Ranch Sustainability Assessment: Economic, Ecological, - Social Indicator Monitoring

Final Report for EW10-020

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2010: $85,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: Western
State: Wyoming
Principal Investigator:
Dr. John Tanaka
University of Wyoming
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Project Information



This Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (WSARE) grant focused on creating a workshop series to assist rangeland professionals working with ranchers to better align rancher’s business plan goals with capability of the ranch’s rangeland resources, to improve the viability and sustainability of family ranches. Strategically monitoring the condition of soil, water, vegetation, wildlife, livestock production, and economics helps inform business plan goals. Business planning and resource monitoring helps keep ranchers on the land, supports the well-being of rangeland-dependent communities and helps conserve the rural way-of-life. To work towards this mission, the Sustainable Rangelands Roundtable (SRR) formed a working group to develop a monitoring framework for ecological, economic, and social sustainability that functions within ranchers’ business plans. Two workshops were held in conjunction with annual meetings of the Society for Range Management, one in Billings, Montana during 2011 and the other in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in 2103. Both workshops were well attended and well-received, with a full day of presentations from university extension personnel, agency leadership, and business planning professionals. Communication materials shared at the workshops included a workshop coursebook to help participants track the presentations, a Sustainable Ranch Management Guidebook to work through with their ranchers, and a copy of a booklet on Sustainable Rangeland Ecosystem Goods and Services. In addition, these materials and workshop presentations are available on the SRR website http://sustainablerangelands.org. An article highlighting this sustainable ranch management program was also written and published in the Wyoming Livestock Roundup in October 2011, followed by a more detailed article featured in the journal Rangelands in February 2012. Exhibits and poster presentations were also used to share information on this effort at annual meetings of the Soil and Water Conservation Society, Ecological Society of America, and Society for Range Management.

Project Objectives:

Objectives/Performance Targets

The SRR ranch assessment workgroup members met performance targets for this WSARE supported project by successfully organizing and presenting two full-day professional development workshops for rangeland specialists. The SRR workgroup coordinated and led the planning and coordination meetings and workshops originally proposed to WSARE to expand rangeland professionals’ awareness and use of this framework for indicator-based assessments of ranch sustainability as articulated in ranchers’ individual business plan goals. Planning and coordination meetings were used to develop program outlines and products for the professional development workshops. These workshops were designed to involve not only university personnel, but also agency staff and producers, where practical. Partnerships critical to this project were already in place due to participant involvement in the SRR’s 8-year history of regional and national rangeland sustainability indicator assessment efforts. Strong relationships exist with professional societies such as the SRM, the ESA, and the NACD; industry associations such as the National Grazing Lands Coalition, Public Lands Council, and Wyoming State Grazing Board; federal land management and technical assistance agencies such as FS, BLM, and NRCS; and extension experts throughout the Western United States. The professional development workshops were held in conjunction with the Society for Range Management Annual Meetings in Billings, Montana during February 2011 and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma during February 2013. The second SRM workshop deviated from original proposed plans due to lower than predicted attendance at the Soil and Water Conservation Society’s Annual meetings as a result of federal government travel restrictions. Low attendance numbers at SWCS meetings necessitated twice rescheduling the final workshop to ensure the largest potential audience was reached. The final coordination session was more focused on evaluation of the overall ranch indicator assessment project, including feedback from professional development workshop participants, with the broader membership of the SRR, held during December 2013.



As competing demands vie for increasingly finite rangeland resources, availability of consistent, comparable economic, social, and ecological information will foster informed, sound decision making relative to sustainable rangeland ecosystems and ranches. Rangeland professionals must be aware and prepared to assist ranchers in collecting, compiling, and evaluating relevant data to support their diversified business plan goals.

While ranchers endeavor to stay on the land and adapt their business practices to changing markets and demands for various goods and services, collection of monitoring data to track trends in elements elaborated in their business plan goals will become increasingly important to the long-term sustainability of their ranch operations. Ranchers rely on informed, competent technical assistance professionals for help. For example, the amount of land available nationally for livestock forage production is expected to decrease over the next 50 years. However, the actual rate will depend upon environmental issues, government policies, urban and exurban sprawl, and increased recreation demand. Conversely, grazing land use for wildlife habitat, as well as wildlife-related human activities, is projected to increase during the same period (Van Tassell et al. 2001). Tracking trends in supply and demand of livestock and wildlife forage and associated products can help ranchers appropriately allocate efforts and investments in feed, equipment, labor, and land. Rangeland professionals with knowledge of business planning processes, diversification and use of monitoring information can assist ranchers.

