What Killed the Open Range?
The term “open range” refers to cattle and livestock roaming free across tracts of land regardless of who owns them. You can see this in many cowboy movies, where a traveling convoy lets their cattle and livestock feed on whatever grass they see. Before the mid-1800s, open range was the ranching method of choice for most ranchers. However, today’s ranches are limited by legal fences because of the serious repercussions of open ranges, namely overgrazing.
It was found out that letting the animals feed on as much grass as they want caused the quality of the range land to decline. Even in tracts of land that had no owner yet, overgrazing affected the wildlife that roamed across the flat plains such as the American bison. The harsh winter months between 1886 to 1887 didn’t make the situation any better. As vast tracts of grassland were covered under feet of snow, the winter storm effectively hammered the final nail into the open range’s coffin.
These events triggered serious reorganization of the ranching industry in the country, starting by enclosing ranch property in legal fences. Today, cattle and livestock are limited to the wooden fences that surround the property. If the rancher wants to graze beyond the borders of his property, he has to coordinate with the government first to secure grazing leases. It’s a lesson the ranchers learned the hard—and not to mention cold—way.