The intersection of several physical environmental factors such as geology, geomorphology, climate, soils and cultural institutions aimed at production (as opposed to consumption), helped to sustain cattle ranching, the chief economic base of Surprise Valley, throughout much of the 20th century. Understanding these variables within the spatial and temporal context of the Warner Mountains, Surprise Valley and the Hays Canyon Range is critical in explaining the late 20th century landscape.
Geological Setting: Indicative of lands immediately east of the Cascades, the Warner Mountains are bordered to the west by the basaltic lava flows of the Modoc plateau (a localized extension of the vaster Columbia plateau) (Fig.1) The more gentle western slope of the Warner Mountains crests at nearly 10,000 feet. A steep eastern face plunges over 5,000 feet downwards until reaching the Surprise Valley fault located along its base. The upper section of the exposed Warners consists of Tertiary lava flows (basaltic) with limited amounts of pyroclastics. Moderate to well consolidated Tertiary sandstone, shale and conglomerate are exposed in its lower sections (Fig. 2) The lower slopes contain truncated spurs and alluvial fans (some of which coalesce and form bajadas) and residual Pleistocene lake terraces. Surrounded by lacustrine and alluvial deposition, old remnant interfluves can be sighted extending into the valley (Fig 3). Limited glaciation occurred only on the highest peaks of the Warner Mountains (Fig. 4).
Bounded by parallel faults with the downthrows facing inwards towards the valley's center, Surprise Valley constitutes a structural grabben. Drainage is internal meaning that none of the runoff from the surrounding mountains ever reaches the Pacific Ocean. The Surprise Valley fault runs some 60 miles along its west side whereas the Hays Canyon fault forms its eastern counterpart. Slip rates along both faults are estimated at 0.6mm/year (.024 inches/yr). Surprise Valley contains alluvial fans and bajadas along its west and east sides. Coarser debris (gravels) were deposited near the bases of the ranges whereas the finer grained sediments extend downslope to the playas (Upper, Middle and Lower Alkali Lakes) (Fig 5). Gravity and magnetic surveys of the basin and its surrounding ranges confirm that roughly 5,000 feet of sediment exists above the bedrock along a central axis connecting the three playas (Fig. 6). These sediments are a function of lacustrine deposits associated with various pluvial lakes over the past 2.6 million years (My) and are supplemented by interglacial riverine deposition, chiefly from the Warners. Roughly 24-30 glacial-interglacial cycles occurred throughout the Pleistocene.
Located just inside Nevada, the Hays Canyon Range is similar to the Warners with Tertiary basalts capping its ridgelines (Figs 7 and 8). Columnar jointing is especially notable near the top of 49 Mountain as the molecules within the basalts contracted inwards during their rapid cooling upon exposure to the atmosphere. Lower than the Warner's, 49 Mountain only attains an elevation of 7,558 feet, whereas Eagle and Warren Peaks in the Warners reach 9,892 and 9,710 feet, respectively.
Climate and Hydrology. Elevations in the Warner's below 5,000 feet along with Surprise Valley and the Hays Canyon Range comprise a Middle Latitude Desert (Koppen BWk). Precipitation from 1894 through 2011 averaged 12.55 in/yr. at Cedarville with nearly 70% occurring November through April. Potential evapotranspiration assuming a surface denoted by alfalfa is 3.7 acre-feet/yr. or 44 inches. Consequently, a significant water balance deficit exists. The January mean temperature averages 30°F while July reaches 71°F. Indicative of low absolute humidity (dew point temperature), a rather large diurnal (24-hour) temperature range of 34°F in July/Aug exists.
Surprise Valley's low humidity and precipitation (ppt) totals are a function of being downwind of the Coast Ranges, Cascades and the Warners. Fortunately, for Surprise Valley residents, ppt totals of 35 in/yr. occur along the crest of the Warner's. This translates into a ponderosa pine forest mixed with firs. To the east, the Hays Canyon Range possesses sagebrush up to its summit. The Warners yield 160k acre-feet (AF) of runoff/yr., which enters the Valley's ground water basin along the upper reaches of the west side alluvial fans. Estimated at 4 million AF, the ground water basin's capacity equates to about 90% of Shasta Reservoir. In 1979, 43k AF were extracted from wells, which by the middle 1980's averaged nearly 1,400 gallons per minute at a depth of 350 feet.
