The Montana State University Extension Range Management Institute conducted workshops focused on rangeland ecology and management principles for Extension field faculty and land managers. Four initial workshops and two Level 2 workshops were hosted and attended by participants from MSU Extension, the National Center for Appropriate Technology, and the Montana State University Northern Agricultural Research Center. Workshops included 88 participants representing all MSU Extension regions of Montana. Evaluations of programs indicated an increase in knowledge and confidence, as well as intention to incorporate these concepts into Extension programming. With this knowledge, participants will be more effective when assisting agricultural producers in making management decisions on their operations that are beneficial to the rangelands they rely upon for their livelihoods, including the potential, limitations, capacity, and function of their rangeland ecosystems.
The objectives of this project were to:
- Host initial workshops across Montana focused on basic rangeland ecology and management principles. The goal of these workshops was to increase knowledge of Extension field faculty regarding rangeland ecology and management concepts and techniques.
- Increase knowledge of rangeland ecology and management concepts of field faculty; increase confidence of field faculty to teach and apply these concepts; and networking among field faculty.
- Host two additional workshop’s (i.e., Level 2 workshops) with more specific foci with the goal to increase confidence in attendees when assisting clientele with in-depth rangeland management decisions.
- Foster participation in the Level 2 workshops by field faculty that attended the initial workshops, as a means to develop a more comprehensive knowledge base for clientele assistance across Montana.
- Increase the incidence of field faculty teaching rangeland ecology and management concepts to producers and land managers in their county.
- Develop a peer mentoring network across Montana through exposure of experienced faculty and inexperienced faculty in neighboring counties during workshops.
Rangeland comprises approximately 70% of the land area in Montana, and is found in every Montana county. Ranches with rangeland livestock production enterprises, an industry that contributes a significant amount of income to Montana’s economy, rely heavily on rangelands to support their livelihood. Cattle and calves, the agricultural industry that relies predominantly on rangelands, brings in $1.1 billion in cash receipts in Montana, and in today’s economy, where input costs of production on farms and ranches are extremely high, rangeland pasture-based livestock production provides a relatively low-input option for raising livestock. In addition to being a critical component of sustainable agriculture in Montana and the West, rangeland livestock production systems that are managed correctly can naturally maintain plant community health, soil integrity, water quality, and wildlife habitat.
As a result of a focus group that convened at Montana State University Extension’s 2010 Annual Conference, this project was initiated to provide in-depth training for Montana Extension field faculty and other land managers in rangeland ecology and management principles. Ultimately, the goal was to provide baseline knowledge for educators to more effectively assist agricultural producers in more effectively and efficiently management of the rangelands they rely upon for their livelihood. With increased knowledge of basic and in-depth rangeland concepts, educators can more confidently provide sound, research-based information to livestock producers regarding the potential, limitations, capacity, and function of their rangeland ecosystems. Adoption of this information can serve as a vector to help ranchers more sustainably manage their native pasture resources and will help ranchers maintain their livelihoods by maximizing their production in a low-input system. Helping ranchers sustain their resources and their livelihoods ultimately contributes to a reduction in land fragmentation, which contributes to an overall increase in landscape health and helps preserve the heritage of rural communities in Montana.
Education & Outreach Initiatives
Initial workshops included classroom learning and/or field demonstration, led by the Project Coordinators. The classroom portion of the workshops focused on five main subject areas, with multiple topics under each main subject area. The five subject areas included: 1) Rangeland Ecology Principles, such as defining rangelands; rangeland uses; plant community characteristics and dynamics; basic plant physiology; plant-animal interactions; and seasonal changes in forage nutritional value, 2) Rangeland Management Principles, such as setting realistic ecologic and economic management unit goals and considering limitations; plant identification; the importance of timing, intensity, frequency, duration of grazing; understanding factors that affect animal distribution; and setting stocking rates, 3) Management Tools to Improve Efficiency, such as grazing systems; water development; fences; and other improvements, 4) Rangeland Metrics and Monitoring, such as quantifying plant community characteristics; determining forage production of a pasture; measuring herbaceous and woody disappearance; and long-term and short-term monitoring techniques, and 5) Current and Emerging Issues on Rangelands, such as the debate over continuous versus rotational grazing, impact of wolves and grizzly bears on rangeland distribution and animal health; and the implications of the Endangered Species Act on rangeland management. Participants were supplied with a set of educational resources covering all topic areas covered.
