On-line Book
cover to Fauna 1
Fauna Series No. 1








Suggested Policy

Fauna of the National Parks
of the United States



It is hardly necessary to point out the close relationship between animal life and food supply. This refers not only to the grazing and browsing areas of the ungulates, but includes the food supply of every type of animal life; i. e., if rodents and other forms of marten food have been destroyed, the marten's range is just as truly depleted as that of the elk when palatable herbage and browse are gone. And again, if wild life is managed along the all-too-thrifty and enterprising lines of a game farm, the range of the scavengers is apt to be empty. It is necessary that the trees be left to accumulate dead limbs and rot in the trunks; that the forest floor become littered; and that the wild life be left to prey upon itself in order that the range may not be destroyed for any species and that vigorous, healthy animals may be left in every niche.

Turning to the most obvious and important type of depleted food supply due to early conditions, we note especially that almost every range suitable for big game was overgrazed by sheep, cattle, and horses before 1900. In order to get some idea of the condition of the grassland ranges in their primitive condition, even when the great herds of buffalo and antelope roamed them, the following account from Coronado's explorations in 1540 through the territory now embracing the Southwest and prairie States is enlightening : "Who could believe. that 1,000 horses and 500 of our cows and more than 5,000 rams and ewes and more than 1,500 friendly Indians and servants in traveling over these plains would leave no more trace where they had passed than if nothing had been there – nothing – so that it was necessary to make piles of bones and cow dung now and then so that the rear guard could follow the army." 9 There was rank growth of the tall grasses then, whereas now the tall grasses are mostly gone, and even the short grasses are gone from many parts of the western range. In their places have come the unpalatable species that inevitably follow overgrazing. So that even where a range seems to be well covered, it may be with the unpalatable and undesirable types which leave little food for the game. This is the condition which exists in nearly all our parks to some extent, and especially in the Southwest parks and monuments.

Deer range in Zion Canyon. – In Zion National Park, the story as told by Ranger Harold Russell is essentially this : In 1909-10 about 3,000,000 board feet of yellow pine were logged off the east-rim country. Young pines are coming back, but the forest is replacing very slowly, as it does everywhere in this arid country. Mr. Russell said that forage conditions within the park are much better than they were formerly. The region had been grazed for 40 years before he saw it, and he was first at Zion in 1902. In the early days, settlers farmed the river bottom below Zion and up on the canyon floor. Owing to erosion started by overgrazing on the headwaters of the Virgin River, floods washed away the farm lands below, and they had to be deserted. Livestock, however, still ranged in the canyon. In 1915 a hard winter found the animals without feed. Every bit of forage was gone from the canyon. The settlers were forced to come up into Zion Canyon and cut down the cottonwoods so that their stock could eat the bark.

It is evident that conditions in Zion are much improved. Unfortunately, the watershed above the canyon is still badly overgrazed, and erosion and floods are taking their toll from the valley floor each season. But in the park itself, a thorough investigation of the range – degree of palatable forage, carrying capacity, etc. – needs to be worked out before large numbers of deer are allowed to come back. The same is true of Bryce, south rim of the Grand Canyon, the Indian reservations, the Guadalupe Mountains by Carlsbad, and of many of the winter-forage areas in the Rocky Mountain parks. Such areas should be lightly grazed for a number of years to give them chance to recover. Especially should horses be kept off these areas during the summer time in order to allow them to produce winter feed. The tendency to restore the ungulates at the expense of range and other forms of animal life should be guarded against for a number of years, thereby giving the range time to recover its normal carrying capacity. Unless this is done, the damage is apt to be permanent.

9 Castaneda's narration, "Relacion," Winship translation. Fourteenth Annual Report, Bureau of Ethnology, 1892-93.



Last Modified: Tues, Feb 1 2000 07:08:48 pm PDT

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