Cattle might seem dumb, but they really have remarkable communication and homing skills. As Autumn and cold weather started kicking in, most of the cattle were rounded up in the high country meadows and trucked back to ranches lower down. In that terrain, that could amount to several hours of truck driving itself, even after the cattle reached the road. But a some of them would still hang around in the high country, and wander the whole way back by themselves, right to their original barn.

There were certain abuses to the meadows of course. But overall, most of the ranchers I knew were quite responsible stewards of the land; otherwise, they'd go broke. We locals tended to be more pissed off at the huge horse convoys of the Sierra Club and how they set up little tent cities in the high meadows, and even held horse races in the fragile meadows. That kind of hypocrisy inevitable got reined in too; but it took an awfully long time.

Sheep got everywhere, and were deeply resented by the cattle ranchers. That era ended way back. But it's remarkable where sheep got driven, like over Jigsaw Pass in the Inconsolable Range, or over Tunemah Pass on the Middle Fork of the Kings - a route so miserably tough that the term, Tunemah, is said to be a Chinese expletive so obscene that it's impossible to translate into English. I wonder if anyone ever since the herders of the 19thC has even tried to get up Tunemah Pass again. Even mountaineers dispute its exact location. If I had extended another fifty off-trail miles to an already hundred mile long backpack trip, I might have gotten to the point where I could hypothetically look down it from above.

In terms of wildfire control, cattle became our allies keeping the grass down, once native American control burns had culturally ceased. The action of their hooves aerating soil replaced that of former herbivores like elk and antelope. Half of my property was buzzed down, the rest grazed by cattle and horses. Thoughtfully done, the result was amazing. I once counted 33 different species of wildflowers blooming on the property on the very same day, not counting blooming shrubs, perhaps six more species. How many different flower species annually? - gosh, maybe sixty or more. In the Regional Parks here, cattle are likewise selectively used for sake of range health. The Nature Conservancy has also formed mutually beneficial alliances with cattle ranchers. Yes, they produce a lot of methane; but they also fertilize things in a manner which leads to greater vegetative biomass, and hence more carbon trapping. An interesting subject overall, with a lot of revisionary thinking going on.

"Squatter rights" cattle turned loose on BLM or FS land is a whole other topic. I've certainly had my share of run-ins with those types.