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PostThe geography of desertification. Wyoming (Ronald Hilton, USA, 05/06/02 3:04 pm)
From the heartland of the US, Miles Seeley says: "Justin Carreno's report is somewhat puzzling to me. My parents had a place in Jackson Hole from 1949 to 1991, and I lived and worked there for 17 years; my son went to the University of Wyoming. It doesn't seem any more dry than it ever has been in our lifetimes, although of course rainfall varies from year to year. Sagebrush has not ever been called "short grass" in my experience. [See my footnote. RH.].
The reason Wyoming has so many cattle and sheep ranches is that the land isn't much use for anything else. Ranchers, in my opinion, are mostly environmentalists. They know that overgrazing will destroy their ranches, and they are careful, most of them, not to. A very large portion of Wyoming is Federal land, Bureau of Land Management and Forest and Park Service. Management of those lands has been erratic.
The high plains of southeastern Colorado, and the wheat farms of western Kansas, are another problem entirely. As Wallace Stegner used to say over and over, western lands are fragile because of scant rainfall and a thin layer of soil. Overdevelopment, he warned in the 1940s, could be catastrophic. I think he was a prophet. Without massive irrigation (which drains the water table) the high plateau will not support agriculture. Even then, it is difficult".
My comment is of dubious worth since I have only a hazy idea of sagebrush, which gets its name from sage, a sweet-smelling herb. I don't think Justin said it was called short grass, but that it is like short grass. While the term is commonly applied to the gray-green shrub of the plains, the big sagebrush grows almost like a tree. Sage (salvia) grows in many places; there are some 700 species. The sage which provides scent grows in the Mediterranean area. There are tropical forms of sage in Brazil. It would take a sage to master the complexity of salvia.
Wallace Stegner, who inspired Miles Seeley at Stanford, was an attractive individual. He was killed in an automobile accident at night when he was returning from a meeting (I believe in New Mexico) honoring him; he received a Pulitzer Prize in 1971. He was born (1909) in Iowa, but as a writer he is associated with the American West. His best-known work is The Big Rock Candy Mountain, a novel about a Norwegian-American family establishing a home in the West.