Prescribed Grazing to Sustain Livestock Production, Soil Quality, and Diversity in Rangeland Ecosystems

Final Report for SW10-073

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2010: $197,268.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: Western
State: Wyoming
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Kenneth Tate
University of California Davis
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Project Information

Abstract:

Rangelands encompass over 43 million acres in California and Wyoming and provide critical ecosystem services, such as soil moisture and nutrient conditions which support plant growth, plant diversity and livestock production. Practical ranch management options are needed which sustain soil quality, plant diversity and livestock production – thus supporting rural economies throughout the western U.S. We think that ranchers have substantial experience and perspective about the interplay of social, economic and ecological factors which must be considered when developing sustainable range management strategies.

In this project we set out to capture manager knowledge and perspectives on agricultural and conservation goals, use of conservation programs, key ranch management practices, grazing management strategies and managing for and during drought. We conducted in person, semi-structured interviews with over 100 ranchers, as well as a mail survey of over 800 ranchers total across California and Wyoming. We have, and continue to, analyzed survey and interview data from both states. In both states, livestock and forage production were the primary management goals for most ranchers surveyed. However, soil health, water quality, riparian health, weed management and wildlife habitat were identified by ranchers as supporting secondary goals which are compatible with production goals. Recreation and carbon sequestration were minor management goals.

In California, 25% of ranchers surveyed have participated in USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program, and about 10% have a conservation easement. Ranchers with larger amounts of land, an orientation towards the future and who are opinion leaders with access to conservation information are more likely to participate in these types of conservation programs. There is substantial room to increase rancher awareness of the availability of conservation incentive programs.

Livestock drinking water development and cross fencing were key grazing management practices identified by ranchers in both states. A majority of California and Wyoming ranchers use extensive rotational grazing strategies, with few to several pastures and rotation frequency of several weeks to monthly. California ranchers also reported use of season-long set stocking and year-long continuous set stocking, without rotation. A small portion (<5%) of Wyoming ranchers reported using high density short duration grazing strategies. These were commonly ranchers who ranked livestock production as their fifth or lower management goal. Ranchers ranking livestock production as their top priority were the least likely to adopt the high density short duration grazing strategy. We found relationships between rancher’s grazing strategy, willingness to experiment, number of valued information sources, prioritization of livestock production as a goal, herd size and ecosystem the ranch lies within.

Predominant drought impacts reported were lost grazing capacity, lost profit and reduced calf weaning weights. Proactive drought management strategies were to use a conservative stocking rate, include pasture rest in grazing strategy, and incorporating yearling cattle (stockers or feeders) and cow-calf in the enterprise for flexibility in adjusting cattle numbers annually. Primary reactive drought management strategies were to reduce herd size, buy feed, enroll in drought insurance/assistance programs and wean calves early.

At the time of this report, we have two papers published, one accepted with minor revision and three more in late stages of preparation. We have conducted substantial extension and outreach of project results with ranchers, agencies, NGOs and rangeland stakeholders across both states. In California, there has been much recent media coverage of the project as is applies to the 2013-14 drought.

Project Objectives:

We collaborated with the range management communities in Wyoming and California in general and specifically with the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, California Cattlemen’s Association, Farm Bureau Federation, Rangeland Conservation Coalition and other stakeholders to attain the following objectives:

1. Conduct a scientific mail survey of 507 California and 307 Wyoming ranchers to gain social, economic and ecological insights into goal setting, use/valuation of management practices, grazing management strategies and drought management strategies.

Performance Targets: 1) Develop a survey with broad input from leadership of Wyoming Stock Growers and the California Cattlemen’s Association, NRCS and other stakeholders; 2) Achieve 30% initial return success of respondents to the survey in each state; 3) If return success rate is <30%, conduct follow-up contact of ranchers by mail; 4) Summarize findings from survey; 5) Disseminate information on survey findings at annual meetings for the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, California Cattlemen’s Association and Society for Range Management; and 6) Disseminate information on survey findings through popular press publications in Cow Country (publication of Wyoming Stock Growers Association), Rangelands (publication of the Society for Range Management) and University of Wyoming and University of California Cooperative Extension outlets, and through a scientific publication in Rangeland Ecology and Management and other journals.

