Forages in a livestock system can also be viewed from an ecological standpoint.
Forages play essential roles in rejuvenating and sustaining agricultural
systems by contributing to soil health and improved water and air quality. Since
forages interact with the soil and animals various environmental issues can be
better understood when forages are well understood.

In recent history agriculture faced its first major swing towards conservation
when, after decades of abundant production, the dust bowl of the 1930's. Farmers
were urged by the government to learn new agricultural practices to conserve soil.
In the Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold (1949) warned that man must become a
a part of the ecosystem and not try to control the land. He specifically did
not want man to impose mechanization onto the land without considering the needs
and roles of the land. "When we see land as a community to which we belong, we
may begin to use it with love and respect." The dust bowl taught us lessons on
how climate and soil must be considered.

Another impetus to look to preserving the land came 30 years later when the
Silent Spring by Rachel Carson exposed cover ups about pesticide damage and
urged those outside of the chemical industry to be monitors and regulators.
She also reminded us that science has become less and "less connected with nature
and more synthetic in its activity". Soon to follow was legislation for the
Environmental Defense Fund and the first Earth Day. Americans were becoming
aware that we were no longer just living off the land but we had the capacity
to inflict damage to the land.

Finally in the 70's and 80's more concerns surfaced. The was a growing
awareness of fertilizer and pesticide use, as well as soil erosion and water
table and energy depletion. Others became concerned about the deterioration of
rural communities. The two broad areas led to efforts to encourage sustainable
agriculture. Humans were urged to take their proper place in natural systems.

Today there are still many concerned about preserving the planet for future
generations. This desire seems simple and noble but how to implement appropriate
actions is often confusing. Natural forest fires are natural but often threaten
life and property. The remaining ashes provide many benefits to the soil but
at what human expense? Flooding can supply rich top soil to areas but should
flooding be allowed? Pet animals are treasured and pampered but should livestock
and wildlife receive their pampered status?

The above questions could be bantered about for hours. Fortunately, the role
of forages in preserving the planet is a bit more easily understood. Forages do
provide many benefits to the soil, especially when using legumes. Forages plants
do filter the water and help in cleaning the air. Forage plants can do a great
job of holding soil in place and reduce weeds. Forage plants often play several
roles at one time (livestock feed, wildlife habitat, erosion control, and water
filtration). When well managed, forage plants can definitely add to a sound
ecology. They do so like no other group of plants.

Basically, the use of forages helps to reduce the use of nonrenewable resources
promote biodiversity and wildlife habitat, encourage internal farm resources, and
emphasizes an ecosystem approach to farming and ranching.