the word, so as to emphasize that we are caretaking the woods, not just tossing animals in there. (Which you know full well!)

Happy sugaring!

Steve



Joe Orefice said:

Steve, have you seen the USDA define “forest pasture”? In the census of Agriculture they just say woodland pasture and let respondents self classify their pasture. The 15-20% stat could include some silvopasture but likely it’s just fenced off woods. That journal of forestry article Brett linked to above presents the USDA numbers and discusses the caveats. 

Sounds like there's consensus for "silvopasturing" - good!

You all make good points.  Some other things that have changed in the past few centuries is the influx of non-native cool season grasses and non-native shrubs.  For the most part, we don't have a lot of non-native trees - though we have lost some important species like Elm & Chestnut... and now, Ash.  Whatever the landscape may have looked like several centuries ago couldn't be easily re-created or maintained today thanks to a lot of new plants, pests, fauna and land use.  

Hold your horses! I talked about this with my wife last night and she suggested we consider "Arbor pasture" (or perhaps some elision of the two - arbopasture, arborasture, arbasture, etc). She thought it would be obscure enough that I'd still get time to explain what I mean when I drop it, but that more people would have some sort of conception that Arbors have to do with trees. She thinks "silvo" and "sylvan" are more unusual sounding than "arbor". 

My preference is still for 'silvopasture', because I like the way it rolls off the tongue, and the pedant in me recoils when there is a perfectly good word for something (silvopasture) and people feel the need to either coin a neologism or go use other words that are less precise or have other meanings (savanna). Another example, "he gifted it to me", rather than "gave".

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