2. Conduct semi-structured interviews with 100 ranchers to 1) improve connections between research and policy with how decisions get made on-the-ground; 2) link decision-making to agricultural and ecological outcomes, 3) connect rancher knowledge and research to provide insights into strategies to adapt to future changes, and 4) compile the knowledge and expertise of experienced ranchers and rangeland managers.

Performance Targets: 1) Complete 100 individual rancher semi-structured interviews; 2) Conduct qualitative and quantitative analyses to address the objectives above; and 3) Disseminate findings.

3. Extend project results to ranchers, policy makers and scientists, including the development of internet-based information resources that allow users to access project findings and other relevant information.

Performance Targets: 1) Regularly conduct outreach associated with this project; 2) Develop and post project results as they become available; 3) Develop supporting online information resources targeting information needs and addressing concerns raised by ranchers during survey and interviews.

Introduction:

Rangelands in the western U.S. are seen by many scientists and policy makers as at risk due to factors such as weed invasion, improper grazing, land use conversion and climate change. In this project, we asked over 800 ranchers what they view as the greatest risks to their ranches and rangelands – 49% identified governmental environmental regulation, 43% economic viability, 21% family successional planning and 21% security of water supply. This demonstrates the substantial need for – and the opportunity for the results of this project to facilitate – improved communication and collaboration between scientists, policy makers and ranchers to develop a shared vision of sustainable ranch and rangeland management.

In our initial proposal, we had a primary focus on assessing the effectiveness of prescribed grazing management at the ranch scale. It became clear that this was too narrow a focus and that we needed to including the key social, economic and ecological factors which drive ranch management (including grazing system) decision–making. Practical, effective range and ranch management strategies do exist on solvent, working ranches. These strategies have been locally developed/adapted to meet the social, economic and ecological challenges, opportunities and perspectives of each decision-maker. Ranchers have substantial experience and perspective about the interplay of all the factors which must be considered when developing sustainable range management strategies at the ranch enterprise scale. We expanded the scope of the project to examine rancher’s goal setting, use/valuation of management practices, grazing management strategies and drought management. We also included analysis to determine how these rancher decisions and perspectives about management effectiveness might be related to factors such as education, views on experimentation, use of information sources and characteristics of the ranch enterprise. Collectively, this information will help managers identify ranch-scale management options (e.g., stocking rate, season of grazing and/or rest from grazing, rotational strategies) to achieve multiple ranch goals (e.g., suppress weeds, enhance plant diversity, and increase forage production). These results will also help inform scientists and policy makers of how to improve communication with ranchers and create partnerships to achieve both policy and ranch enterprise goals.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Justin Derner

Research

Materials and methods:

We conducted the Rangeland Decision Making Surveys of California and Wyoming ranchers to address Objectives 1 and 3 and inform our efforts to address Objective 2. These mail surveys are fully described in Kachergis et al. (2013) and Lubell et al. (2013). We developed these mail surveys of ranchers using the membership list of the California Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) and the Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA). CCA and WSGA are non-profit trade organizations serving ranchers across California and Wyoming — well representing our target sampling frame of larger production livestock ranchers. The mail survey included sections on operation and operator characteristics, individual goals, management practices, information sources, and social values and perspectives. Survey questions were developed based on previous research, informational interviews with over 20 ranchers and pre-testing at agricultural stakeholder meetings in both states. We used the same multi-contact approach (Dillman Method) to engage the ranching communities and develop awareness of the survey in both states. The California survey was delivered to 1,727 addresses in March-June 2011, and the Wyoming survey was delivered to 749 addresses in January-March 2012. The California response rate was 33% and the Wyoming response rate was 49%.

Lubell, M., B. Cutts, L.M. Roche, J.D. Derner, M. Hamilton, E. Kachergis, and K.W. Tate. 2013. Conservation Program Participation and Adaptive Rangeland Decision-Making. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 66:609-620

Kachergis, E., J. Derner, L.M. Roche, K.W. Tate, M. Lubell, R. Mealor, and J. Magagna. 2013. Characterizing Wyoming Ranching Operations: Natural Resource Goals, Management Practices and Information Sources. Natural Resources. 4:45-54.

