First published in 1985, Cattle in the Cold Desert has deservedly become a classic in the environmental history of the Great Basin, brilliantly combining a lively account of the development of the Great Basin grazing industry with a detailed scientific discussion of the ecology of its sagebrush/grassland plant communities. The volume traces the history of while settlement in the Great Basin from about 1860, along with the arrival of herds of cattle and sheep to exploit the forage resources of a pristine environment and, through the history of John Sparks, a pioneer cattleman, illustrates how the herdsmen interacted with the sagebrush/grasslands of the cold desert West. As the story unfolds on two levels - that of the herdsmen adapting their livelihood to the challenging conditions of the Great Basin's scanty forage, aridity, and fierce winters, and that of the fragile ecology of the desert plant communities responding to the presence of huge herds of livestock - we see the results of a grand experiment initiated by men willing to venture beyond the limits of accepted environmental potential to settle the Great Basin, as well as the often ruinous consequences of the introduction of domestic livestock into the plant communities of the region. The result is a remarkably balanced, astute, and insightful discussion of the grazing industry in the Intermountain West. This expanded edition includes a new chapter that addresses the impact of wild mustangs on the Great Basin rangelands, and an up-to-date epilogue that discusses changes in rangeland management and in rangeland conditions, especially the impact of recent wildfires. As concern over the future of the Great Basin's unique rangeland environment and its principal agricultural industry grows, Cattle in the Cold Desert remains essential reading for everyone who cares about this vast and underappreciated region of the American West.
The authors combine more than 50 years of experience as scientists conducting research on the biology and management of Purshia plant communities. They walked the mountain ranges and deserts of the Great Basin in search of keys to the sustainable management of this valuable resource. James A. Young is senior research scientist for the USDA Agriculture Research Service, exotic and invasive weeds research unit. Charlie D. Clements is range scientist for the USDA Agriculture Research Service, exotic and invasive weeds research unit.