All posts by Dennis Willis

Dennis retired from a 35 year career in the BLM working in both the rangeland management and recreation programs. He has lived in Price Utah for almost 40 years and is dedicated to the wondrous landscapes of southern Utah. His freelance consulting firm, Sustaining Landscapes LLC works on a variety of land use issues.

A Brief History of the Cattle – Sheep Wars and Why Sheep Are Better Than You Think

History is always written by the winners. When two cultures clash, the loser is obliterated, and the winner writes the history books-books which glorify their own cause and disparage the conquered foe. As Napoleon once said, ‘What is history, but a fable agreed upon? – Dan Brown

Recently I have seen comments on blogs expressing horror at the prospects of sheep grazing on public lands. Comments about little wooly range maggots, ripping up plants by the roots and trampling the range to dust. These well-meaning folks get their information from tainted sources.

There really was a war between the cattlemen and sheep raisers in the very late 19th and early 20th century. It was social, political and too frequently violent. The violence most often perpetrated by team bovine. The sheep raisers lost, the cattlemen won and went onto write the history which was later popularized in our love affair with the Hollywood western movie genre.

The cattlemen were typically tied to a ranch headquarters that raised hay and had facilities to handle cows. This was prior to grazing regulations on public domain, so a cattle rancher would simply lay claim to large areas of public land they wished to graze but had no actual rights to. They protected their domain through water rights claims and intimidation and violence as needed. Continue reading A Brief History of the Cattle – Sheep Wars and Why Sheep Are Better Than You Think

A Primer on Rangeland Management

Welcome to Rangeland Management 101

Welcome class. In this course you will learn the basics of rangeland management:

1. Rangelands are defined as largely native landscapes that are not timber producing and not used for farming. Their chief value is for the raising of livestock, producing food and fiber for human consumption. Like western water law, only uses directly benefiting humans and putting money in a pocket are valuable. Ecological services and things we merely like such as scenery, clean water, wildlife, fisheries, endangered species are not really values.

2. Ecological habitat types have an innate ecological productivity. This is the amount of vegetation they will grow in a year, typically expressed in pounds/acre/year on typical western landscapes. In more productive habitats the metric is more like tons/acre/year. Nature produces more vegetation than is needed to maintain healthy plants. This excess production is a harvestable surplus of vegetation that can be utilized by wildlife and livestock as forage.

3. Livestock and native plant eaters are divided into grazers and browsers. Grazers prefer herbaceous vegetation like grasses and forbs while browsers prefer shrub species. This may vary seasonally, but deer and sheep are generally browsers and cattle are primarily grazers.

4. There are two kinds of grazing animals. Nonselective grazers tend to eat whatever vegetation is in front of them, they are not particular about the species of plants they eat. Selective grazers show strong preferences for certain species of grass and forbs and will eat those selectively until they are gone before moving onto less desired species. American bison is an example of a nonselective grazer. Cattle are highly selective grazers. The cattle’s most preferred plants are the first to show grazing impact and the first to decline in abundance or disappear from the plant community entirely. Continue reading A Primer on Rangeland Management

Cancelling Edward Abbey’s Grazing Permit

aerial confluence price
Confluence of the Green and Price Rivers, taken one handed by the author/pilot from his airplane.  Not a good place for cows.

Yes, that Edward Abbey and yes, he did hold a Bureau of Land Management grazing permit.

In the fall of 1979, I moved to Price, Utah, taking the job of Assistant Area Manager for BLM’s Price River Resource Area. One of my duties was supervising the range management program on 1.8 million acres of public land in Carbon and Emery counties, and an early task was examining case files of the 87 ranchers holding grazing permits on 113 grazing allotments in the area. Permittee files were arranged alphabetically by name, and the first one in the top drawer was Edward Abbey. I immediately asked the range conservationist, Michele Abbey (no relation), if the file was for the Edward Abbey. She assured me it was and I took the file back to my desk for perusal. Continue reading Cancelling Edward Abbey’s Grazing Permit