AoR 3: Floyd Reed, Landscape Change Over Time

Floyd Reed, retired US Forest Service range conservationist, discusses with Tip a book he co-authored several years ago with Dave Bradford and Robbie LeValley examining landscape photographs taken in Western Colorado between 1885 and 1915. They found those sites and repeated the photographs. The book is titled, “When the Grass Stood Stirrup-High: Facts, Photographs, and Myths of West-Central Colorado”. Tip & Floyd discuss photographic monitoring methods that can be used by ranchers and range professionals. 


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>> [Background Music] Welcome to the Art of Range, a podcast focused on rangelands and the people who manage them. I'm your host, Tip Hudson, range and livestock specialist with Washington State University Extension. The goal of this podcast is education and conservation through conversation. Find us online at My guest today is Floyd Reed from Delta, Colorado. Floyd was a US Forest Service rangeland conservationist and supervisor for decades and then a consultant for about 15 years. He has now begun the attempt to retire for real spending some quality time in mountain lotic riparian systems, preferably at proper functioning condition, that are occurred by mature aquatic vertebrates in the Oncorhynchus genus. So, he's been doing some fishing recently. We're beginning a series of episodes on the podcast about landscape change and documenting change for the purposes of adaptive management. Those changes are a function of climate, soils, animals, humans, fire, sequences of disturbances or influences, interactions among biotic and abiotic factors, and our scientific understanding of how and why landscapes change has changed a lot over the last 100 years. We can speculate and study and argue about why landscape change occurs but the starting point always has to be describing what is there now and what was there at some point before, practicing the art and science of good observation and this is something that Floyd has spent some time doing. Floyd, tell us a little bit about your background.

>> Okay. I started my first range data collection in 1965 on Cibola Forest in Central New Mexico. Since that time, I've continuously worked in rangelands. I missed two years in '67 and '68, when I was in the Army. Other than that, I've worked for the forest service my enter career, mostly in the five-state Rocky Mountain region. I worked on six ranger districts for the first half of my career and then the second half of my career, I was the forest range staff on the Nebraska National Forest and the Grasslands in South Dakota and Nebraska. I moved to the Pike and San Isabel National Forests in Colorado, which included the grasslands in Colorado and Southwestern Kansas, and then the final 11 years of my career, I was over here in Western Colorado on the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest. And so, I've worked from the tallgrass prairie along the Missouri River through mixed grass prairie, shortgrass prairie into all the mountain regions up to the alpine and I've sure had a lot of fun.

>> And that's quite a bit of territory. Floyd, you coauthored a book not many years ago with Dave Bradford and Robbie LeValley examining landscape photographs taken in Western Colorado between about 1885 and 1915. You guys found those sites and repeated the photographs. And I want to say you were doing the photographs through the '90s and the early aught. For those who are not familiar with, the book is titled "When the Grass Stood Stirrup-high: Facts, Photographs and Myths of West-Central Colorado." One of your objectives I think was to counter common fallacies about the West, namely that the Western US was in what we would now call a stable state, known as the Garden of Eden before the Europeans arrived, and that Native peoples had no influence or at least negligible influence on landscapes and the fallacy that all major landscape changes were the result of White man's excess. And just for the record, we're not denying damages done by overgrazing and we'll discuss some of those changes later. But for now, we want to focus on what you've discovered about the conditions in Western Colorado around the time that White men arrived in enough numbers to make a difference. And just to set the stage, I want to read a quote that you guys put in the book, a piece from the "Denver Post" that colorfully summarizes the contemporary attitude toward European influence on the rugged and beautiful West. This was published in December 24, 2000, again the Sunday "Denver Post." They wrote, "In the arid west, where the signs of ravage stand out as plain as a rash on a bald man's head, my list of ugly and useless landscapes included mining-scarred mountains, clear-cut forests, and overgrazed rangelands. When I moved to Western Colorado a decade ago, I encountered a perfect addition: the Dobes. Save for a mangy assortment of dull-colored shrubs and exotic grasses, the series of low-slung hills sprawl like a moonscape between Hotchkiss and Delta, including the Adobe Buttes west of Orchard City. Around here, we just call them the Dobes. A wet spring will green up the Dobes for a few weeks, but even then, the gauzy vegetative covering seems as insubstantial as cheap lingerie. During rare storms, the namesake clay adobe soils turn into impassable gum. In town I heard a local legend that backed my suspicions: the Dobes weren't always the Dobes. Stirrup-high grasses covered the hills in the times when the Ute Indians still traveled through the area. At the turn of the century, however, cattle ranchers turned loose their immense herds. Within a few years, the grass was gone, apparently never to return." Again, this was written by an author writing for the Sunday "Denver Post." Tell us about why you wrote this book.

