There is little doubt that excessive sheep grazing in the early part of the 20th century and continued sheep grazing to the present time has had a dramatic impact on these Cedar Mountain ranges, as described by Bowns and Bagley (1986). Landscapes once dominated by a mix of tall native forb species now support predominantly grasses, especially in those areas now categorized as grasslands or parklands.
The range livestock industry has changed, as well. Many traditional sheep operations have converted to cattle over the past 30 years for a variety of social and economic reasons. On public rangelands, the very idea of livestock grazing of any kind is often challenged on the purported basis that grazing by domestic livestock is detrimental to the ecological health of the land. Thus, the need has never been greater for range and livestock management practices that assist the rancher in surviving difficult economic times and that have the potential for, at least, minimizing potential damage to the land, or, at best, improving the ecological condition of the land while producing a valuable product.
At the urging of local southern Utah ranchers and range managers, a comprehensive research program was initiated in 1979, with the overall goal of providing assistance for meeting these needs. It was a joint effort by the Utah Agricultural Experiment Station, the Departments of Range Science and Animal, Dairy and Veterinary Sciences at Utah State University, and Southern Utah University, with the cooperation of two prominent southern Utah ranching families who would provide the land for the research. The research was designed to focus on two management schemes thought to have potential for the area: 1) dual-use grazing of both cattle and sheep on common land, rather than the traditional cattle-only or sheep-only style of management; and 2) deferred grazing management, rather than the season-long grazing scheme traditionally practiced in the area.
Responses to the two new management practices would be measured in terms of changes in livestock production and changes in the condition of the range. The study was designed to be long-term (10 or more years duration) in order to include variation in climatic conditions, especially drought years.
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