Restoration of Economic and Ecological Sustainability in Western Rangeland: A Handbook

Final Report for LNC96-108

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1996: $62,800.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1998
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $45,364.00
Region: North Central
State: South Dakota
Project Coordinator:
W. Carter Johnson
S. Dakota St. Univ., Dept of Hort., Forestry, Landscape, & Parks
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Project Information


OBJECTIVES: The overall purpose of our project was to compose, publish, and distribute a guidebook which will: (1) provide landowners with proven approaches to restoring productivity and sustainability to degraded rangeland, and (2) promote general use of sustainable agricultural practices by documenting their successful implementation on South Dakota rangeland. The guidebook describes restoration techniques employed on the Mortenson Ranch in Stanley County, S.D., and offers suggestions for applying these principles on other lands.

METHODS: We organized the guidebook’s contents to include the following topics: (1) the need for restoration, (2) the design of a sustainable cattle grazing regime, (3) planning and constructing a dam system to improve water resources, (4) promoting the growth of native vegetation, (5) economic analysis of ranch productivity before and after restoration activities, and (6) suggestions for landowners and requests for feedback.

RESULTS: The 25-page booklet, entitled “The Mortenson Ranch: Cattle and Trees at Home on the Range” was completed in September, 1998 with the printing of 7000 copies. All county extension offices in South Dakota received copies. Numerous state and federal agencies within South Dakota, students at South Dakota State University, and members of the Stockgrowers’ Association and Society for Range Management are among the groups receiving handbooks. It is available at no cost to any farmer or rancher upon request.

IMPACT and POTENTIAL CONTRIBUTIONS: We anticipate distributing handbooks to many audiences (via presentations at conferences, classes, meetings) and look forward to receiving information from readers. Each handbook includes a tear-out postcard requesting suggestions and general feedback from those who used the guidebook.

Project Objectives:

1. Provide landowners and public and private agencies with proven methods and approaches to restoring degraded rangeland to a healthy, productive and sustainable condition.

2. Promote the general use of sustainable agricultural practices by documenting successful methods on western South Dakota rangeland.


Materials and methods:

Our approach consisted of collecting detailed information from the Mortensons about how they undertook their restoration efforts and how they plan to continue them. Re-measurements of stream cross-sections established several years ago were conducted, and photographs from permanently-established sites were re-taken. Many additional photographs and data were obtained as well. All information was considered for inclusion in the guidebook, but only the most pertinent materials were incorporated in order to provide a succinct and usable end-product.

The contents were reviewed by several ranchers and others with expertise before the final edition was printed.

Research results and discussion:

The handbook (after many draft editions) was completed and published by the original goal of the project’s ending date (September 30, 1998). Printing expenses were less than originally estimated, allowing an extra 2000 copies to be made. A total of 7000 handbooks were printed and have been distributed throughout the state of South Dakota. We anticipate that continued distribution of the handbook will reach many audiences.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

The Mortensons and the principal investigators frequently give talks to groups of students, farmers and ranchers, academic organizations, and government agencies. These activities, along with the distribution of handbooks to all South Dakota county extension offices should assure that information acquired in this project reaches many people, both within South Dakota and in other states and provinces. Anyone requesting a handbook may receive one free of charge.

The following groups are among those receiving/requesting handbooks to date:
South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks
South Dakota Division of Forestry
U.S. Forest Service
Natural Resources Conservation Service
North Central Resource Conservation and Development Project
South Dakota State University West River Extension Center
numerous individuals


From Scott Astleford, rancher at White River, South Dakota:

“I thought this was a very well put together guidebook. It really surprised me how it held my attention and I WANTED to continue reading it.....I liked the way you kept the guidebook in general terms and did not get in to deep details.....Most ranchers and farmers would find this guidebook very interesting and educational.”

From Clarence Mortenson:

"The facts are presented in a manner which all people should be able to understand and follow with adjustments to fit [their] different circumstances."
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.