Additionally, managing for multiple goals including cattle production, migrant bird habitat and rare plants can be economically and socially beneficial to individual ranchers and communities, increasing income and conservation. Arizona’s Malpai Borderlands Group has developed a grassbank that offers ranchers an opportunity to rest grazed areas without selling cattle or land. This reserve improves rangeland condition, creates additional wildlife habitat, and minimizes subdivision through land sales. Similarly, The Nature Conservancy’s (TNC) Red Canyon Ranch has seen both a 50 percent increase in calf production and an improvement in rangeland condition, demonstrating that ecologically sound management is economically profitable (Jensen 2001). Rangeland professionals need knowledge, skills, and abilities to help ranchers understand and implement such sustainable rangeland management practices.

Ecologists, land managers, and conservation organizations attest that profitable cattle ranching operations can enhance conservation, since keeping ranches intact prevents subdivision development and protects biodiversity (Jensen 2001). Moreover, livestock grazing advocates point to studies showing increases in mean total bird densities in conjunction with increased grazing (Kantrud 1981); greater species richness of grassland birds on moderately grazed areas (Kantrud and Kologiski 1983); and the importance of grazed areas as preferred habitat for certain species of rare orchids (McClaran and Sundt 1992). By increasing species richness of bird populations or maintaining habitat for rare orchids, ranchers may be able to increase their income by allowing bird watchers or flower enthusiasts to visit their ranches and search out these entities for consumptive or non-consumptive recreation; several publications have documented the economic benefits of recreation for ranchers in terms of diversifying income (Butler 1990, Berger 1973) and increasing property values (Rowan and Workman 1992).

Access to informed rangeland professionals can only enhance rancher participation in monitoring activities. Therefore, we plan to maximize knowledge, awareness, skills, and abilities of rangeland professionals through workshops focusing on rangeland monitoring to support and inform rancher’s business plan goals.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Dr. Larry Bryant
  • Stanley Hamilton
  • Dr. Kristie Maczko
  • Dr. John Mitchell
  • Dr. Michael Smith
  • Dr. John Tanaka

Education & Outreach Initiatives




Methods for this Professional Development Project included 2 planning meetings to finalize content, products, and materials for the 2 larger professional development workshops. Two planning meetings were attended by SRR ranch sustainability indicator assessment workgroup members and ran approximately 2-days each, with a travel day on each end of the meetings. Information about the ranch sustainability indicator assessment process also was made available on a dedicated webpage, and advertised with registration materials for the associated national meetings with which the workshops occurred. The 2 larger professional development workshops lasted 1 day each, in conjunction with the aforementioned national meetings, held in Montana and Oklahoma.

Participants received an introduction and overview of the ranch sustainability indicator assessment goals and process, ecosystem services evaluation for alternative income streams, key elements, and pilot project ranch progress and available results (pilot ranch located in Texas). Integration of social, economic, and ecological aspects was highlighted. Remaining time was spent on techniques to collect data required for the ranch sustainability indicator assessment, as well as evaluation and integration of the data to inform progress toward goals elaborated in the rancher’s business plans.

Products developed for distribution at the workshops include workshop material notebooks of approximately 50-70 pages, coil bound with cardstock covers, for durability and ease of use. The workshop notebook provides an overview of sustainability principles at the ranch level, emphasizing integration of economic, social, and ecological information. Applications on federal allotments, as well as within the NRCS conservation planning context for private lands are addressed. A section dealt specifically with collection of traditional monitoring data for soils, water, plant, animals, productive capacities, economic aspects, and relevant social, legal, and institutional elements. Another segment presented frameworks for evaluation of rangeland ecosystem services for alternative income streams. A final section discussed trend analysis and interpretation of the various types of data recommended for collection. A simple evaluation/recommendation form was distributed to all workshop participants, to inform the subsequent session dealing with evaluation of these workshops. An electronic survey was also administered approximately one year after the workshop had concluded to gauge use of workshop material in participants’ job settings. Electronic versions of workshop material are available on the SRR website, with a page dedicated to the ranch sustainability indicator assessment project.

Outreach and Publications


Maczko, K. and J. Tanaka. 2011. Do you know if your ranch is sustainable? Wyoming Livestock Roundup, Casper, WY. http://www.wylr.net/columns/guest-editorials/245-uw-staff/2368-do-you-know-if-your-ranch-is-sustainable. Accessed April 23, 2014.