>> Okay. That was kind of the culmination of some things that we'd been talking about over a long period of time. Dave Bradford and I both worked in the Bighorn Mountains in Northern Wyoming, on the northeast side of the Bighorn Basin, and Robbie LeValley was raised over on a ranch by Thermopolis, on the southwest side of the Bighorn Basin. Early on in our careers, we heard the same myth in the Bighorn Basin where people would talk about when they first trailed the Longhorn cattle into that country that it was, up there, the grass wasn't stirrup high, it was belly high on a horse. And that just didn't jibe with the historical record. There were numerous accounts by the mountain men, the fur trappers talking about going across the Bighorn Basin, which is a northern shrub desert, extremely hot in the summer, very cold in the winter, very arid, and they talk about just about starving going across that country because there was no game, no feed for their horses, and this was back in the 1840s. Over the years as I transferred around, every place I'd go I would read these historical accounts of how tough the country was. Think about the Lewis and Clark Expedition and when they were portaging around the Great Falls walking through cactus for like 30 miles and a lot of places you read historical accounts of the Native Americans many times would be on the verge of starvation because they couldn't find any game and that was because fires had gone through. The buffalo herd went through and ate everything down. There was always constant disruption to these ecosystems. So, when we came here to our country here around Delta, we are really fortunate that we had a tremendous volume of historical records that we could refer to. And this quote out of the Sunday "Denver Post" was kind of like the final straw. Dave called me a couple days later. He says, did you read that and I hadn't but I went and read it. And we started talking about it was time to not just sit there and let people say this kind of stuff when we knew better. This is a salt desert, high altitude. The valley floor is at 5000 feet. We get eight inches of moisture a year. The soils are dense heavy clays. They're saline. It is not the type of an environment that's going to grow a tallgrass prairie. Fortunately, we had a lot of reference stuff from early material that you don't find in other parts of the country. We had two Spanish expeditions that came through here in the 1700s. Don Juan Rivera came into this country in 1765 and left quite a bit of observations as recordings of what he ran into when he came through here. Eleven years later, the Dominguez-Escalante Expedition came out of Santa Fe, came through this country and they were trying to get to the missions in California. Later on, in the 1840s, you had the railroad surveys, what's Fremont. Captain Gunnison came through. And then in 1874, there was the Hayden Expedition that came in and at that time, they had William Henry Jackson was with them taking photographs. So, when you look at all of these historical references, they talk about coming into this valley and what a miserable, godforsaken, dried-out, dusty, alkali-ridden valley floor this was. The only place there was any forage was right along the riverbanks but on the uplands, they couldn't even ride in single file. They had to ride abreast because of the choking clouds of dust. So that's when we started looking for and finding a lot of early photographs and we had had a lot of experience. When you work for the forest service, you're always out retaking permanent transect data and part of that is replicating the photographs and so we had a lot of experience locating photographic points and replicating them. And so, we started in and, fortunately, after the pre-settlement surveys, you had surveys for the forest reserves. They came back through with surveys for minerals. And so, we had quite a body of reference material to go back and find the photographs and retake them. And that was what kind of triggered the book. And as we did that, we thought we're going to not only produce a book with the photographs, we're also going to have a text with it that interprets what you're seeing.

>> That's fascinating. It has motivated me to want to look and see if there are similar historical photographs for this part of the Intermountain West, because you don't very often see back-to-back photographs that are taken 100 years apart. There're some out there but that's relatively rare.

>> Actually, there's quite a body of paired photographs. And just to mention a couple, one of the best that I know of that deals strictly with range was "Rangeland Through Time" and the author was Kendall Johnson. He was a professor at the University of Wyoming. And this book was published in 1987 by the Agricultural Experiment Station at the University of Wyoming. And as Kendall retook his photographs, he had the paired photographs and then he also conducted extensive vegetative inventories at the time that he retook the photographs. For the range profession, this is probably the seminal work and I don't know if it's still in print but it's worth looking for. We also had a number of other books. The Historical Societies or the five counties around the Bighorn Mountains did a rediscovering the Bighorns photo paired book for the bicentennial and they retook these photographs and published that in 1976. Another one that is really good is called "Exploring with Custer" by Grafe and Horsted and it was published in July of 2002 and this is photo retakes of the Custer expedition into the Black Hills in 1874. And then in addition to that, I know that the ag experiment stations in different states, the agencies, the forest service and BLM have also published photo retakes of early photo things over in Utah. There's a book that was produced and they were retaking the photos that Albert Potter surveyed in Utah in 1903. So, they're out there. You just have to kind of dig through to find them.