Although the ground water reserves may appear massive, its economic recovery tempers significantly the amount used. What runoff that does not recharge the groundwater or succumb to being diverted for irrigation terminates in one of the three playas (intermittent alkaline lakes). These playas are never very deep with water and remain dry much of the year, a real contrast to the Pleistocene pluvial climatic regimes where lakes such as Lake Surprise covered much of the present valley.
The Pleistocene climate regime warrants some explanation. Noted for its oscillation between glacial (ice-age) climates and interglacial (warmer climates), the Pleistocene extended from roughly 2.6 million years ago (My) to 10,000 years ago (8,000 BC). Glacial climates dominated about 85% of the Pleistocene with the warmer interglacial regimes comprising the remainder. Driven primarily by orbital parameters involving the earth's axial tilt, shape of orbit, and the seasonal precession of perihelion and aphelion roughly 24-30 such cycles occurred, given the present arrangement of continents. Ice core data from Greenland and Antarctica indicate the switch from a glacial to interglacial climate and vice-versa occurred more swiftly than previously thought.
Known as the Holocene epoch, the present age dates from 10k years ago and is most likely another interglacial. Contrary to the media driven hysteria over global warming, the present global climate models (GCMs) when run forward, point to another full-scale glacial climate. Interglacial climates typically last about 12k years (half a precession cycle). Over the past millennium, a warmer climate than present existed from 950-1250 and then a colder regime, known as the Little Ice Age noted for glacial advances in the Alps, Rockies and Andes dominated from 1250-1850. More recently, an uptick in temperatures from 1850-2010 occurred, though the present is still cooler than 1100 AD. Interestingly, CO2 levels are currently 390 ppm, while in 1100 AD they were 280 ppm. The warmer Sangamon interglacial (circa 115k BP) yielded sea levels 25 feet higher than present with CO2 levels of 280 ppm (lower than present).
For Surprise Valley and its surrounding mountains, a colder wetter pluvial climate dominated during the Pleistocene. As noted, ice was strictly limited to the highest peaks of the Warners. Consequently, the valley or basin filled perennially with fresh water runoff laden with alluvium. The finer sediments settled out of the relatively large but calm lake (Lake Surprise) and are today responsible for the 5,000 plus feet of sediment found in the central portion of Surprise valley. This situation is also indicative of California's Owens and Death Valleys, located further south.
Varying throughout Surprise Valley, water quality is best delineated by comparing thermal springs associated with the area's faults to non-thermal wells found mostly on the west side of the valley. The thermal springs have temperatures > 120°F and their total dissolved solids (TDS), chloride, boron, sulfate and pH readings all greatly exceed levels recommended by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR). On the other hand, the non-thermal wells possess readings well below DWR's thresholds. For example, the median chloride rate of 3 ppm and sulfate content of 6 ppm are well below the 250 ppm standard. Similarly a TDS rating of 175 ppm is well below the recommended level of 500 ppm. For comparison, the thermal springs average between 1,000-1,800 ppm TDS. Finally, and again luckily for Surprise Valley residents, the ground water's sodium absorption ratio, which measures the hazard of salt concentrating in the soils due to irrigation is far below DWR's warning threshold.
Soils. Based on a 7,800 acre sample trending from the base of the Warners to the shore of Middle Alkali Lake located along Cedar and Deep Creeks and including the lands between them (roughly 1.5 miles north/south of Hwy 299), the soil texture ranges from gravel to loam to silt and then clay. The courser textures correspond to alluvial deposition, whereas, the finer sediments originate from Pleistocene and early Holocene lacustrine deposits (Lake Surprise). Similarly, pH ranges from 6.7 along the alluvial fans to 9.2 in soils bordering Middle Alkali Lake.