Hamilton, S., C. Garretson-Weibel, J. Mitchell, M. Smith, D. Powell, C. Quimby, G. Fults, C. Stanley, J. Tanaka, K. Maczko, J.K. Brite, D. Loper, N. Hansen, and L. Bryant. 2011. Sustainable Ranch Management Assessment Guidebook. University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension Service Publication B-1216. 67 p.

Maczko, Kristie A., John A. Tanaka, Michael Smith, Cindy Garretson-Weibel, Stanley F. Hamilton, John E. Mitchell, Gene Fults, Charles Stanley, Dick Loper, Larry D. Bryant, and J. K. “Rooter” Brite, Jr. 2012. Ranch Business Planning and Resource Monitoring for Rangeland Sustainability. Rangelands: February 2012, Vol. 34, No. 1, pp. 11-18.

Workshop coursebook of presenter’s slides available at http://www.sustainablerangelands.org/ranchassessment/pdf/coursebook.pdf . Accessed April 23, 2014.

Summary handout available at http://www.sustainablerangelands.org/ranchassessment/pdf/RSAHandout5.pdf. Accessed April 23, 2014.

Exhibit poster available at http://www.sustainablerangelands.org/pdf/RSAP_poster_ed1.pdf. Accessed April 23, 2014. This poster was shared at annual meetings and conferences of the Society for Range Management, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Soil and Water Conservation Society, and Ecological Society of America.

Outcomes and impacts:

Outcomes and Impacts

Based on post-workshop survey results, workshops increased participating professionals’ knowledge of indicator-based assessment of social, economic, and ecological sustainability at the ranch level, as well as the evolution and applicability of the rangeland sustainability paradigm. Participants became more aware of the business planning process and its interactions with NRCS conservation plans and available technical assistance through NRCS and extension.

The techniques segments of these workshops provided professionals with an opportunity to increase their awareness of rangeland monitoring techniques applicable to soils, water, plants, animals, productive capacities, economic aspects, and social, legal and institutional elements characterized by the baseline set of SRR ranch sustainability indicators. By increasing their skill in using available monitoring techniques, professionals also may have improved their capacity to share their knowledge with ranchers and other rangeland management practitioners. Awareness of relationships between monitoring information and business plan goals is highly beneficial. In general participants responded positively to both workshops, both in the onsite surveys administered immediately after the workshop, and in the subsequent survey administered one year later.

Table 1. Ranch Sustainability Assessment: Monitoring and Business Planning – Onsite Workshop Evaluation Responses – February 2011.

Table 2. One-Year Follow-up Survey and Results: Ranch Sustainability Assessment Workshop, February 2011.

Table 3. Ranch Sustainability Assessment: Monitoring and Business Planning - Onsite Workshop Evaluation Responses – February 2013.

Table 4. One Year Follow-up Survey and Results: Ranch Sustainability Assessment Workshop, February 2013.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:


The major accomplishments achieved through completion of this project are enumerated throughout the report. In addition to organizing and presenting two full-day workshops, supporting communication and outreach materials listed under Publications and Outreach were created. These items include a popular article in the Wyoming Livestock Roundup; a peer-reviewed piece published in the journal Rangelands; a Sustainable Ranch Management Assessment Guidebook; a companion coursebook to assist workshop participants with following presentation content; a summary handout for use at exhibits and tradeshows; and an exhibit poster. Products generated for the Professional Development workshops also laid the foundation for a possible expansion of the Sustainable Ranch Management program to an audience of ranchers. These materials also may be adopted and adapted by the US Collaboration on Sustainable Beef, as a basis for sustainable ranching in the United States.


Potential Contributions

Potential Contributions

In the long term, with knowledge of the ecological, social, and economic elements of sustainability, as well as the skills to monitor, track trends, and evaluate outcomes of management activities, professionals should be able to implement and communicate this information and ability to the communities that they support. If a majority of rangeland professionals eventually assist ranchers and other rangeland managers with planning and monitoring for rangeland sustainability, the ecological and economic health of ranchers and the rangeland-dependent communities in which they live should improve, conserving a unique way of life and the supplies of rangeland goods and services upon which society depends.

Future Recommendations

Future Recommendations

It was suggested by multiple workshop participants and external partners that it would be very useful to develop a workshop series based on the sustainable ranch management material specifically for ranchers. While the professional development workshops were useful for their target audience, ranchers who happened to participate were eager to see the information packaged and presented in a format that focused specifically on a target audience of ranchers. The Sustainable Rangelands Roundtable is currently in discussion with several partners to explore the potential to create materials and workshops for an audience of ranchers.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.