>> That's good. If we can find links to those, we'll provide those in the show notes. I actually had Kendall Johnson as a professor at the University of Idaho in the late '90s and he was fond of -- I knew that he was kind of a history buff and he was fond of talking about some of the data, you know, the observable data that was in the records of some of the expeditions that came across the West. And I remember seeing some of his photographs but one of his conclusions from that was that it was just what you guys are talking about, that there's this myth that all across the Great Plains, grass was, you know, sometimes saddle horn high, that there were antelope bouncing through the fields and butterflies around every corner. And he described some of the accounts of the explorers coming back through, you know, say they would come across in April or May and come back through in October. And he said many of the streams were -- I remember Kendall saying this. The streams were disconnected pools of buffalo urine and it looked like somebody had come through with a nine bottom plow. And so, depending on when you saw the tallgrass prairie, it can look very, very different.

>> That's exactly right. And when I first got acquainted with Kendall, he had -- This was back in the '60s. And he had two slideshows dealing with sagebrush in Southern Wyoming and one slideshow was aimed at making the point that the country was sagebrush in the old days and it was still sagebrush, that there had been no change. And then he had another entirely different slideshow where he'd show that it was grasslands that had converted to sagebrush. And so, he says the point of this is you can cherry pick stuff and make any point you want but as a scientist, you have to be balanced and provide all the information. And that was one of the things, we all knew Kendall, both Robbie and Dave and I did. And we kept his guidance in mind when we did our book because we tried to provide a balanced scientific based-on-facts book that described what was there and what's there now, without any embellishment or anything like that.

>> And what did you discover? Were there any common themes in terms of landscape changes that seemed to be relatively consistent across the sites that you guys visited in Western Colorado?

>> Well, what we found across the West but it shows up fairly extensively in our book is that over the last 100 years, there's been a dramatic increase in woody species and mostly it depends on the site. Sometimes it's moved from a grassland to a shrubland. Sometimes it's moved from the shrubland to tree cover. And that's fairly typical. And it doesn't make any difference where you go or which one of these photo recovery books that you look at, you see a tremendous increase in timber and the reason is there's been lack of fire for 100 years. The only place that we saw that almost looked exactly the way that it was in 1903, if you look in our book on page 107, there's a photo pair of the Dobes out here north of Delta, and when you look at it, the foreground hasn't changed a bit. And the only way that you can tell that much time has passed is there's a small mesa in the middle ground that's basically eroded away in 100 years. So, if I had to give a snapshot, I'd say that over the 100 years there's been a change and it's mostly gone to woodies and there's a lot of reasons for it. There's not one answer. Every bit of country was treated different. It has a different history, a different climate. It had different fire regimen. And so, you can't make an absolute statement about things but a generality is more woodies.

>> And you say that's mostly from the absence of fire over the last 100 years. In the book, you talk about some of the landscape management practices of the Utes and that they had been active in setting fires to change vegetation, to freshen the vegetation. How far back do you think that goes?

>> Thousands of years, I would suppose. It was fairly common with all of the indigenous populations that they would set fire. You read the accounts out on the Great Plains and sometimes these different Indian tribes used fire as an instrument of war. They'd burn out the buffalo range of their enemies. Charlie Russell has a painting of I think it's the Blackfeet Burning the Crow Buffalo Range and that's, you know, a historical account. Sometimes they would load up their camp and leave and they wouldn't put their campfires out and so they'd take off and spread and start a fire. Sometimes it wasn't deliberate and many times, just like you said, there's instances when you read the historical accounts of the Indians would set fire to a country as they left it to freshen the feed up so that they could count on the game animals going to that fresh feed the next year when they came back. So, again, there's a lot of reasons why we had fire. And one of the things that struck us when we started looking into the background for our book, and you'll notice on the cover of our book there's an active smoke column coming up on the landscape, Dr. Sudworth [assumed spelling] recorded that when we came over McClure Pass into our country, which basically took in the Grand Mesa and the head of the Gunnison River, there were six fires burning at one time, unattended, in 1898. And that was fairly common. And he made the observation that as he went through the Grand Mesa National, what's now the Grand Mesa National Forest, he said approximately 10% of the reserve had burned that year of 1898 and it appeared that about 50% of the forest had burned in the last ten years. So, fire was very common in historical or in pre-settlement days.

>> One of the main tools for documenting landscapes has been the camera, obviously originally the film camera. There are probably a number of people alive today who don't even know what a film camera would look like or what film looks like but there were still film cameras in use when I was a kid up and through my early adulthood. How long ago was the camera invented and at what point did that begin to be used for landscape photography?