In the field portion of the initial workshops, local ranchers provided field sites for demonstration and hands-on learning. Participants were exposed to various grazing systems and pasture types; engaged in a plant identification exercise; and practiced clipping and weighing to determine carrying capacity of pastures, as well as both short-term and long-term monitoring techniques. Each participant was supplied with a complete set of field equipment that they used in the field exercises and were able to take back to their work stations for future use. The goal was that the resources and equipment, coupled with knowledge and increased confidence in the subject matter, would serve as a catalyst for successful program implementation at the county level.
Level 2 Workshops:
Two Level 2 workshops were conducted. The first workshop, Grazing Management Planning, was a three-day workshop focused on concepts that will assist livestock producers with evaluating overall enterprise status and relating that to goals and available resources. The Project Coordinators presented information on 1) Setting Goals, 2) Resource Inventory, 3) Evaluating Grazing Systems, 4) Enterprise Plans and Partial Budgets, 5) Resource Flow, and 6) Monitoring and Adjustment. The final component of this workshop was to engage teams of participants in a grazing management planning exercise inclusive of all of the components of the workshop. This exercise focused on a real situation in Granite County where a property owner was in need of planning assistance.
The second Level 2 workshop, Ranch and Rangeland Leasing, was a two-day workshop focused on the understanding private, state, and federal leases in Montana. Information was presented by Project Coordinators, as well as representatives from the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC), a private rancher, and Montana State University and University of Idaho Extension Specialists. Information presented in this workshop included 1) History, Function, and Philosophies of U.S. Forest Service, BLM, and DNRC leases; 2) Lessee/Permit Holder Grazing Policy Perspectives of Private and Government Leases; 3) Conflict Resolution Strategies for Public Land Grazing; 4) Financial Considerations for Private, Federal, and State Grazing Permits/Leases; 5) Fixed and Flexible Cash Leases for Ranchers; 6) Hay Land Lease Arrangements; 7) Range and Pasture Grazing Lease Arrangements; and 8) Resources for Estimating Agricultural Costs. Participants were provided with educational resources based on topics presented.
Through this project, the Project Coordinators had a goal of exposing experienced field faculty with less experienced field faculty, developing rapport and trust, and fostering professional relationships between the two groups to establish an informal peer mentoring network among faculty.
Participants of each workshop was provided a binder of curriculum and materials relevant to the subject matter. Those that participated in the four initial workshops were provided a field vest with rangeland measurement and evaluation tools to take back to their duty stations for future use. Items included a field vest equipped with a clipboard, two carpenter’s rules, a clipping hoop, scissors, a forage scale, a hand lens, a compass, a 30-meter tape measure, a Range Plants of Montana book. Those who participated in the Grazing Management Planning workshop received a Garmin Oregon 650 GPS unit with a land ownerships map.
Program impacts were evaluated with quantitative and qualitative methods. Due to the short nature of the grant, only short- and medium-term impacts were achievable. Quantitatively, three of the initial workshops were evaluated using pre- and post-tests of the subject matter and the fourth was evaluated using a post-workshop evaluation tool. The two Level 2 workshops were evaluated at the end of the program using Turning Point®, an anonymous electronic polling tool. Qualitative evaluations were conducted via personal interactions between the Program Coordinators and workshop participants regarding changes in knowledge, behaviors, confidence, and approaches to rangeland management inquiries.
Outreach and Publications
Mosley, T., D. Lucas, and J. Mosley. 2015. The Montana State University Extension Range Management Institute. Abstract. National Association of County Agriculture Agents Annual Conference, Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Mosley, T., D. Lucas, and J. Mosley. 2016. The Montana State University Extension Range Management Institute. Abstract. Society for Range Management Annual Conference, Corpus Christi, Texas.
Through the course of this project, workshops were attended by 88 individuals with rangeland management responsibilities. While a majority of participants were Montana State University Extension field faculty (83), other individuals/organizations/agencies that were represented were the National Center for Appropriate Technology (2), the Montana State University Northern Agricultural Research Center (2), and one rancher from the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation (1). Representation at workshops included participants from across Montana, representing each of the MSU Extension regions with 25 from the western region, 33 from the central region, and 30 from the eastern region of the state. Federal and state agency representatives were involved in presenting information at the Range and Ranchland Leasing workshop, but did not participate as attendees in either the initial or Level 2 workshops.
Of the 88 participants, five attended an initial workshop and one Level 2 workshop, eight attended an initial workshop and both Level 2 workshops, and six attended both Level 2 workshops. These participants demonstrated a desire to deepen their knowledge of rangeland ecology and management principles by attending multiple workshops. A broad spectrum of tenure with MSU Extension was represented in the field faculty that attended workshops, characterized by 20% serving more than 10 years, 25% serving 5-10 years, and 54% serving less than five years. This diversity was highly beneficial to promote peer mentoring across Montana Extension and the high number of new faculty was encouraging as a sign of their intent to better serve clientele in their counties.
