California Ranchers Tackle the Climate Crisis One Pasture at a Time

Washington, D.C.- "A coalition of organizations including Food & Water Watch, the Center for Food Safety, Pesticide Action Network, National Family Farm Coalition, Environmental Working Group, Just Label It, CREDO Action, SumOfUS and Organic...

July 2, 2014 | Source: Grist | by Sasha Harris-Lovett

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John Wick’s battered blue jeans, wire-rimmed glasses, and plaid work shirt make him look like a stereotypical rancher, but he is not. He’s a philanthropist, and he runs cattle on his 540-acre ranch in Northern California not for money or beef production, but instead to try to promote native grass species by mimicking grazing habits of the elk herds that once roamed these hills.

Through more than a decade of experimentation on his ranch, Wick has stumbled upon what may turn out to be a groundbreaking discovery: He’s found a way to manage grasslands that can curb climate change, while also providing multiple benefits to ranchers and to society.

Wick wasn’t always a climate activist. He worked as a carpenter and construction project manager, then married into the wealthy Rathmann family. (His father-in-law was the CEO of the massive biotech company Amgen.) When Wick and his wife, Peggy, moved out to their ranch 16 years ago, they were simply looking for more space for an art studio.

But in 2007, Wick started to worry about global warming. “I couldn’t sleep at night,” Wick says. “I was terrified.” Instead of letting these anxieties continue to paralyze him, he decided to do something about it.

Wick thought about the natural cycle he saw on his ranch. Plants grow by converting sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide into carbohydrates. Each blade of grass, he explains, is like a little straw that sucks carbon out of the air and into the plant’s tissues. When the roots eventually decompose, some of the organic material – made primarily of carbon – remains in the soil and becomes protected from further decomposition.