>> I'm not an expert on the history of photography. I don't know when the camera was actually invented. I know that the early cameras they called them tintypes and Daguerreotypes and they were pretty primitive. But it seems like when you look at like the Ken Burns histories, the camera came into widespread use during the Civil War. That's when photographer named Brady went out to the Civil War battlefields and recorded some of the aftermath of some of those horrific battles. And it really was sobering to the American public to see these photographs the day after a battle like at Antietam and Manassas and Chancellorsville and those places. And then shortly after the Civil War was when you started having these scientific expeditions coming into the West and that's where the real value was. Ferdinand Hayden had a guy named William Henry Jackson went along with him and took photographs when they did the first survey of Yellowstone National Park. And it was Jackson's photographs that really made the case for setting aside Yellowstone as a national park. He carried one of those old bellows cameras on a tripod, packed it on a burro and went all through the mountains. And we've been to some of his photographic sites here in Colorado that are just ungodly places to get to and he did it with that big massive camera. And I think probably Jackson's the preeminent landscape photographer for the pre-settlement days. And when you mentioned cameras, it's sort of interesting one of the things that we found with our book, we deliberately kept using film camera rather than a digital camera because on two occasions we were accused of photoshopping our pictures.

>> Oh wow.

>> People couldn't believe that there had either been that much change or that some severe degradation was able to recover to the level that it has and so Dave decided that he would continue to use a film camera and have the negatives so that when people accused us of falsifying our photographs, we had some defense to that.

>> Yeah, that's really interesting. So, you used a 35-millimeter film camera to record those photos. Over what period of time did you get that done? I think I read in the book that you guys tried to reproduce roughly the season of year that the original photos were taken in order to be as faithful as possible to the reproduction. Describe that process a little bit.

>> Well, you try to replicate the photo to the best of your ability and part of that is if it's going to be a true replication, you have to be there at the same time of phenological development or as close as you can get. Sometimes that didn't always work out because we were doing this mostly, you know, on our own time or sometimes we would plan it when we were doing our regular workout on the forest. And we would schedule our time to be in an area at the right time of the year. We'd take a few, you know, a little time to go off and retake these photographs. And so, if you're going to replicate it, you want to replicate it to best of your ability and give it the most accurate representation possible.

>> What was the most remote site that you guys visited?

>> Oh geez, I don't know. There's a lot of these photographs are in the wilderness. I think probably the hardest one, I didn't go with him, but Dave went with a friend of his that's an outfitter and they went up on the top of West Elk Peak, which is in the middle of the West Elk Wilderness, and I think Dave said that by the time they packed in, spent the night, climbed the peak, took the pictures and then came back out, it was three days to take one picture. Most of the time, like I said, we did it in the context of just our general work. And so we'd be in an area and we'd have a series of photographs in that area and as we went through, whether we were horseback or in a vehicle, and most of the time it was horseback, then we'd just take a little side trip and take the picture. And so, sometimes it took as little as an hour to retake a photograph and sometimes it took, well, of course, the extreme was three days on West Elk Peak but a lot of times, it would take a full day to take two pictures.

>> You mentioned the widespread afforestation of the West. Are there other landscape changes that you've seen in your career in the forest service in areas that you worked in?

>> Oh yeah. I think over the time and, again, you can't make one statement that applies to everything, but my sense of it is that across the arid West, the settlement days had a tremendous impact on the landscapes and it depended on where you were. For instance, I've read that the early grazing practices up in Montana didn't deteriorate the country near as much as early grazing did in Arizona. And part of that was because Arizona, they could graze year-round. It was very dry. But I've talked to the range management specialists for the forest service and BLM in Arizona and they describe to me that when they first settled that country and the first big herds of cattle came in, they just beat that country right into the dirt and that they grazed it so hard, for so long, with no rest, no recovery, that they actually lost the A and B horizons of the soil. And so, when you get down and a lot of that country used to be desert grasslands in Arizona, now it's all shrublands, and I don't think it'll ever go back to a grassland because the soil profile is gone. And a lot of times there are pictures of that country prior to settlement. I'm sure that you've seen those kind of iconic pictures, there's two of them of Geronimo and some of his warriors and in one of them, they're kneeling down in grass that's about knee-high. And then the other picture, they're standing scattered in the grassland. And there's documentation in the Roosevelt Lake area, which is northeast of Phoenix in the Tonto Basin, the Apache women used to go out and cut hay in the meadows and swales and pack it in and sell it to the Army for the [inaudible] horses and I've been in that country in the 1990s. And again, it's either bare dirt, rocky soil, or it's brush. And it's never come back to grass and I don't think it can. Other places we've had tremendous recovery. Once we got started managing the livestock and limiting the time and allowing for recovery, some of the recovery has just been dramatic and that's where, like I told you, people have accused us of falsifying our photographs because it is so dramatic. And so, different places were treated differently. Some of it was overgrazing. Some of it was climate. Some of it was lack of fire. You can't make a flat statement that it was one thing. Each individual location has to be looked at on its own merit.