The combination of various soils allows for range production, irrigated grass hay and irrigated alfalfa. For example, the dominant soil in the sample area, Bidwell ashy loam yields almost 6 tons/acre of irrigated alfalfa and 1,067 lbs/acre of range forage. The more gravelly upslope soils possess range yields over 1,000 lbs/acre and about 1,000 lbs/acre for alfalfa. The lacustrine based soils are more variable and to a certain degree more specialized in terms of favorable crop yields. For example, Lolak silty clays near the shore of Middle Alkali Lake produce 1,500 lbs. of range forage/acre, but are not well suited for irrigated alfalfa. Located further upslope from the Lolak silty clays, the Hussa ashy clay soils (lacustrine origin) respond quite well to irrigation with alfalfa and grass hay yields of over 5 tons/acre However, they are not as suitable to range forage.
Crops. Native to the Near East (Iran) where water balance deficits are the norm, as well as irrigation based societies, alfalfa, constututes the chief irrigated crop of Surprise Valley. A legume, alfalfa, fixes atmospheric nitrogen to the soil thereby enhancing its fertility. Consumed locally by beef cattle or exported to Central Valley dairies, Surprise Valley's alfalfa possesses favorable crude protein (CP) and total digestible nutrient (TDN) contents, but these are contingent upon "when" the alfalfa is cut. For example, during the budding stage CP and TDN average about 20-21% and 55% respectively. Late in its bloom stage (when flowers are present) CP declines to 15% and TDN to 31%.
Field alfalfa averages 75% moisture. Once cut, a series of mechanical conditioners within the swather crimp the stems to hasten drying upon being deposited into windrows. Solar radiation and a slight breeze near the surface work to lower moisture rates to < 20% in roughly 72-96 hours. Subsequently, baling operations commence. If the hay is too dry the baler will shred too many leaves and the quality degrades. If the hay is too wet, then mold issues can ensue. Dried windrowed hay (< 20% moisture) baled early in the morning with dew inhibits leaf loss. Because the dew is atmospheric moisture rather than moisture from inside the plant, it more freely dissipates once baled thereby mitigating the formation of mold
Physical Environmental Meaning. The diversity of soils as reflected by the combination of alluvial and lacustrine-based deposits originating from the oscillating glacial and interglacial phases of the Pleistocene means that alfalfa, range forage and irrigated grass hay are not only possible, but sustainable in Surprise Valley. The water supply based on surface runoff and groundwater extraction allows for the critical irrigation component of raising forage-based crops. The near ten thousand-foot Warner Mountains, located downwind of the Cascades are absolutely critical in orographically wringing-out up to 35 inches of precipitation, which ultimately supplies the surface and ground waters of Surprise Valley. For example, further east in Long Valley, Nevada ranch operations mirroring the scope of Surprise Valley are impossible due to the aridity borne of yet another rain-shadow from the Hays Canyon Range (Fig 9). Finally, Surprise Valley's base elevation of 4,500 feet and a latitude of nearly 42°N tempers potential evaporation and the need for irrigation water. For example, in lower latitude and elevation basins such the Imperial Valley, CA massive diversions from the Colorado River are needed to sustain an irrigation-based agricultural regime.
Irrigation. Water delivery technology in Surprise Valley ranges from flooding meadows to the use of wheel lines with rain-birds to deliver a steady spray of water with intensities that avoid damaging the leaves of the alfalfa plants (Fig 10). Developed in the middle 1960's for use on the High Plains of Nebraska and Kansas, center pivot units have been more recently utilized. Used in a 160-acre field, a pivot produces a roughly 130-acre circle. Their chief advantage over the smaller and more numerous wheel lines is their lower labor cost and the ability to automate the application chemical inputs. However, they require quarter section (160-acre) fields to maximize economies of scale.
