Literature Study GuidesA Sand County AlmanacPart 2 Oregon And Utah Summary

A Sand County Almanac | Study Guide

Aldo Leopold

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A Sand County Almanac | Part 2, Oregon and Utah : Sketches Here and There | Summary

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Summary

Cheat Takes Over

In another botanical sketch, animal and plant pests often work together to make sure every place gets its "quota of uninvited ecological guests." Where one pest cannot go, another can, and so disease and weeds spread. Early settlers brought with them weeds, including cheat grass, an annual weed. This weed thrives on the overgrazed and eroding earth. Although the cheat grass is a similar color as native grasses, it is ecologically inferior. When mature, the cheat grass is inedible to livestock. It is also very flammable, putting the remaining edible plants at risk. The problems caused by cheat grass may not be evident to the casual tourist, but they are real. As winter snow covers the foothills, livestock may be fed by ranchers but wildlife do not have that luxury, so loss of plant food poses a danger to the wild animals. Yet areas where cheat grass has invaded have made use of it to feed livestock and prevent erosion. At best it is accepted as a necessary evil.

Analysis

In this sketch Leopold describes what happens when a non-native plant replaces a native one in an ecosystem. The cheat grass is similar enough to occupy the same place in the overall ecosystem, but it is a poor replacement for the native grasses since it is unable to meet the needs of the grazing wildlife as well as the native grasses did. In addition, it makes the risk of fire higher than the ecosystem is used to.

Leopold's writing is full of descriptions of the problems humans cause inadvertently and their often-inadequate attempts to mitigate the harm caused. In this example he sees the dangers caused by what are now recognized as invasive species, noting the human component in introducing these species to places where they can cause harm to existing ecosystems. In response to the problem of cheat grass ranchers and farmers could supplement their own livestock's diets, but this solution solved only part of the problem since it did not take into account the needs of wildlife.

Although the situation described is not ideal, Leopold does show that both pests and humans are adaptable. Animal and plant pests have strategies for moving into new places (where they are not wanted), and humans try to make the best of a bad situation. He does not offer any perfect solutions to the problem of invasive species, however; readers are left with a sense that an ecosystem affected by an invading pest is permanently diminished, even if it manages to survive.

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