Grazing in the semi-arid American West in five photos.

After a couple days in western Wyoming, I got back into northern Utah, where I started looking for pictures of grazing on and around the Snake River Plain, where I have been doing some work on vegetation, instream wood and fish habitat. During an ominous and stormy cloud passage over the Tetons yesterday, I was reminded of some numbers I had seen that estimated lightning kills of livestock in the West. I remembered seeing some big estimates, as many as 30,000 animals in the West in bad years. This raised the question, how many sheep and cows were possibly on the range if 30,000 animals could possibly be killed in one season?

To get an idea of the turn-of-the-century grazing landscape, one that shapes current ecosystem structure and function, here are five old pictures from Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Arizona, and Oregon:


1. Ponderosa pine forest grazing in northern Arizona, USA, circa 1899. Photo: Northern Arizona University Library Special Collections.


2. In 1939, over eight-hundred sheep were killed in Utah's Raft River Mountains during a single lightning event.


3. Sheep grazing near Worland, WY. Photo: Bureau of Land Management


4. Sheep on the Wallowa National Forest, OR in 1938. Photo: USDA Forest Service historic collections.


5. Sheep on the Boise National Forest, ID. Photo: the Forest History Society.

The Forest History Society found that 13 million sheep and nearly two million cattle grazed Utah, Idaho, Nevada and Wyoming in the year 1900. The profound effects of early unregulated grazing have been mitigated by reductions in herd size and grazing duration, but it's still shocking to think of what rangelands looked like prior to cattle grazing at the turn of the century.