>> Yeah, I think this is one of the things that interest people in rangeland management. You know, it's sometimes been said that a science is a body of knowledge to be acquired and that an art is the practicing of a discipline of science. And if those are the case, then rangeland ecology should be the queen of the scientific arts. You know, we, in the rangeland profession, are trying to understand a body of knowledge that's incomplete and expand on that and make decisions in a complex world based on that understanding, decisions that have real long-term consequences, both ecologically and economically, and you've hit on a couple of those. You know, some big changes that have occurred in the Western US that seem to be somewhat permanent are the desert grasslands of the Southwest that seem to be mostly gone, mostly converted to shrubland. And his book, "Politics of Scale" Nathan Sayre uses that as one of the main illustrations of permanent landscape scale vegetation change that are the result of combinations of variables other than grazing. You know, but some others that come to mind are the tallgrass prairie that's pretty much gone and, of course, that's mostly the result of dryland cropping in regions that have enough precipitation to support a crop. We also have millions of acres of sagebrush step that didn't make a wholesale conversion to an entirely different type but converted to mostly sagebrush and exotic annuals in the Intermountain West and through the Great Basin. That change maybe is one of the only ones that was primarily due to overgrazing or maybe fire plays a role there as well. Am I thinking about that right?

>> I think so. And again, it's pretty complicated but when you think about like Idaho and Northern Nevada and that sagebrush biome up there, what's happened is I think there was a grazing impact over time and then we got into this downward spiral of rapidly recurring fire. And what I think -- I can't speak to it as an authority because I never worked out there, but my sense of it is that, unfortunately, we had a country that was grazed pretty hard. A lot of the native plants were weakened and then we had the invasion of cheatgrass. And then cheatgrass started this downward [inaudible] spiral in that country. I don't know what to say about that, other than the fact that that's one of those places where there were some impacts. Part of it was human. Part of it was natural. And I think we have to put it in context. I don't know if this is a good place to talk about disturbance-driven ecosystems but I think that any time that you start talking about long-term change, you need to recognize that throughout particularly the semiarid and arid West, we're dealing with disturbance-driven ecosystems.

>> I would agree. And what do you mean by that?

>> By a disturbance-driven ecosystem?

>> Yes.

>> I think that in my experience traveling around the West, I see two extremes. Many times, the country's grazed too hard and we don't allow enough time for recovery. And at the other extreme, the solution to any problem is total protection. And both extremes are detrimental to the landscape. Over-rest is just as damaging to a biome as overuse. And what I mean by that is these landscapes evolved to cycle nutrients and function and they evolved to be periodically disturbed, either trampled or grazed, and the material passing through an animal and redeposited or they burned or they got hailed on. Different things happened but that freshens the country up. It recycles nutrients and we need to continue that. And I think -- I'll come back to it later when we get to long-term changes, but I hope that people keep in mind that the solution to taking care of our landscapes is not total protection because that's the wrong way to think about it.

>> Yeah. In our last episode, I visited with Dr. Karen Launchbaugh about grazing management and grazing rules of thumb and yours came up. Evidently, you've been a good teacher because it's one of the few sets of rules of thumb that I can rattle off the top of my head. If I recall correctly, you said that you need to defoliate the primary forage species moderately, you need to not use the plants at the same time in the same place every year, and you need to allow adequate time for the plants to recover from each grazing event. Did I get those right?

>> Yes.

>> You want to expand on that?

>> You get an A. Well, you pretty well summed it up. I think the big thing about that is this started to occur in the mid '90s and I had already been a range con for 25 years and the university started publishing stuff and teaching us that we needed to start focusing on plant development and recovery. And those three primary principles that you just mentioned, not being in the same place at the same time year after year, allowing your plants to grow before you graze them or recover after you graze them, and then defoliating them moderately, those three primary principles are interrelated and you got to have all three of them to be successful. But once we started to understand that interrelationship in the mid '90s, it seemed like we really truly started caring for our rangelands and planting for different outcomes. This is where targeted grazing came in. There was just a lot of stuff. The mid '90s was really an exciting time to be in rangeland management in my mind.

>> Yeah. And, of course, one of the tricky things about a rule of thumb is that it's expected to apply nearly everywhere and at all times. And grazed landscapes are so highly variable that that can be a difficult thing to prescribe. But this particular set of rules seems to me that nearly is applicable anywhere or that it would result in benefit anywhere that it's applied.

>> That's exactly right. When we were still doing the grazing schools and also when I was doing grazing workshops with the National Riparian Service Team out of Prineville, we talked about that and we're just starting to say, we're going to give you guys some primary principles and they apply to Eastern Arizona, the sandhills of Nebraska, or Central British Columbia, equally. These principles apply to plant development and recovery. And when you look at it from that standpoint, it sounds real simple because it's three primary principles but the devil's always in the details and, again, you have to remind people that you take those primary principles and apply them to your unique situation and so one size doesn't fit all. You have to -- Wherever you are, you have to go out, look at your landscape, look at the climate, look at the soils, look at the history, and then start deciding how you're going to apply those principles to your specific situation.