Sense of Place. The physical environment sets the stage for the seasonal rhythms of certain operations and activities. For example, early spring means calving, late spring means driving the cattle to summer ranges, summer means growing hay/forage and the periodic round-up and movement of stock on the various ranges located mostly in Nevada. The fall season is noted for the return of cattle to the home ranches in Surprise Valley, while winter is a time for feeding and doctoring the sick animals. Cultural activities such as the Fair, which occur at or near the end of the growing season, are is indicative of European traditions dating back over 1,000 years. Similarly, late evening community-BBQs in the summer reflect the fandangos of colonial California, while winter activities such as the New Years dance reinforce a seasonal cycle. The variety, yet repetition and predictability of all of these variables, I argue generates a strong sense of place that is not easily lost or discarded and forms a stark contrast to the homogenization of much of the contemporary American landscape.
Cultural/Legal Institutions. Dating back to open range grazing on the High Plains following the Civil War where the Law of Customary Use prevailed, the ability to graze livestock on Bureau of Land Management ranges in Nevada and US Forest Service lands in the Warners greatly affects ranching in Surprise Valley (Figs. 11 and 12). The Law of Customary Use was essentially an informal mode of range management, wherein ranchers posted notice in local newspapers stating where and how many head of cattle were grazing. Others were expected to heed such boundaries. In many ways, this practice comprised an extrapolation of Mining law as applied to the open range rather than the streambed. Due to a lack of baseline environmental data (especially inter-annual ppt variability) and a classic application of Hardin's Tragedy of the Commons, the Law of Customary Use failed.
In 1934, the Taylor Grazing Act directed the federal government to issue discretionary permits for grazing on "public lands." These permits state how many animal units (amt forage a 1,000 lb. steer consumes in one month) are allowed and when and where they can be present. Subject to periodic review and renewal, their conditions of approval could change depending on many variables such as range condition, drought conditions and so forth. In 1976, Congress passed the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), which mandated that the BLM and USFS develop long term plans that balanced a multiple sets of interests, e.g. grazing, mining, recreation and wildlife preservation. Grazing permits subsequently became a means of implementing the broader goals of FLPMA
Irrigation laws and technologies parallel the cultural institutions regulating grazing. Irrigation is based on the doctrine of prior appropriation, which means water can be diverted from the stream or well head and transported overland for use elsewhere. Dating from California's Gold Rush in 1849, where water often moved several miles from its source for use elsewhere in hydraulic or placer mining, appropriation became recognized by the California Supreme Court in 1855. Surprise Valley operates under an appropriation scheme. Irrigation technology benefited greatly with the advent of electric jet turbine pumps in the 1930's, which accentuated the feasibility ground water extraction. The advent of wheel lines and later center pivots meant water could be applied more efficiently and over more acres than traditional flooding.
Local Meaning. The ability to graze on government lands in the Warners or out in Nevada is a multiplier, which allows for more intensive ranching operations because the lands in Surprise Valley are seasonally relieved from grazing. Consequently, they can be used to grow forage for the winter. Take away this multiplier and ranching operations while not completely ceasing, would definitely contract. Similarly, the irrigation technologies and legal institutions governing water extraction and application likewise multiplied the aggregate acreage and yields per acre. These interlocking physical and cultural variables led to an economic base centered on cattle ranching on a scale in the late 20th century that could not have occurred in the 1800's.
Local Meaning vs. National Trends. I argue the cultural institutions that promoted grazing and irrigation reflect two fundamental assumptions. The first assumes a society based on production of goods rather than consumer services. In a production based society, the planned and orderly use of natural resources to produce products for the common good prevailed. This situation encapsulated the wise-use or conservation paradigm of Presidents Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt. Preservation paradigms aimed at maintaining or restoring a completely natural landscape with nominal or zero human imprints were of secondary priority. The case of the Federal government allowing the Tuolumne River in Yosemite to be dammed in 1913 and thus serve as San Francisco's water supply is often cited as turning point in the reign of conservation over preservation. I argue the failure of Congress to allow for drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) is the early 21st century reciprocal.
