Jack Walther and I had met in North Ruby Valley for the purpose of assessing range conditions on various allotments, trying to figure out why it was that the Forest Service personnel were cutting everyone's permits, and were headed up the road leading to the Ruby Guard Station when we ran into Cliven Bundy. Cliven and his boys had drawn deer tags for Area 10 that year and happened to be coming down from the mountain when we were going up. When we told Cliven what we were up to he said that he’d like to go along – which turned out to be a great thing for us, because, as it turned out, Cliven probably gave us one of the best demonstrations in range management that I have ever been privileged to see.
The first thing Cliven did was to have us examine and make a comparison between bitterbrush plants found outside of the Guard Station as compared to those found within. What Cliven was able to show was, how healthy and productive the plants outside of the Guard Station were as compared to those inside the fenced area of the Guard Station. Then, taking his knife, he began digging up and exposing the roots of plants (grasses) which occupied the areas between the existing sage and bitterbrush – first outside of the Guard Station fenced area, and then within. The difference was astonishing. I had been aware for some time, that questions had been raised as to the importance of grazing impacts of various plant species – but to have Cliven demonstrate the difference to us, in the manner he did that day, amazed me.
Early on, it had been the practice of those working within the Forest Service to establish “Guard Stations” at strategic places so that various personal could keep an eye on things during the summer months. As time went on, however, the Guard Stations were seldom used. Once in a while, Forest personnel would take a few horses out to one of the stations and leave them for a while – but very rarely. Consequently, these Guard Stations, many of which remain in existence to this day, act as a nearly perfect experimental sight for comparing grazed areas to ungrazed areas. In the Ruby District, there were two such stations created. One at Harrison Pass, at the western base of the mountain – and one in north Ruby Valley, in the foothills just north of the Neff Ranch.
Cliven Bundy, demonstrating his concerns while visiting the Ruby Guard Station in 1989.
Cliven seems to have a natural ability to read what is going on in the natural world. He understands livestock and plant life in a way few do. In the two pictures presented here, Cliven is shown explaining the difference in the health and productivity of grazed bitterbrush as opposed to ungrazed bitterbrush.
The picture below is of a typical bitterbrush plant found within the Ruby Guard Station in 1989.
Notice the coarseness of the foliage in the upper photograph as compared to that in the lower photograph. The reason for this is that the upper plant has stagnated and is now producing very little new growth, while the plant in the lower photo remains vibrant and productive.
The picture above is of a typical bitterbrush plant found immediately outside of the Ruby Guard Station.
By placing his handkerchief behind a few of the limbs of the opposing plants, Cliven was able to demonstrate more clearly the difference between the two plants – and the fact that the plant in the upper photograph has become unproductive, while the plant in the lower photograph has produced numerous new leaders – many of which are as much as a foot long. It is new growth like this that is so beneficial to deer or other large ungulates.
After Cliven had demonstrated the importance of grazing impact on bitterbrush, he proceeded to show us the importance of grazing impact on grass. First Cliven took his knife and began digging up and exposing the roots of grasses (primarily Sandburgs bluegrass) that existed between bitterbrush plants within the Guard Station fenced area. Then he placed these plants on his handkerchief so that we would have a clear view of them. Then, Cliven began the same process outside of the Guard Station. As is demonstrated in these two photos, the difference was dramatic. In every instance, the grazed plants were far healthier than were the ungrazed plants.
It's no wonder our rangelands were supporting so many wildlife, back in the 1940's, 50's and 60's. Plants of every kind were made healthier and more productive via livestock grazing.
Written by: Cliff Gardner
Written by: Cliff Gardner