An essential guide to the American grasslands and the Grasslands National Park of Canada, The National Grasslands presents a history of the region, that traces the establishment of the national grasslands as an important part of the New Deal’s social revolution. The guide also provides a concise summary of the debates surrounding preservation and use, with special focus on the Buffalo Commons controversy. Each national grassland receives individual attention, including overviews of flora and fauna, clear descriptions of terrain and noteworthy natural features, and vital information on grasslands’ history, visitor centers, and ranger stations. All the articles in this first full-length book on the history of the national grasslands are richly illustrated with maps and exquisite photographs by the noted Great Plains photographer Georg Joutras.
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The National Grasslands
A Guide to America's Undiscovered Treasures
By Francis Moul
University of Nebraska Press
Copyright © 2006
University of Nebraska Press
All right reserved.
The 1930s in America - the Dirty Thirties - was a transforming decade, especially
in the Great Plains, the one-fifth of the land that makes up its
central heartland. There was severe drought and economic depression, the
combination causing one of the greatest social disruptions in peacetime
for the entire nation. National unemployment approached 50 percent and
more, price deflation caused money to become extremely dear, and farmers
destroyed livestock rather than lose money trucking animals to auction
houses for pennies on the dollar in sales.
The federal partnership with American citizens changed enormously as
President Franklin D. Roosevelt attempted to meet the new needs of a nation
and its farm population faced with the loss of their land, bankruptcy,
and even starvation in a dry, desiccated landscape. His New Deal programs
initiated reforms in federal social, economic, and conservation policies,
many of which remain in place today.
In dramatic moves, New Dealers ended the practice of giving public
lands away or selling them very cheaply - a practice as old as the nation itself
- and reversed that to preserving the remaining federal lands and buying
back some 11.3 million acres ofovergrazed, mismanaged rangeland and
farmland across the nation. Out of those land purchases came today's national
grasslands, twenty reserves in the Great Plains and the West, totaling
almost four million acres.
The national grasslands were the result of an unprecedented social revolution,
paying distressed farm families for submarginal land that could no
longer support them and attempting to resettle them in subsidized homes
in small, new towns; on subsistence homesteads of twenty and forty acres;
or in newly created "garden cities." However, like many New Deal ideas,
this reform was hastily planned and executed and tragically underfunded.
Originally, seventy-five million submarginal acres were identified for purchase,
but bureaucratic shuffling, resistance from conservative members of
Congress, and lack of funding cut the program back. The 11.3 million acres
eventually purchased came under nine different federal agencies before finally
being dispersed to state and federal agencies and Indian reservations.
The U.S. Forest Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture
(USDA), received about 3.8 million acres, and on June 20, 1960, they were
designated as nineteen national grasslands. A twentieth national grassland
was added in California in 1991.
From the very beginning, the national grasslands' concept has been a stepchild
within the USDA. They are most often managed along with national
forests, which receive more attention, funding, and staff. Although there
is excellent royalty income from oil, gas, and coal leases on some national
grasslands, plus income from the sale of cattle grazing permits, that money
goes into state, county, and federal treasuries and does not contribute to the
operating budgets of the grasslands.
There have been continuing debates on correct grasslands management,
whether for private grazing, public recreational use, wildlife preservation,
or a combination of all these. About every ten to fifteen years, an extensive
public process provides new management plans, and this planning has recently
been completed for a number of grasslands. There is also a continuing
debate over the charge per acre for grazing permits for ranchers, which
are traditionally much lower than fees charged for private lands.
Under a 1960 mandate, the national grasslands are to be managed for
outdoor recreation, range, timber, watershed protection, and wildlife and
fish management purposes. They are all open for many public uses, such as
hiking and camping, picnics, and "windshield tours" by visitors. They are
marked with signs, and roads are open for public usage. Inexpensive but
highly detailed maps are available at ranger stations. Best of all, there are
no crowds on the national grasslands. Visitors are often alone in a seemingly
infinite expanse of grass and sky where the solitude and beauty take
time to assimilate.
The grasslands are largely undiscovered treasures of an important national
heritage. Their recent history encompasses the exciting days of cattle drives
from Texas and pioneer settlement on the plains. Their beauty is subtle but
enchanting. The wildlife is extensive with hundreds of species of animals and
plants, and there are constantly changing scenes as the seasons progress.
This book is presented in three parts. Part 1, the history of the national
grasslands, begins with a look at drought on the Great Plains and in the
West, how human intervention affected the land, and the early ideas to
correct severe range problems of the 1930s. Next is a short history of land
development in America including ideas on proper land use and state experiments
on land utilization that foreshadowed the New Deal relief programs.
An extensive and detailed history of the social, political, and economic
revolution of the New Deal, leading directly to the designation of the
national grasslands, is given in chapter 3. In chapter 4, a case study of how
one grassland developed gives a detailed look at conditions in the 1930s, the
land purchases, and the infrastructures that evolved. Chapter 5 discusses the
challenges of restoring and managing the newly bought public lands and
creating laws to guide their management as drought and the Depression
were ending in the 1940s. Part 2 is a detailed description of terrain, wildlife,
flora, public facilities, and important features of each grassland, including
Grasslands National Park of Canada. Part 3 provides analysis of grassland
issues, delivers conclusions about them, and presents future alternatives.
Excerpted from The National Grasslands
by Francis Moul
Copyright © 2006 by University of Nebraska Press .
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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