We were asked to talk about ranch management of streamside zones, which I will do. However, I think it very pertinent to the discussion to give some history of our particular area.
The "Sun Ranch", the Hub and Spoke, was started in 1872 where the Oregon Trail passes by Devil's Gate on the Sweetwater River. The Oregon Trail follows that river for almost its entire course, and that trail had an impact on the whole Sweetwater Valley.
During the mid-18OOs, hundreds of thousands of immigrants traveled west on the Oregon Trail. These people brought with them livestock; some brought only the oxen and horses needed for transportation, and some brought herds of breeding stock also. Of necessity, these animals grazed the forage along the trail, sometimes having to go miles on either side to find sufficient grass.
Later, as the country became more settled, ranchers bought stock outside of the State. Away from the railroads, the only means of getting that stock home was to trail them. So, many trail herds also use the Oregon Trail. Thousands upon thousands of animals grazed wherever they could find grass. Tom Sun, Sr. bought cattle in Oregon several times and trailed them home in the late 1800s.
This heavy use continued for many years-almost exclusively in the summer when grass can be damaged. Obviously, the Sweetwater Valley was badly overgrazed many times during those years for as far as ten miles on either side of the river.
The soil in the valley is almost exclusively sand with a little clay. The bottomland is silty clay. Most of it is not what people usually think of in terms of "good top soil."
Precipitation ranges from 9 to 14 inches annually. The elevation at the foot of Devil's Gate is not quite 6,000 feet. A drying wind blows almost continuously.
Desert ecology is, however, an amazing thing. This seemingly fragile land recovers miraculously with just a little water. Those of us who have been here long can all tell of times when land as bare as this floor has sprung to life and produced lush growth when the rains came or when irrigation water was applied.
If we look even farther back in history we see this valley, as most of the West, heavily grazed before the "white man" came. Estimates put the number of buffalo roaming in the West as high as 80 million.
Captain Benjamin BonneviUe, in July, 1832, reported seeing "immense herds" of buffalo in the Sweetwater Valley.
The Mungers, a couple who were missionaries, wrote in June, 1839, in the Sweetwater Valley, they "saw a large number of buffalo, in sight of perhaps 1500."
In 1846, William E. Taylor, a member of an immigrant party, wrote that they saw "thousands of buffalo" in what is now the Sweetwater Station area.
The western grasses evolved in response to this grazing. Most grasses actually need the cropping effect to prosper, just as your new lawn fills in better if you keep it mowed. These grasses also evolved to respond to the unpredictable moisture patterns, producing the quick recovery rates that I refered lo.
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