ADP taps watershed expert

Mark DuPont (green shirt), left, urges watershed management at the opening of Adventures in Permaculture’s permaculture design course. (photo by Steven Saint)

by Trudy Thomas

Permaculture guru Mark DuPont gets right to the point. In a recent presentation to permaculture design certification students, he didn’t talk about how to grow great veggies or his favorite composting method. He talked about climate change and how to survive it.

DuPont and his partner Blythe Reis have spent the last 27 years practicing permaculture at Sandy Bar Ranch in Orleans, Calif., where they rent out vacation cabins. The Humboldt Bay 2019 Permaculture Design Certification (PDC) course opened at Sandy Bar April 13-14 and DuPont gave the keynote.

He said if we are going to survive earth’s climate crisis we must focus on our watershed. A watershed is a region’s drainage basin for precipitation, culminating in a body of water such as a river. DuPont said we must care for all of it, from its highest point or ridgeline to the river mouth where it empties into another river or body of water. 

The group heard what he has done to care for the Klamath River watershed. Through the Mid Klamath Watershed Council, he has partnered with other groups and tribes to restore fisheries habitat, implement fire and fuels management, and encourage native plant growth. In partnership with the Karuk tribe, he has helped revitalize the forest ecosystem for traditional native foods such as tanoak acorns, camas bulbs, berries, salmon and medicinal plants.

He warned that humans are blindly exceeding the planet’s limitations on multiple levels, comparing it to rowing a boat backwards over the precipice of a waterfall.

“Permaculture is about turning the boat around and facing it,” said DuPont. “It’s a way to not go over the waterfall backwards.”

In the late 1980s, DuPont studied permaculture under renowned natural builder Ianto Evans followed by a stint teaching integrated pest management in South America. With several others, he and Blythe purchased Sandy Bar Ranch in 1992 where they taught permaculture design courses and ran a fruit tree nursery. In 2010, they launched Klamath Knot Permaculture to help create resilient communities. 

DuPont is big on taking initiative. He said sometimes you’ve got to jump in and well, “try sh@%” – and some amazing things have happened. For example, DuPont and his colleagues successfully remediated a contamination site with mushrooms, a practice called mycoremediation. Mycelium, a network of filaments in the root system of fungi, use digestive enzymes to break down and absorb chemicals like hydrocarbons and pesticides, which inhibit photosynthesis and contribute to climate change.   

Watershed management also means changing attitudes towards fire. DuPont and his neighbors take a watch-and-see approach when the forest around them ignites. Resisting panic, they closely observe what the fire might be doing to restore balance. “Don’t think fire is always catastrophic,” DuPont said. “A lot of fire is low intensity and can do a lot of good work.”

Climate change will bring more devastating wildfires, floods and crop failure. It means facing imbalances not seen before. But DuPont thinks there’s something that could keep us afloat in the rising tide of calamity threatening the planet – a healthy watershed.

“Your watershed is your lifeboat,” he said.

We Are All Climate Change Deniers

By Steven Saint Thomas

The year 2017 may go down in the history books as the year climate change became a disaster. For decades we talked about global warming and greenhouse gases – this year, the planet pummelled humanity into submission with hurricanes, fires and floods.

Some may still debate the finer points of how much human activity is to blame, but no one is saying it’s weather as usual.

Despite growing acknowledgement that climate is changing, I observe a deeper, more insidious level of climate change denial. People see the reality of climate going amok, but still seem to deny that climate change will affect them personally.

Climate change is still somebody else’s problem – whether that somebody else is a desertification refugee from North African trying to jump ship into Europe or a Santa Rosa homeowner waiting for a fire insurance settlement.

We live as though climate change will never touch us – nothing terrible will ever happen to us. We hold onto this irrational hope even though our leaders have no idea of how to evacuate cities or feed people longer than three days if the grid goes down.

We hold onto this irrational hope and yet have no significant stores of food and water in our pantries. Hope is motivator, but it’s not a strategy!

The greatest act of denial I see is people wanting to believe we can avert the coming ravages of climate change by driving electric cars or recycling plastic water bottles. The spectre of human extinction lies down the road and we maintain some sense of sanity by denying it. Who wouldn’t?

Meet Guy McPherson, professor emeritus of natural resources and ecology at the University of Arizona. McPherson coined the phrase “near term extinction” after a decade of research on the possibility of human extinction. He gives us about 10 years for runaway climate change to transform most of the planet into uninhabitable desert.

To speak the unthinkable – that billions of people might starve to death by the year 2030 – has gotten McPherson disowned by just about everybody in the scientific community.

That’s OK, he doesn’t care who wins the argument. He’s a permaculturist and has been developing an off-grid homestead in southern New Mexico for the past eight years.

I call that a “Personal Transition Plan” and have been working on mine since 2013. Wish I’d started sooner, but better late than never. I may not survive climate change, but I don’t want to spend my last days in a high school gymnasium waiting for FEMA to save me.

Bill Mollison – the late co-founder of permaculture – actually planted the notion of a transition plan in his 1991 documentary series, “Global Gardener.”

Mollison took his camera to a small village in India where he had taught permaculture in the late 1980s. The villagers had been trapped in a cash-crop economy – just like the rest of us – in which they no longer grew their own food.

Instead, they cultivated sugar cane, cotton and rubber for market, struggling to earn enough money to turn around and put food on the table.

India’s village system, purposely destroyed by the British Raj, had never been rebuilt despite Gandhi’s success in evicting the invaders.

Mollison offered permaculture as a tool to design self-reliant villages, but how could Indians suddenly stop growing cash crops and switch to their own subsistence crops? (What American could quit his or her job and suddenly survive on their own garden?)

India permaculturist Dr. Venkat explained on camera that villagers in the Hyderabad region worked on a transition plan – switching 10 percent of their land from cash crop to food each year.

“We told them you don’t have to stop totally what you are doing now,” Venkat said. “In the course of 5-7 years, you will transition from an unsustainable system to a sustainable system.”

Mollison’s visit after only four years showed a rocky, dusty village transformed into a lush plantation for fruits and vegetables.

As climate change continues to be a disaster, we all need to build self-reliant local food systems and transition out of our present global, corporate, fossil fuel-driven food chain.

No more denial! Call it a Personal Transition Plan or get some neighbors together and start a Permaculture City – we have the tools, we just need the foresight to use them while we still can.


Next time: It Takes a Village – Finding Yours