We developed a semi-structured interview tool that includes questions on the socio-economic and environmental characteristics of the ranch enterprise, goals and management practices, adaptation strategies for drought, and personal attitudes and perspectives. These questions were beta tested and refined through preliminary interviews with 20 ranchers in both states. We have completed 107 semi-structured on-ranch interviews with ranchers across California and Wyoming. Each interview was audio recorded (with participant permission) and are being transcribed. These data will be analyzed in a unified strategy utilizing a combination of qualitative and quantitative approaches. Classical inferential statistics will be used to examine how operator and operation characteristics (e.g., experience, operation size, risk tolerance) and environmental factors (e.g., bioclimatic region, frequency/severity of drought) impact adaptive capacity (e.g., management flexibility, number of key practices in toolbox, existence and depth of drought management plans). We are coding and analyzing the transcript data using a qualitative data analysis program.

Research results and discussion:

Wyoming Ranching Operations: Natural Resources Goals, Management Practices and Information Sources

In cooperation with the Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA), a predominant agricultural organization in the state, we asked their producer members about their goals, ranching operation characteristics and management practices via a mail survey. A total of 307 ranchers (50%) responded to the survey. Livestock production and forage production were the top management goals, with ecosystem characteristics that support these goals (e.g., soil health, water quality) tied for second. Survey respondents’ ranches had a median size of 4,220 hectares but ranged up to 185,000 hectares; 71% of operations included public land and 60% included private leased land. The majority of reporting operations grazed cow-calf pairs (91%), with a median of 260 pairs per ranch. Most survey respondents managed grazing by moving one to five herds of livestock (84%) among two or more pastures (92%) after three months of grazing or less (87%). Most operations (74%) included other resource use activities, with extractive recreation (e.g., hunting; 55%), conventional energy development (23%) and other agricultural production (20%) most common. Survey respondents primarily got information about grazing management from other ranchers (97%), although they preferred to receive information through print publications (69%). Wyoming ranching operations are diverse, which may represent a challenge for policy makers designing programs and incentives to increase production of food and ecosystem services. However, efforts that focus on livestock and forage production and supporting ecosystem functions are likely to find synergies with ongoing management goals and strategies. A multi-pronged outreach and education approach using several different media sources may be most effective as new policies and management practices become available. Complete results of this analysis can be found in Kachergis, E., J. Derner, L.M. Roche, K.W. Tate, M. Lubell, R. Mealor, and J. Magagna. 2013. Characterizing Wyoming Ranching Operations: Natural Resource Goals, Management Practices and Information Sources. Natural Resources. 4:45-54.

Sustaining Multifunctional Working Rangelands in California: Social, Economic and Ecological Insights into Rancher Decision-Making

Based on a mail survey of 507 California ranchers, we characterized individual and operation demographics, agricultural production and ecosystem service goals, and the in-place management practices shaping California’s rangeland ecosystems. Our first objective was to describe key structural and socio-economic features of California ranching operations. A critical need highlighted in previous work has been the importance of understanding both the human and biophysical context of farming and ranching systems. These contextual factors are particularly critical in setting multiple and diverse stakeholder goals. Our second objective was to examine ranchers’ ecosystem service goals, management practices to achieve these goals, and information sources and needs for developing management strategies. Individual operator values, commitment, and capacity have been shown to strongly influence management practice effectiveness for agricultural production and environmental goals. Lastly, we examined major themes of concern for ranch sustainability among survey respondents. To effectively address the real management challenges and provide the most relevant knowledge to guide conservation science and planning on rangelands, we must improve communication between the science, management and policy communities. Characterizing the most salient challenges perceived by ranchers will aid translation between these communities.

Median respondent age was 62 (range 25-93; n=491), and most respondents were male (83%; n=494). In terms of formal education, 63% had a bachelor’s degree or beyond, and an additional 21% reported at least some college training (n=496). The majority of respondents represented multi-generational ranching families; 71% were third or more generation ranchers (n=493), and 10% identified themselves as second generation ranchers. Notably, 19% of respondents were first generation ranchers.

