National Geographic : 1976 Jul
... And how it looks today. Recontoured and replanted to meet latest state laws, the devastated landscape regains life as potential pastureland. Parks, lakes, and woodlands spread over other mined lands nearby. Meanwhile (background) the stripping goes on. I ask a rancher named Dave how many acres he's got. He winces. He knows precisely, but it's not that simple. He owns acreage along Shell Creek fed by runoff from the Big horn Mountains. This entitles him to water rights from the State of Wyoming. He takes a strictly limited number of gallons from the stream and irrigates to grow feed grains, enough for a thousand cows for five months. He also has a federal allotment from the Bureau of Land Management that allows him, for a fee, to put his cattle on 25,000 acres of the publicly owned badlands nearby; it has just enough desert saltbush to sustain his cows another four months. For the remaining three months, he'll take them to the Bighorn Mountains. He owns pastureland up there, and he also holds a grazing permit from the U. S. Forest Service. Dave pushes his little Piper Super Cub out ofashedtogive me alookfromtheairatthe land that is his life. I see the precious irriga tion water sprinkle on hard-won greenery. And now the dry soil-arroyos, mesas, and eroded cliffs, vast flat stretches with dusty This Land of Ours-How Are We Using It? clumps of brush. And miles of barbed wire. Some years only two inches of rain falls here. Few Easterners realize how much land out here still is in the public domain. Roughly a third of Colorado, Montana, Washington, and New Mexico. Half of Wyoming, Arizona, Ore gon, California. Two-thirds of Utah and Ida ho, nearly nine-tenths of Nevada. Most of it is much like this-a bit of irrigation, a lot of desert, forest, and mountains. Dave banks the plane sharply: "Look, an old pony-express trail...." He says he put in another ten miles of fence, at $1,800 a mile. What's this? Two trucks and a front-end loader, big piles of gray earth. "They've got a claim to mine bentonite"; it goes into oil drilling mud, insecticides, lipstick. We circle a ranch in the valley. "A fellow from the East. Thought he could run 200 cows. He can't." Ahead rise the pines and meadows of Bighorn National Forest. Up here there's 10 to 40 inches of precipitation a year-and grazing, logging, camping, dude ranches, skiing, and hunting in season. That's the federal multiple-use concept.