>> Yeah. And understand that there are other variables at play besides just grazing management. This was one of the major take-home messages for me from Dr. Sayre's book that I highly recommend, "Politics of Scale." He makes the case that variability in precipitation and other driving variables rather than aridity is driving force changing plant communities and that a lot of landscape scale vegetation changes are the result of variable drivers other than grazing. We've talked about fire. You know, in the intermountain West, I would say scientists that have written about historical fire frequency would say that the fire-return interval was somewhere around 25 to 50 years. And we complain about the fires around the West now, but if you think about it, if every acre in the West, assuming that they all had a similar fire-return interval, if every acre burned every 50 years, over the entire West, that's going to be a lot of fire. You'd have, you know, roughly 1/50th of the West burning at any given time. What do you think about that?

>> Well, again, it's a lot more complicated than that and what happens if you have pulses and different biomes have different requirements. I mean, your fire interval and lodgepole pine and your spruce fir types is tremendously different than the fire interval in the southwest ponderosa pine, for example. When we first started in on a restoration project here on the Uncompahgre Plateau, we had the tree ring counter guys come up from the University of Arizona and we had the fire researchers from the Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station over at Fort Collins. So, they were fire ecologists and the tree ring counters and we went out on the plateau and we spent a week taking those guys around to all of the ponderosa pine stands that we knew of and particularly some of the old growth ones and the thing that was interesting in this country is you couldn't find a fire scar hardly at all. Very rarely could you find a fire scar on the ponderosa pine. And what they determined from that was we had a very short fire interval here on the Uncompahgre Plateau. They said anywhere from seven to 17 years. So, what that meant was we had light intensity, frequent, fairly cool fires going through the landscape that freshened it up.

>> That weren't big enough to scar a pine tree?

>> Exactly. Yeah. And that really surprised us because you go down into Arizona into those pine forests, and they got fire scars all over them. But their fire interval is a little bit longer and apparently their fire intensity was a little bit higher. And so, they have those catfaces on their pines but we didn't have them here and that really surprised people. So again, it's easy to make generalities but you've always got to bring it home to the local situation. That's my sense of it anyway.

>> Going back to a little bit of philosophizing for a minute, the photographs that were taken in your book were taken during a period of time that's pretty interesting in the history of the United States. The Civil War had been over for a couple decades. You know, we were settling the West, moving in from the East. The Industrial Revolution was producing major advances in technology that were breathtaking and world changing. We had the invention of the automobile. We had manned flight. We had building materials and architectural methods that allowed us to begin building skyscrapers. And that era was also one of significant natural resource exploitation. Mining did do real damage, especially in places like the Sierra Nevadas where you had whole mountainsides washed away. You had the massive cattle boom that was pushed by easy credit as much as it was pushed by demand for beef. And then subsequent damage caused by misunderstanding about how to maintain healthy plant communities in the West, which functioned quite a bit differently than naturally occurring plant communities in the East. We recognize some of the problems from that era and yet, you know, those I think in most people those photographs evoke quite a bit of nostalgia. Thomas Friedman has said that we live in an age of interruption of continuous partial attention and that we're starving for meaningful engagement with the natural world. And, you know, that era, right about the turn of the century, was kind of the turning point when some people would say our tools became our masters separating us from the natural world instead of enhancing our ability to work with it. Nicholas Carr, who was the author of what's now a pretty famous article in the "Atlantic Monthly" called "Is Google Making Us Stupid" says in a book that he wrote about automation called "The Glass Cage," he says if we're not careful, the automation of mental labor by changing the nature and focus of intellectual endeavor may end up eroding one of the foundations of culture itself, our desire to understand the world. Predictive algorithms may be supernaturally skilled at discovering correlations but they're indifferent to the underlying causes of traits and phenomena. Yet, it's that deciphering of causation, the meticulous untangling of how and why things work the way they do that extends the reach of human understanding and ultimately gives meaning to our search for knowledge. If we come to see automated calculations of probability as sufficient for our professional and social purposes, we risk losing or at least weakening our desire and motivation to seek explanations, to venture down the circuitous paths that lead toward wisdom and wonder. Why bother if a computer can spit out the answer in a millisecond or two? I think that it seems to me like you and Dave spent some time venturing down the circuitous paths that lead toward wisdom and wonder and that can't be accomplished without a more intimate engagement with the landscape than you can get from remote sensing. There's lots to chew on there but what are your thoughts on that.

