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To Manage or Manipulate

To Manage or Manipulate

Natural versus Artificial Improvement of Depleted Rangelands

(p.133) Five To Manage or Manipulate
The Politics of Scale
Nathan F. Sayre
University of Chicago Press

Chapter 5 examines efforts to counter the real or perceived “invasion” of brush and shrubs by artificial means when “natural” improvement by succession failed to occur. From the earliest government research in the 1890s, conducted by the Division of Agrostology, scientists had investigated killing shrubs and seeding rangelands with native and imported grasses. But western rangelands were too big, relative to the amount of profit they could produce, to justify the expense of intensive treatments, and cheaper methods repeatedly failed. After World War II, however, artificial improvement found new life as a way of defusing the tension between agencies and ranchers over stocking rates. Seeds were tested and mass-produced, especially for several non-native species; heavy equipment and tractor attachments were developed and deployed; and newly available herbicides were applied, often from airplanes. Huge areas of sagebrush rangelands in the Great Basin were forcibly converted to grasses. But non-native grasses such as Lehmann lovegrass became invasive species in their own right, and mesquites in the Southwest persisted. By the 1970s, public outcry over the use of toxic chemicals combined with rising oil prices to dampen the dream of manipulating rangelands artificially, although other methods of restoration continue to be pursued.

Keywords:   Division of Agrostology, herbicides, Lehmann lovegrass, reseeding, revegetation, shrub control, wheatgrass

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