Respondents (n=494) represented 4.6 Mha of rangeland, approximately one-third of California’s 13.8 Mha of grazed rangeland. In terms of land resources, 75% of the area reported was publicly leased lands (19% of respondents; n=476), 14% privately leased lands (60% of respondents; n=476) and 14% privately owned lands (87% of respondents; n=476). Irrigated pasture played a role in 50% of the operations represented (n=494), amounting to 70,927 ha. The majority of irrigated pasture lands were privately owned (60%), 36% were privately leased and 4% were publicly leased. Respondents represented a reported total of 320,979 head of livestock (beef and dairy cattle, sheep, horses, goats, etc.), including 289,901 head of beef cattle, which were divided between cow/calf (141,557 head) and stocker (145,050) animal classes. Nearly two-thirds of the operations grazed cow/calf pairs, one-third grazed both cow/calf pairs and stocker animals, and less than 5% only grazed stocker animals.

Respondents ranked the given list of goals into three priority tiers; highest priority are agricultural production goals (livestock and forage production); mid-level priority is supporting environmental goals (weed management, water quality, soil health, riparian health and wildlife), and low priority goals are recreation and carbon sequestration(Fig. 1). Respondents also indicated a quality of life goal; specifically, 63% agreed that the ranching lifestyle was more important than economic return (n=486).

Ninety-seven percent of survey respondents (n= 489) stated they try to conserve natural resources whenever possible; however, if confronted with a situation in which there were conflicts between economic viability and environmental protection, 68% agreed that it would be more important to protect economic viability (n = 484). Forty-nine  percent of respondents reported they currently participate or plan to participate in USDA NRCS programs, with the most popular programs being the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (30%) and Conservation Reserve Program [10%] most popular) (n=452).

Respondents were asked to identify key practices – those practices that linked to other practices and that they considered important in achieving multiple goals. The most popular key practices (match calving to the environment, livestock water development, consult veterinarian on heard health plan, cross fencing, supplemental feeding, match cattle genetics to environment) clearly link to the primary goal of livestock production (Fig. 2). The proportion of respondents identifying these core practices as key was also greater than the proportion requesting additional information.  Approximately 10-30% of respondents also expressed interest in additional information on management practices more directly related to supporting goals (e.g., graze to change plant species, riparian buffers, native plantings). In addition to the provided list of management practices, 82% of respondents (n=489) also reported they monitor vegetation; the majority (62%) of which reported they do so voluntarily.

Ranchers identified industry organizations and other cattlemen as their most trusted source of information; 99% rated these information resources as good or excellent (n=502). Additionally, 88% of respondents considered participation in formal organizations related to ranching was important (n=487). University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) and University information resources were second highest rates (80% rated quality as good or excellent; n=485); and U.S. Department of Agriculture-Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS) was rated third highest (56% rated quality as good or excellent; n=470).

Ranchers were asked to share their biggest concerns for the future of their operation and three major socio-economic themes emerged from the open-ended questions (n=346) (Fig. 3). Nearly the entire 424 respondents to the question shared multiple concerns that were interrelated. The most common concern noted for almost half of the respondents (49%) was government interference in the form of regulations and environmental policy.  The second most common challenge noted amongst ranchers was economic viability (43%). Of those respondents, 25% specifically mentioned loss of the Williamson Act was a major concern for the future of their ranching operation. Elsewhere in the survey, we directly asked ranchers regarding their participation in the Williamson Act; 73% currently have lands enrolled in the program, with an additional 5% aware of the program and planning to participate (n=477). The third major theme with 21% of respondents mentioning was succession planning (21%). Of those respondents, 49% of them specifically mentioned estate taxes as a challenge. In the survey was also asked ranchers if they had a succession plan in place that identifies a strategy for keeping the land in ranching; 41% answered yes and an additional 24% stated it was in progress. From the questions, only one biophysical concern emerged as a challenge, with 21% stating something in the realm of precipitation and water security as a challenge. A manuscript is in preparation with these results.

