Rising above a cloud of dust, Dugout Ranch owner Heidi Redd runs cattle on public land near Moab, Utah. Many western ranchers depend heavily on Bureau of Land Management allotments, where grazing fees remain far lower than on state or private lands. Redd’s Indian Creek Ranch, surrounded by public land, is owned by the Nature Conservancy.
The Conquistadors brought cattle to the Americas, and settlers moving west adopted many Spanish cattle-raising techniques. Cattle roamed freely on the open range until the increasing numbers degraded the quality of rangeland. The severe winter of 1886–1887 was devastating to livestock and stressed cattle died by the thousands. Huge losses bankrupted ranchers and prompted many to begin fencing off their land and to negotiate with the U.S. government for individual grazing leases in order to better control pastures for their own animals.