Pre- and post-test evaluations of the initial workshops included questions that addressed the breadth of topics taught in the workshops, including rangeland characteristics and restoration and livestock grazing management. Evaluations for the workshops held in Miles City and Helena indicated knowledge was gained by participants. Scores increased by 15 percentage points by the end of these two initial workshops.
For the initial workshop held in conjunction with MSU Extension’s Annual Conference, participants exhibited a high level of pre-existing knowledge. On average, pre-test questions were answered correctly by 76% of participants, with all participants answering 33% of all questions correctly. Post-test responses indicated knowledge gained by participants, with correct responses increasing to 82% and all participants answering 67% of all questions correctly.
Post-workshop evaluations of the initial workshop hosted during the 2016 MSU Extension Agriculture Agent Spring Update indicated participant satisfaction with a 4.89/5.00 overall workshop rating. Participant comments included,
- “Great level of info, very easy to take home to utilize. Thanks for the gift of tools.”
- “Really enjoyed the hands-on, in-field practice on a beautiful day/location. Made the material simple and straightforward, appreciated the take home materials.”
- “The Condensed Range Institute was well prepared and presented. I appreciate the very hands on experience.”
- “Very informative and practical for Extension agents.”
Qualitatively, we determined that over 50% of participants increased their confidence in teaching and applying the concepts presented at the workshops. Follow-up conversations with participants of the initial workshops indicated that participants applied concepts they learned through the workshops in their county programming and when assisting clientele. We received reports from participants that they had greater confidence in addressing client questions pertaining to rangeland resources and effectively applied concepts they learned to local natural resource-related events and issues. Increased faculty confidence has enhanced institutional engagement for land-grant university resources and practitioners of resource stewardship.
One participant extended the knowledge she gained from the workshop to a local working group. She commented, “Just a feather in your hats but by having the Range Institute I felt I was better prepared to present last night and had the tools to put together the presentation.” She also indicated that the presentation promoted positive, useful dialogue among a previously contentious group of participants. Participants have also indicated a high level of interest in multi-county programming around rangeland management topics.
Level 2 Workshops:
Post-workshop evaluations of both the Grazing Management Planning and Ranch and Rangeland Leasing workshops indicated participants increased knowledge and confidence and indicated intent to change behavior when conducting programs in the future.
Grazing Management Planning Evaluation Scores:
- 100% of participants strongly agreed (69%) or agreed (31%) – As a result of this workshop, I feel more confident helping a property owner with management questions.
- 100% of participants strongly agreed (75%) or agreed (25%) – When I work with a property owner, I now understand the importance of asking what their goals for the property are early in the conversation.
- 100% of participants indicated – After participating in this workshop and learning about the Rangeland Health Checklist, I will feel more comfortable/confident helping a landowner to evaluate the health of their rangeland.
- 100% of participants indicated – After participating in this workshop and learning about the Stocking Rate Table for Montana Rangelands, Pastures, and Forests, I will feel more comfortable/confident answering landowner questions about proper stocking rates.
- 100% of participants indicated – After participating in this workshop, I will feel more comfortable/confident helping a landowner explore options for improving cattle grazing distribution.
- 75% of participants indicated – Understanding financial statements is less intimidating after completing the program.
- 75% of participants indicated – When interacting with a landowner, I am now more comfortable with helping inventory resources necessary to evaluate enterprise choices.
- 75% of participants indicated – As an outcome of the MSU Range Management Institute, I am more equipped to assist landowners with describing native range plant community composition and production potential for their land.
- 73% of participants indicated – I plan to include financial considerations as part of ranch/range planning educational programs.
- 94% of participants strongly agreed (47%) or agreed (47%) – As a result of this workshop, I better understand the importance of balancing available resources with resource demand (i.e., human, forage, financial, etc.).
- Participants indicated overall, the quality of the RMI Grazing Management Planning Workshop was excellent (81%) or good (19%).
Ranch and Rangeland Leasing Evaluation Scores:
- 94% of participants strongly agreed (31%) or agreed (63%) – As a result of this workshop, I am more comfortable answering questions about how State, Forest Service, and BLM grazing leases are derived and administered.
- 93% of participants strongly agreed (40%) or agreed (53%) – I now have a better understanding of how state grazing lease rates are calculated.
