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Book Review

The View from Bald Hill: Thirty Years in an Arizona Grassland
by Carl E. Bock and Jane H. Bock

Reviewed by Dave Hallock

Carl and Jane Bock need no introduction to the Boulder County ecological community.  As biology professors at the University of Colorado, they have been involved in numerous local research projects, sat as advisors on many boards providing important input to local land managers, and have been regular contributors to the BCNA sponsored Ecosystem Symposium.

One of their most interesting research ventures has taken place on the Sonoita Plains of southeastern Arizona at the Appleton-Whittell Research Ranch.  For 30 years they have studied the ecology of this 7,800 acre ranch, whose grasslands have not been subjected to cattle grazing since the late 1960s.

The View from Bald Hill is a summary of their observations throughout the 30 years.  While much of what is presented is based on scientific research, the book has really been written for non-scientists, including naturalists and land stewards.  The book is a nice combination of data, personalized accounts, thoughts and feelings which make for pleasurable yet informative reading, what the writer of the book's forward calls "science with a heart."

Observations and issues touched upon in the book are numerous in subject and varied in scale. They deal with native versus exotic grasses, grazed versus ungrazed grasslands, and suburbanized versus natural landscapes.  Fire, rain and climate change are some of the processes discussed that influence ecological cycles, trends and events.  And many of the stories are told through the research findings on a host of organisms, including bunchgrass lizards, Mojave rattlesnakes, Mexican jays, acorn woodpeckers, plains lovegrass, cotton rats, grasshoppers, deer mice, coyotes, and a variety of sparrows.

The beauty of the research ranch is it provides a control area with which to compare ecological change with a surrounding landscape that is generally grazed by livestock.  The 30 year time perspective is also significant.  Many range managers feel that a lack of grazing is just as bad as overgrazing to native grasslands.  In this book the Bocks present information about an ungrazed site where many native grasses and related organisms appear to be flourishing. As they appropriately state:

Certain ranchers and range managers have predicted that grasslands on the Research Ranch will degrade over time without some sort of essential stimulation provided by livestock. Perhaps they are right.  Our goal is to monitor post-grazing ecological changes, whatever they are.  If the sanctuary eventually becomes as barren as a strip mall parking lot, then our studies will have documented the importance of livestock in sustaining the southwestern plains.  But don't bet on it.

 

B.C.N.A.
P.O. Box 493
Boulder, CO
80306