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The Northern Great Basin: A Region of Continual Change

Tony Svejcar
Rangelands 2015 v.37 no.3 pp. 114-118
animal communities, basins, indigenous species, issues and policy, land management, plant communities, rangelands, Great Basin States
The Great Basin of the United States has experienced large climatic fluctuations over the past 10,000 years. Lake Bonneville (the remnant of which is the Great Salt Lake) at one time covered almost 20,000 square miles, which is about the size of Lake Michigan. The fact that the region is internally drained amplifies the effects of climatic shifts on the Great Basin environment. Euro-American exploration also had dramatic effects on the Great Basin environment. Some of the early exploration involved intentional destruction of resources (decimating beaver populations) to make the region less appealing to potential competitors. The removal of beaver would have affected riparian areas of the Great Basin as early as the 1820s. The American settlement period was also fairly destructive. The various Homestead Acts were not designed with the Great Basin in mind and the mix of homesteaded (private) and un-homesteaded (public) land created a chaotic setting where the first person to arrive used the forage. This situation persisted until the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934. There are clearly reasons for concern over the expansion of annual grasses and extensive wildfires. However, recent planning efforts associated with improving habitat for greater sage-grouse provide examples where science and management have been integrated, and there is a much needed focus on evaluating the success of management practices. The outcome of these efforts should be increased accountability for those involved in rangeland management in the northern Great Basin.