>> Well, I sure agree with Carr. I think I said it earlier but we went through a period of time back in the '70s when there were a lot of people that were really promoting remote sensing was going to be the answer to rangeland inventory and I had a forest supervisor tell me that there would come a day when you could just push a button on your computer and find out what kind of vegetation was on any quarter of an acre anywhere on the forest. And I didn't argue with him because he was the big boss and I was the peon but I immediately thought that it might tell you what's out there but you've got to put a human out there with a set of eyeballs and a brain to tell what happened to that quarter acre this year or last year and what needs to be done next year. And I can't agree more. And what I see as a big problem right now is too many people want a simple checklist or they want to use a cookbook approach to range management. And they have the attitude that if you have say two units of input, then you get x number of widgets of an output and that it's all automated and what goes in produces a certain amount of output. And that just isn't the way it works. I could get started on that and probably rant and rave for quite a while but I'll leave it at that. I think that again going back to the mid '90s, the evolution of managing for plant development and recovery and a lot of this kind of stuff caused us to start thinking. And the universities produced stuff that helped us to understand plant physiology, responses to disturbance, and you have to get out and look at that stuff and you have to interpret it. Nobody else is going to do it for you and there's no machine that's going to do it for you.

>> Yeah. We've talked a bit about tools and the value of the camera. Are there other conclusions that you and Dave made about rangeland monitoring as a result of your work trying to capture the nature of landscape change over 100 years?

>> That's kind of a hard one to answer. I'm not real sure about the context. But let me just give you a couple of thoughts on what I've seen in my career. Early in my career from say the, you know, the '50s where the period of, and again I'm only talking about national forest management, because that's all that I really know well, they had big cuts in numbers of livestock. They attempted to start getting some management on the ground. They moved into the '60s where they had the big spray projects, a lot of improvement projects where they developed water, put in a lot of fences, started rotations. The problem was it was often a rote process. The people doing it didn't fully understand the physiology behind it. And so, they would just go out there and I remember people writing allotment management plans and having a grazing rotation for ten full years that was supposed to be followed exactly, without any account for variabilities in climate or weather changes or catastrophic events or something like that. The big change again came in the '90s when the university started giving us the plant development and recovery things. We started understanding growth curves, carbohydrate storage and use by the plants. A big thing, Fred Provenza at Utah State with his BEHAVE program started talking about relative palatability of plants at different times of the year and one of the big things that we got in the '90s that I think was overlooked for many, many years was the value of forbs on a rangeland and the fact of how valuable forbs are for producing protein throughout the growing season when a lot of times when the grasses are starting the drop off because animals, if they have a diverse plant community, then they have a plant preference and they can select their diet. And Fred's research indicated that given the opportunity, animals would select a diet anywhere from 2 to 3% higher in protein than just the grasses alone. And we didn't know that. We never thought about that stuff back in the '60s, '70s, and '80s. Karen Launchbaugh and her folks at University of Idaho started talking a lot about animal behavior and started giving us ideas about targeted grazing. And again, the key thing there is one size doesn't fit all. You have to take all this knowledge, crunch it through your little pink brain, and then you have to go out on the ground and apply it to your specific situation and that's crucial. You can't have a cookbook. They can't just come out and say if you do this, this, and this at this time, you'll get this response. That's one of the I think a couple of things that I saw evolve from that and one of the useful tools and you've heard me talk about it before is the grazing response index because in my mind, the grazing response index is the only tool that we have that assesses the combination of the three primary principles of grazing management and it puts them all together. Throughout my career, I would see simplistic things like simple percent utilization was the standard that people used for when to move livestock or percent utilization was the goal of grazing or percent utilization was the basis for making decisions and that's just not good enough. You've got to put it in the context of time and timing. So, anyway, I saw all this stuff evolve during the '90s and I was so grateful that I was still working when that happened because I could see a dramatic change in how we managed the rangelands and I saw the rangelands respond to that.

>> Right. And for ranchers, I can't tell you how many ranchers have said to me, you should've seen what this looked like 20 years ago. And what they almost invariably mean is it looked worse and today it looks better in response to managing in the ways that we've been talking about. But it's difficult to prove that to somebody. You know, say you're a 40-year-old rancher who took over a large forest service lease from somebody else and you've been managing differently and you see positive changes and somebody else, you know, say a fisheries biologist is looking at the same piece of ground, you know, everybody has sort of an arbitrary scale in their head of landscape value or, you know, rangeland condition equality, and say the fisheries biologist thinks that the piece of ground is at about a five and the rancher says, yeah, well, I think it's a six but, regardless, it was at a one or a two ten years ago. Do you think that a photograph is the best way for, you know, either a rancher or say a range con, somebody who's in the position of having to manage ground and not just record stuff for academic or research purposes, is a photograph the best starting point for trying to document that change over time either for their own purposes or to demonstrate change to somebody else?

