The bison-eradication program of the 1870s was extremely effective.
Yes it was. Its real purpose was to eradicate the Plains Indian. I’m a Vietnam veteran and am very tired of hearing about the “atrocities” we committed as though ours were the first.
How can you get more “atrocious” than starving and freezing a people to death by eradicating their source of food, clothing and shelter?
Just another FedGov lie, the truthful version of which never appears anywhere in the mandatory government propaganda camp “history” books. — jtl, 419
Cattle herds managed under “holistic planned grazing” can replace the animal impact of missing bison herds. As explained below, grazing by large animals is necessary for grassland health.
Though the American bison, or buffalo, is now a national icon, in the 1870s it was U.S. government policy to eradicate the animal. For railroads and cattle ranchers, bison were unwelcome. The policy was also designed to crush the Plains Indians, and the effort ended ways of life that had persisted for more than 10,000 years.
But bison were not only at the center of Native cultures. The creatures were also a cornerstone of the grassland ecosystems of the Great Plains. Their decimation forever altered those ecosystems. On the Llano Estacado, which was once prime buffalo habitat, the impact was acute.
The rich soils of the Great Plains have been one of the country’s most valuable natural resources. But before the plains were a breadbasket, they were grasslands. In the early 19th century, open prairies stretched from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains. The plateau of the Llano Estacado, in Eastern New Mexico and West Texas, was part of this grassland terrain.
The relatively wet climate of eastern plains – from Oklahoma to Iowa – supported tallgrass prairies. Grasses there grew to heights of 10 feet. In arid West Texas, it was a shortgrass prairie, dominated by blue grama and buffalograss.
The prairie grasses and bison existed in a state of mutual dependence. Bison had evolved teeth and a circular chewing motion capable of grinding down tough grasses. And a protozoa in the bison’s gut allows the animal to digest cellulose and absorb nutrients from grasses.
The grasses, in turn, developed a mechanism for new growth that capitalized on grazing activity.
In most plants, new growth takes place at the tip of the limb, in a cluster of undifferentiated cells called an “apical meristem.” But prairie grasses are different, Nickell said.
“Grasses have what’s called a basal meristem,” he said, “so all their cell reproduction is at the base of the plant, and so the plants are being nibbled down almost to the ground, but they still grow back – they grow new shoots. If there’s any shoots of shrubs and things like that that are beginning to sprout up, they’re going to get nipped by the grazing animals, and they’ve got apical growing points, and you’ve just stunted the growth of that plant right there, like a little mesquite or whatever.”
The bison-eradication program of the 1870s was extremely effective. The herds were already diminished by a drought and a demand for buffalo hides and tongues. By 1875, the southern bison herd, centered on the Llano Estacado, had been reduced from 2 million to a few hundred animals.
Over 100,000 buffalo skulls were estimated to be in this pile
Buffalo were what ecologists call a “keystone species.” Their presence shaped the ecosystem, influencing what other plants and animals could live here. Grazing pressure from bison had confined mesquite and other shrubs to draws and arroyos. But with the bison gone, those shrubs established themselves on the prairie. The grasslands began their transformation into the mesquite brushlands that predominate today.
The eradication of bison herds was only one of several disruptions to the grassland ecosystem. Prairie dogs, once ubiquitous on the prairies, were targeted as hazards to livestock. The prairie dogs had also played the role of a “keystone species,” Nickell said.
“They did pretty much the same thing that the bison did,” Nickell said, “except they didn’t migrate like the bison did, but instead they spread out all over creation. And so any shrub that would come in and get sprouted, they would nip it off. They don’t want any trees or shrubs sprouting up to block their view. Most of their predators are going to be coming from the air.”
The suppression of wildfire impacted the grasslands, as did farming and ranching. By the early 20th century, the ancient shortgrass prairie had essentially vanished. Where grasses have returned to the Llano Estacado, most are not native species
“As far as the world is concerned, probably the prairies are the most endangered,” Nickell said. “In North America, the grassland prairie is probably the most endangered of all ecosystems. It’s certainly the most altered.”
Military planners and buffalo hunters knew the bison was a mighty animal. But they didn’t know the outsized role it played in the grasslands of West Texas.
Nature Notes is underwritten by the Dixon Water Foundation and is produced by Marfa Public Radio in cooperation with the Sibley Nature Center in Midland, Texas.This installment was written by Andrew Stuart. Nature Notes can be heard on Marfa Public Radio, at 93.5 FM, on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7:35 a.m. and 3:45 p.m., Mountain Time, and again Thursday nights after the newscast aired at 6 p.m.
Properly grazed cattle herds help make plants healthy just like bison herds used to do. Here is an example: This winter we are running 500 heifers at Circle Ranch. Fresh feed is placed daily where we need animal impact. Pastures are changed every few days.
Here is a different example of how to use cattle to restore soil fertility and plants.
Plants need animals as much as animals need plants. In both these grazing examples, grazing is planned to mimic nature, and increased soil fertility is the end game .
Murray N. Rothbard was the father of what some call Radical Libertarianism or Anarcho-Capitalism which Hans-Hermann Hoppe described as “Rothbard’s unique contribution to the rediscovery of property and property rights as the common foundation of both economics and political philosophy, and the systematic reconstruction and conceptual integration of modern, marginalist economics and natural-law political philosophy into a unified moral science: libertarianism.”
This book applies the principles of this “unified moral science” to environmental and natural resource management issues.
The book started out life as an assigned reading list for a university level course entitled Environmental and Natural Resource Economics: The Austrian View.
As I began to prepare to teach the course, I quickly saw that there was a plethora of textbooks suitable for universal level courses dealing with environmental and natural resource economics. The only problem was that they were all based in mainstream neo-classical (or Keynesian) theory. I could find no single collection of material comprising a comprehensive treatment of environmental and natural resource economics based on Austrian Economic Theory.
However, I was able to find a large number of essays, monographs, papers delivered at professional meetings and published from a multitude of sources. This book is the result. It is composed of a collection of research reports and essays by reputable scientists, economists, and legal experts as well as private property and free market activists.
The book is organized into seven parts: I. Environmentalism: The New State Religion; II. The New State Religion Debunked; III. Introduction to Environmental and Natural Resource Economics; IV. Interventionism: Law and Regulation; V. Pollution and Recycling; VI. Property Rights: Planning, Zoning and Eminent Domain; and VII. Free Market Conservation. It also includes an elaborate Bibliography, References and Recommended Reading section including an extensive Annotated Bibliography of related and works on the subject.
The intellectual level of the individual works ranges from quite scholarly to informed editorial opinion.