Increasing Flexibility in Wyoming Rangeland Management during Drought

Extreme droughts like the recent 2011-2013 drought impacting the central and western U.S. present a challenge to sustainable ecosystem management. Wyoming ranchers manage half of this drought-prone state and are at the forefront of this challenge. We examined Wyoming ranchers’ drought management strategies and how ranch characteristics affect drought management flexibility through a mail survey.  We find that many survey respondents manage drought in similar ways, by selling livestock and buying feed, highlighting the market risks associated with drought.  Ranches that are larger, include yearling livestock, use grazing periods shorter than three months, and/or incorporate alternative on-ranch activities (e.g., hunting), use more drought management practices and thus have greater flexibility. Larger ranches experience fewer drought impacts, highlighting advantages of a larger resource base. Findings could guide development of drought policy that encourages flexibility, promotes proactive drought management and sustains ranching livelihoods and provision of ecosystem services. Complete results are soon to be published in Kachergis, E., J.D. Derner, B.B. Cutts, L.M. Roche, V.T. Eviner, M.N. Lubell, and K.W. Tate. Accepted with Minor Revision. Increasing Flexibility in Wyoming Rangeland Management during Drought. Ecosphere.

California Ranchers Perspectives on Drought Management and Adaptation

In 2011, we asked 507 California ranchers, “If another drought were to begin this year, how severely would this impact the economic viability of your operation?” Nearly three-quarters of respondents (n=477) indicated the impact to their operations would be as severe or worse than past droughts, while only 12% indicated the impact would be less severe than in previous droughts. In recent in-person interviews across California, 76% (n=60) of ranchers stated they expected to see impacts to their operations if drought conditions persisted into the coming year, and 35% of those interviewed expected devastating impacts to the viability of their operations. Several ranchers interviewed noted that a statewide severe drought would exacerbate the effects of earlier consecutive droughts in their regions. In the statewide mail survey, nearly all ranchers (99%; n=443) reported that they had employed reactive drought strategies; using at least one or a combination of management practices in response to drought. A majority of ranchers (64%; n=443) also reported that they utilized proactive drought strategies; using at least one or a combination of practices to prepare them for potential future drought. Rancher experience and knowledge (i.e., number of generations ranching, number and quality of information sources, and education level) positively influenced ranch goal setting – specifically, prioritization of forage production goals – and the management toolbox (i.e., number of active conservation programs, number of key practices used and diversity of forage resources). Goal setting and the management toolbox had direct positive effects on adaptive strategies for drought impact management, including the number of proactive and reactive drought management practices used and having an in-place drought management plan. Preliminary results have been combined with valuable drought management information on-line to be accessible for ranchers dealing with California’s current drought (http://rangelandwatersheds.ucdavis.edu/main/drought.html), as well as developed into a Policy Brief for legislators and other policy-makers (Drought Policy Brief.pdf). A manuscript is in preparation with these results.

Conservation Program Participation and Adaptive Rangeland Decision-Making. Rangeland Ecology and Management.

We analyzed rancher participation in conservation programs in the context of a social-ecological framework for adaptive rangeland decision-making. We argue that conservation programs are best understood as one of many strategies of adaptively managing rangelands in ways that sustain livelihoods and ecosystem services. The framework hypothesizes four categories of variables affecting conservation program participation: operation/operator characteristics, time horizon, social network connections and social values. Based on a mail survey of California ranchers, multinomial logit models are used to estimate the impact of these variables on different levels of rancher involvement in conservation programs. The ?ndings suggest that ranchers with larger amounts of land, an orientation towards the future and who are opinion leaders with access to conservation information are more likely to participate in conservation programs. Rangeland stakeholders should develop policy and outreach strategies that enhance the usefulness of conservation programs for adapting to social-ecological programs. To increase participation, outreach strategies should target opinion leaders who are well-connected to local social networks and capitalize on the desire of many ranchers to maintain the family and historical legacies of their operations. Those opinion leaders should be encouraged to reach out to smaller landowners and new ranchers, who can form the basis for conservation management into the future. Property rights concerns are potentially becoming less relevant, but it is crucial to develop trust-based relationships between ranchers and organizations that administer conservation programs. Full results can be found in Lubell, M., B. Cutts, L.M. Roche, J.D. Derner, M. Hamilton, E. Kachergis, and K.W. Tate. 2013. Conservation Program Participation and Adaptive Rangeland Decision-Making. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 66:609-620

Survey of On-Ranch Grazing Management: Insight for the Grazing Systems Dilemma.