Indeed, since the 1970's, the U.S. economy and its society have slowly but steadily evolved into today's consumer-based economy. Presently, environmental preservation, as opposed to the Roosevelt era's conservation or wise-use of resources, means that a pristine environment becomes a salable product to be purchased directly by tourists visiting the area or indirectly by distant clienteles who by "psychologically knowing" the landscape is being managed more for preserving natural habitat and/or ancient archeological sites have in effect exercised a purchase of such, as an in-situ commodity. In cases where such a product is not easily obtained in situ, restoration attempts are instead operationalized. Illustrative of the latter, the reintroduction of wolves and grizzly bears and the dam removal movement are indicative of a robustly applied preservation paradigm. The managing agencies (USFS and BLM) thus become the middle agent in this epic struggle of values, where the more preservation oriented values attempt through the legal process to force out or significantly reduce the wise-use or traditional conservation oriented values of an earlier era.
The second assumption hinges on developing and maintaining a strong rural-based economy centered on numerous farms or ranches as a national priority. In essence, this assumption operationalizes the Jeffersonian agricultural Ideal, something that was well entrenched in the Founding philosophies of the United States and operated well into the 20th century. The decision to alienate vast amounts of the public domain through various Congressional Acts (Pre-Emption Act 1841, Homestead Act 1862, Timber and Stone Act 1873) to private parties predicated on agricultural development and settlement are classic 19th century examples of implementing this Ideal. More recent 20th century examples include subsidizing irrigation works, mail delivery, rural electrification and telephone service and the numerous farm programs aimed at stabilizing farm income, yet providing for an at-large affordable food supply. These assumptions have profound meaning for Surprise Valley because its physical environmental variables and traditional cultural institutions are products of a producer oriented society wherein strong rural-based agricultural economies constituted a national priority with resources marshaled in the context of producing goods, rather than buying them at the lowest possible cost, from suppliers located anywhere worldwide.
The recent Beef Free movement and the public's sympathy for unregulated Wild Horses pit clashes between two fundamentally different sets of values borne of a producer vs. consumer culture. The "Beef Free in 93" movement, which upon the inauguration of President Clinton, sought to remove livestock all together from public (government) lands. This position was paralleled by a zero-cut advocacy on USFS lands by various environmental interests. The "Beef Free" movement felt the BLM provided too much subsidy to ranchers using government land. What is often missed in this line of argumentation is that such beneficiaries (ranchers) all pay income tax and employ workers who also pay income tax. Consequently, if the subsidy overtly increases profits these will be recaptured on the 1040 form. The Beef Free movement also appeared to have a strong vegetarian underpinning as well, something that again reflects a more urban clientele operating in the context of trying to remove institutions that counter their version of environmental panacea.
Removal of livestock from government land would have serious repercussions for Surprise Valley. With its multiplier effect reduced if not eliminated, ranching operations would be forced into a situation where fewer ranches control the Surprise Valley acres. Overall production would decrease markedly and the contracted economic base would not be able to support as many locally based goods and services (Fig 13). Significant out migration pressures would be exerted on the locals, especially the young people and simply maintaining adequate population thresholds would become a challenge.
Although the Beef Free movement failed, its adherents can still use litigation to challenge federal land management planning, its inherent environmental documentation (EIS process) and the issuance of permits. Such litigation, often funded by outside special interests, either overturns decisions predicated on a more producer oriented paradigm or at least drags-out the process and thereby increases the costs associated with uncertainty. The consequences of such decisions and costs are borne more disproportionately upon the local ranchers, which then spills-over into the local community at-large.
The second instance involves the fascination with wild horses out in Nevada. In 1971 Congress passed the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act, which directed the BLM and USFS to manage wild horses and burros to "maintain a thriving ecological balance on the public lands." Challenged by New Mexico as unconstitutional, the U.S. Supreme Court decree in Kleppe v Sierra Club (426 US 529, 1976) held its constitutionality in a unanimous decision that reversed the appeals court. However, wild horses are not really wild, they are feral, and comprise an exotic species that competes with cattle in terms of grazing (Fig 14). Some argue that the wild horses symbolize the West. After all, they are free spirits. Personally, I think cowboys/cowgirls moving cattle on saddle horses are a more appropriate symbol because they constitute substance and are rooted in a historical reality steeped in the Jeffersonian Ideal rather than a fleeting mental image based on whims and fiction. An over population of feral horses is simply a nuisance and should be dealt with accordingly.