Cows are one of my favorite animals, and as everyone who rode in the car with me on the trip can attest to, I was really excited to see free range cattle roaming the reservation. I was markedly less excited when I saw cattle crammed into a tiny pasture on our drive to Ajo. These conditions, so different that what I have seen driving through Ohio and even in Rockbridge County, got me thinking about the implications of cattle ranching in the desert. While our readings talked about cattle adjusting to desert life and certain breeds being better equipped for the harsh environment than others, the small pasture on the side of the highway did not seem nearly large enough to support as many cows as were present, even if it had been lush with grass. I was glad to see that the cows on the reservation meandered about at their own will, but upon further reading this also brought up some concerns.
While we were on the reservation, the topic of cattle ranching came up, and the tribal members explained that there really was no regulation of cattle. While one part of me was glad to hear that the cattle can roam free and do whatever they please, the more practical side of me still wondered if this made the most sense. As cute and interesting as they are, cows in large numbers can have destructive effects on ecosystems by overgrazing. For the sake of the environment, while still considering the well-being of the cattle, it would make sense for the tribe to have some regulation about overgrazing and cattle ranching more generally. In the 1930’s, the government tried to enforce regulations, but the tribe “rejected the government's contention that they should reduce their livestock to carrying capacity” (Parman, 29). This idea, echoed in the first-hand answers we received on the reservation, doesn’t make sense to me. Although ranching isn’t a primary economic activity on the reservation, there should still be some guidelines in place. For me, it seems antithetical to Tohono O’odham beliefs about the importance of desert plants to allow overgrazing of domesticated cows. Preserving the desert is certainly a concern of the tribe, but for some reason that does not seem to extend to the damage done by cattle.