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| Country Profiles
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POINT OF VIEW:
The Grey Ranch
Fortunately there are those who are dedicated to preserving
what's left of a fragile ecosystem. The Gray ranch is in the
southern part of New Mexico. It's become a laboratory for
studying old and new ways of sustainable ranching a
unique partnership between traditional cowboys and rangeland
ecologists. The herd is carefully managed it's never
allowed to exceed the grazing capacity of the land.
In the spring the cattle are rounded-up. This is the time
of year when calves are separated from the herd, branded and
vaccinated. Here at the Gray ranch they use more traditional
methods of working the cattle. For the younger generation
it's a learning experience that's meant to be passed on to
"We've got 502 square miles here. It's not
pristine but all the pieces are there, all the systems are
still functioning. This not only means that we have, an incredible
array of biodiversity, but it also means that we can use natural
processes to do much of our management here on the ranch."
Controlled burning is perhaps the most important grassland
management technique used at the ranch. If a fire starts during
a lightening storm it's allowed to burn. More often, it's
ignited by fire management experts. Grassland fires regenerate
the land. They clear away dead growth and invading trees and
shrubs. Though the blades of grass are consumed, the root
systems are undamaged by the fire.
"The fire ... is part of a long-term
ecological research study that looks at the interaction of
fire with grazing and fires is important in arid grasslands.
Really any grassland. It increases the nutritional values
of the grasses which is good for both the cattle, but also
native species such as antelope."
"It goes together. If you have a healthy
wildlife habitat, it's gonna be good for your agricultural
interests. What we're doing here is trying to maintain and
manage open country, for open country keeps your wildlife
borders open and your habitat healthy, and that benefits your
But for the people that work at the Gray Ranch, it's not just
about saving the grasslands it's about preserving a
way of life.
Cimmaron, New Mexico is the heartland of the American west home to many of the dreams and hopes that built a nation.
Cimmaron is also a place that still celebrates the traditional skills of the American cowboy. These are the children and grandchildren of early pioneers the thousands of settlers that forged a life from a vast unspoiled wilderness.
Rodeo in Cimmaron, New Mexico
The nearby ruins of Fort Union are a reminder of those early days.
One hundred fifty years ago this was the west's biggest military
outpost. The fort played a key role in shaping the destiny of the
southwest. It kept guard over this part of the Santa Fe Trail and the thousands of settlers heading for the fertile prairies of
the Great Plains.
The destruction of the North American grasslands proceeded with a speed and intensity unparalleled in history.
They came by wagon train and what they found was astonishing: four hundred million acres of shimmering grassland that stretched from the Missouri River to the Rockies from Texas to Canada. It supported 30 million buffalo and vast herds of deer, antelope, and elk. It was an ecosystem that seemed inexhaustible. It wasn't.
Ruins of Fort Union
The destruction of the North American grasslands proceeded with
a speed and intensity unparalleled in history. Gone are the vast
herds of animals that roamed the plains. Gone are the thousands
of species of plants and flowers that blanketed the prairie. And
gone are four hundred million acres of open rangeland.
In the end, 80 percent of North America's grasslands were plowed
under permanently destroyed to make way for endless rows
of wheat, corn, and soy beans. It didn't take long less than
a hundred years. Today the Great Plains feed a nation it's
become a breadbasket for the world. But at what price? Like the
pampas of Argentina and the veld of South Africa the prairies
have become the domain of big business.
One hundred years ago farmers were nearly 35% of the American population. Today, less than 2% of American families work the land.
Most small farmers have given up. Unable to compete they left behind quiet reminders that mechanization means fewer people are needed to farm larger tracts of land. One hundred years ago farmers were nearly 35% of the American population. Today, less than 2% of American families work the land.
Rural villages like Springer, New Mexico are on the verge of becoming ghost towns. The signs on their boarded up shops are sad reminders of a once thriving farm and ranching community.