>> Absolutely. I couldn't emphasize that more. And I'd like to go back to what a friend of mine said. He was a rancher, a grazing permittee on the Bighorn Forest and he told me this about sometime in the mid-1970s. We were riding along and we were talking about just what we're talking about right now, about the way it used to be and stuff, and he looked at me and he says, one of the biggest regrets that I have in my life is I didn't start carrying the camera in my saddlebags when I was in high school and at that time he was about 50 years old. And that comment has never left my mind. And throughout my career, I had a little Minolta Point and Shoot Camera that fit right in my saddlebags and I carried it with me everywhere I went. And I can't overemphasize the value of photographs because, you know, there's the old saying, a photograph is worth a thousand words, it's worth 10,000 words. And if you've got a photograph and this is where, you know, Dave talked, you know he lives at Paonia, which is home of High Country News, and frequently they have interns up there working with High Country News and they'll come into the office and have questions about stuff or they'll have concerns about conditions on the national forest and Dave will just pull out a stack of photographs that are anywhere from five to 20 years old with a modern photograph, lay them on the table, and he'll say, you tell me and that ends the argument right there. So yes, photographs are indispensable. People in rangeland shouldn't ever leave the office without a camera.

>> Do you have any rules of thumb on how to take good photographs? You know, with any kind of monitoring, site selection is by far the most difficult decision to make. Any thoughts on how to set up a good photograph?

>> Oh yeah. And we included that in the Range Analysis handbook that we updated in the mid '90s. A good photograph for any type of natural resource monitoring should, the photograph should be taken between ten in the morning and three in the afternoon, when the sun's up high. Your shadows are minimized. If you get earlier or later, you get too much yellow light and it starts to soften the photograph and make it kind of ethereal and artsy but it doesn't show what you're trying to show. So, photographs between ten and three. Try to have about a third of the photograph be the skyline and above so you've got some sky in the background. We always try to line up photographs that have some distinct geographical feature in the background, whether it's a misshapen tree or a rocky ridge or something like that so that when people come back, they can line the photograph up and accurately replicate it. And, of course, one of the best things in this day and age, we've got GPS and you can locate that photo point to -- Literally, I've walked back to within two feet of a photo point with using the GPS. Anytime that you take a photo that you want it to be part of your permanent record, put a little rock cairn in there. It doesn't have to be much but a good natural resource manager is going to spot a cairn on a landscape because it's an anomaly and what invariably happens is animals knock it over, bears come by and turn the rocks over, but you can still find them. And I always emphasize that you need to put some kind of a marker of your photo point so that you can re-find it. And I think the most important thing to think about when you're taking photos and using those to supplement your monitoring, remember that the work that you're doing out there on the ground is for your biggest critic and your biggest critic is the person that replaces you.

>> Floyd, this has been a great conversation. We're going to provide a link to where listeners can purchase your book in the show notes and we will also post some current resources on fixed-point repeat photography for the purposes for rangeland monitoring. Thank you for your time today. Anything else you want to say?

>> I have a couple of things related to the profession of range management. Right now, I'm becoming somewhat concerned by the fact that rangeland management seems to be being dismissed or discounted in the agencies. That really alarms me. There aren't near as many professional rangeland managers in the field now as there were in the '80s. I don't have the exact numbers but I know that the number of people in the field doesn't equal anything that we used to have in the past. I'm concerned about that because I think the demands from our rangelands have never been greater. And one of the biggest things that's starting to evolve is watershed function and water production. And high-quality water coming off of these rangelands should be a concern of everybody in society. And you can't do it if you don't have good high-quality, well-trained range people that know what they're doing out on the ground. One final thing I would like to recommend, some people need to start thinking about the evolution of genetic editing. There's a new book called "A Crack in Creation." It's called "Gene Editing and the Power to Control Evolution." It was written by Jennifer Doudna, d-o-u-d-n-a, and Samuel Sternberg. I recommend this reading for anybody involved in natural resources. It's the thing of the future. I relate it back to I've been spraying weeds since I was 20 years old and there's more weeds now than when I started. I think the only solution to some of this stuff is going to be genetic editing and I strongly encourage anybody that's working in rangelands today to read that book and become familiar with it and start thinking about long term for dealing with things like weeds. Some of the diseases that we have like whirling disease in the trout. I think this is something of the future [Background Music] and we need to get ahead of it. Thanks a lot for having me, Tip. This has really been enjoyable for me to reflect on a lot of this stuff and I really thank you for the opportunity to be on this.

>> Floyd, thank you for your time. Thank you for listening to the Art of Range Podcast. You can subscribe to and review the show through iTunes or your favorite podcasting app so you never miss an episode. Just search for "Art of Range." If you have questions or comments for us to address in a future episode, send an email to For articles and links to resources mentioned in the podcast, please see the show notes at Listener feedback is important to the success of our mission empowering rangeland managers. Please take a moment to fill out a brief survey at This podcast is produced by Connors Communications in the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. The project is supported by the University of Arizona and funded by the Western Center for Risk Management Education through the USDA, National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

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