The Diversity of Nevada’s Rangeland
As per request: the article I wrote for Nevada Rancher April Issue!
North Eastern Nevada Summer Pasture
If you were to drive north out of Elko on the Mountain City Highway on your way to Idaho, you would find country dotted with little towns, ranches, and old homesteads. The terrain is steep with large grass covered hills the size of small mountains, deep cut rocky canyons with junipers, willows, elderberry, chokecherry and, on good years, water in most of the bottoms. The summers are hot and the winters cold, ensuring its status as seasonal pasture. Being in the higher elevations of the Northern Great Basin, vegetation consists of higher elevation plants varying to sagebrush grassland plant communities. There are shrubs like Mountain Mahogany, sagebrush, and some Morman tea. Range grasses include Idaho fescue, Great Basin wildrye, squirrel tail, prairie june grass, Indian rice grass, Snake River wheatgrass, and Thurbers needlegrass.
Mid Central Nevada Summer Pasture
Head further west on the Loneliest Highway 50 to Middlegate Nevada, you will pass through sagebrush grasslands and dry lakebeds surrounded by steep higher elevation mountains that rise out of the valley floors. Hot in the summer, the higher and middle elevations stay cold and snowy during the winters, making this ideal summer range conditions for grazing. Water can be limited so hauling water from larger sources is a necessity. In the flats the predominate plants will be a variety of sagebrush, creosote, rabbit brush, edible; white sage, bud sage, Great Basin wildrye, western wheatgrass, Sandburg bluegrass, Indian rice grass and desert needle grass. In the higher elevations you will start to see Mountain Mahogony, Morman tea, juniper and pinyon pine.
Western Central Nevada Winter Pasture
Not quite to Reno and west of Fallon’s banana belt near Fernley, Silversprings, and Stagecoach, the land warms up and the sightings of feral horses increases. Unless it happens to be a harsh year, ranchers can usually winter their cattle successfully, it requires a large amount of acreage and lots of water hauling. Droughts can decrease range condition and the biggest competition for range feed is the large herds of feral horses problematic of lots of Nevada’s grazing land. These desert shrublands consist of; sagebrush, creosote, prickly pear cactus and edible; kochia, desert needle grass, white sage, bud sage, shadscale, fiddleneck, and four wing salt brush.
Southern Nevada Winter Pasture
Another great winter range area is Nevada’s southern end of the Great Basin. Approaching and overlapping the Mojave Basin and Range, the most iconic feature in the change of scenery is the presence of Joshua trees, which are characteristic of the Mojave. Water is limited but by hauling or pipelining, water doesn’t become much of an issue if managed correctly. Typical of the rest of the state, the landscape rises out of low elevation sagebrush and alkaline flats into high elevation mountainous fingers dividing the valleys. You will see a variety of low elevation and higher elevation plant life including; sagebrush, rabbit brush, cholla cactus, prickly pear cactus, yucca, and edible; Morman tea, bud sage, white sage, four wing salt brush, spiny hopsage, penstemon, dwarf buckwheat, galleta, desert needle grass, and Indian rice grass.
Until next time, remember that there are other options besides owning a ranch to be involved with raising livestock and some states like Nevada have diversity year round!
Ceily Rae Highberger
All photos in this blog post taken with my Sony Alpha 6000 and iPhone 6s