- 93% of participants indicated – After participating in this workshop, I am now more aware of conflict resolution strategies available for natural resource conflicts in Montana.
- 100% of participants strongly agreed (60%) or agreed (40%) – As a result of this workshop, I have a greater understanding of the variability that exists in establishing private grazing leases.
- 94% of participants strongly agreed (56%) or agreed (38%) – I am now more inclined to emphasize to clients the importance of keeping simple records to establish appropriate lease values.
- 80% of participants strongly agreed (20%) or agreed (60%) – I am now more confident in describing advantages and disadvantages of crop share leases.
- 100% of participants indicated – After participating in this workshop, I am now more likely to engage in discussions with clients regarding leases as a neutral third party.
- 100% of participants strongly agreed (88%) or agreed (12%) – I am now more inclined to emphasize to clients the importance and benefits of written lease agreements.
- 100% of participants strongly agreed (35%) or agreed (65%) – I am now more confident assisting clients with setting a stocking rate for consideration in a grazing lease.
- 75% of participants indicated – As a result of this workshop, I am more likely to engage clients in education regarding acceptable lease arrangements.
- Participants indicated overall, the quality of the RMI Ranch and Rangeland Leasing Workshop was excellent (71%) or good (29%).
Through this project, and due to great diversity in geographic distribution and time of service in Extension of workshop attendees, an informal peer mentoring network has been developed across Montana. MSU Extension field faculty have indicated their intent to increase the level of rangeland programming in their counties and to implement multi-county programs related to rangeland ecology and management. These programs will include agents experienced in rangeland ecology and management concepts working with new agents or agents with a limited amount of rangeland ecology and management experience. Additionally, Project Coordinators have garnered interest from MSU Extension field faculty in having annual range field days in each MSU Extension Region where faculty would participate in a field tour of a local ranch to observe ranch management practices and rangeland systems.
Four initial workshops were held, including three-day classroom and field trainings in both the Western and Eastern MSU Extension Regions of Montana (i.e., Helena and Miles City, respectively), one two-hour classroom training on the MSU Bozeman campus in conjunction with the 2015 MSU Extension Annual Conference, and one half-day field training at MSU’s Red Bluff Research Ranch in conjunction with the 2016 MSU Extension Agriculture Agent Spring Update. Participants learned basic rangeland ecology and management principles, discussed current issues, were taught how to use field equipment for rangeland applications, and participated in hands-on rangeland measurements in the field. Each participant returned to their duty station with a complete set of field equipment.
Two Level 2 workshops were conducted. The first workshop, a three-day Grazing Management Planning workshop, held in June 2016, focused assisting livestock producers with evaluating overall enterprise status and relating that to goals and available resources. The second Level 2 workshop, Ranch and Rangeland Leasing, was a two-day workshop focused on the understanding private, state, and federal leases in Montana.
The scope, intent, outcomes, and successes of this project were presented in poster format at the National Association of County Agricultural Agents conference in Sioux Falls, South Dakota in July 2015 and the International Society for Range Management Annual Meeting in Corpus Christi, Texas in February 2016.
Through this project, we provided in-depth training for Montana Extension field faculty and other land managers that covered basic rangeland ecology and management principles, as well as more in-depth concepts that are relevant to producers in Montana. With this knowledge, participants will be more effective when assisting agricultural producers in making management decisions on their operations that are beneficial to the rangelands they rely upon for their livelihoods, including the potential, limitations, capacity, and function of their rangeland ecosystems.
Potential long-term outcomes of this project could not be observed within the project period due to the three-year nature of the grant. Because major land change as a result of changes in management takes greater than three years to observe, the full spectrum of these outcomes/contributions may be observed in the future. Ultimately, the goal of the project is to see documented improvement in grazing strategies by producers that will eventually lead to improved rangeland ecosystem function and improved quality of life for agricultural producers. To achieve that goal, outcomes that are intended to occur as a result of the increased knowledge and confidence of participants include: maintained or improved rangeland and pasture conditions and grazing capacity; greater soil stability, high surface water quality; healthy watershed function, and quality wildlife habitat; reduced financial stress on producers by reducing need for them to lease additional grazing; increased calf weaning weights; improved quality of life for agricultural producers and rural communities by maintaining open space in ranches and minimizing the potential for land fragmentation.
The content, structure, and format of these workshops were greatly valued by participants. We received feedback regarding the need and potential for future workshops. Participant in this project and MSU Extension field faculty who were hired during the project (i.e., did not have had an opportunity to attend an initial workshop) have expressed interest in livestock grazing management workshops in the future.