Across the globe, there is active and lively debate regarding the efficacy of prescribed grazing systems (sensu Briske et al. 2011a) to conserve and improve natural and agricultural resources on rangelands. Some grazing systems (e.g., rest rotation, deferred rotation, high density short duration) have been institutionalized via the academic community (Heady 1975; Vallentine 1990; Holechek et al. 2003; Briske et al. 2008), via conservation incentive funding programs (e.g, over $3.8 million in 2009; Tanaka et al. 2011) and in federal grazing land management plans (Heady 1975). Recent scientific syntheses (Briske et al. 2008; Briske et al. 2011a) have concluded that rotation based grazing systems as researched thus far provide no unique ecological or agricultural advantages over season-long, moderate stocking rate grazing systems. This conflicts with experiential knowledge on the success of adaptively managed rotational grazing strategies (Briske et al. 2011a; Briske et al. 2011b). We used social survey methods with California and Wyoming ranchers to identify on-ranch grazing management strategies and examine how operator, operation, social and attitudinal factors affect grazing strategy adoption.

Analysis of 507 California respondents resulted in three emergent grazing strategies. The on-ranch grazing management strategies which emerged can be described as 1) extensive rotational (46% of respondents), 2) season-long continuous (34% of respondents) and 3) year-long continuous (19% of respondents).The three California grazing strategies differentiate primarily on duration of grazing and timing of rest. Analysis of 307 Wyoming respondents also resulted in three emergent grazing strategies. The on-ranch grazing management strategies which emerged can be described as 1) extensive rotational – few pastures, 2) extensive rotational – many pastures and 3) high density short duration. The Wyoming grazing strategies differentiate primarily on livestock density, duration of grazing and number of pastures.

For California, ranchers neutral or disagreeing with the attitude statement, “I like to experiment with new ways of doing things” were least likely to adopt a rotational grazing strategy (probability of adopting the extensive rotational grazing strategy = 0.32). Among the self-reported experimenters, those that did not rank livestock production as their top goal (rank >1) had the highest probability (0.63) of adopting extensive rotation. Of the remaining experimenters who listed livestock production as their top goal, those identifying more than seven “good” or “excellent” information sources were more likely (0.60) to adopt a rotational grazing strategy than those identifying seven or fewer “good” or “excellent” information sources (probability = 0.43). Ranchers neutral or disagreeing with the attitude statement, “I like to experiment with new ways of doing things” had a 0.43 probability of adopting a seasonal grazing strategy. Among the self-reported experimenters, those that did not rank livestock production as their top goal (rank >1) had the lowest probability (0.22) of adopting this strategy. Experimenters who ranked livestock production as their main goal and reported more than 3,700 head of livestock were the most likely (0.86) to adopt a seasonal grazing strategy. Ranchers who disagreed with the attitude statement, “With respect to business, I always choose the option with the lowest risk” had a 0.12 probability of adopting a year-long continuous grazing strategy. Among ranchers neutral or agreeing with this statement:  1) those whose ranch enterprise did not include publicly leased land were the most likely (0.27) to adopt year-long continuous grazing strategy, and 2) those whose ranch enterprise did include publicly leased land were the least likely (0.08) to adopt year-long continuous grazing strategy.

For Wyoming, ranchers with 820 or fewer livestock whose ranches are located in the Middle Rockies, Southern Rockies or Wyoming Basin ecoregions were the most likely (0.73) to adopt extensive rotational – few pastures strategy. Ranchers in the High Plains or Northwest Great Plains with 300 or fewer livestock were the second most likely (0.64) to adopt this strategy. High Plains or Northwest Great Plains ranchers with more than 300 livestock had a similar relatively low probability of adoption (0.36) as ranchers with over 820 livestock (0.35). Ranchers with more than 1,625 head of livestock were the most likely (0.56) to adopt the extensive rotation – many pastures grazing strategy. Ranchers with 1,625 or fewer livestock whose ranches are located in the Middle Rockies, Southern Rockies or Wyoming Basin ecoregions were the least likely (0.20) to adopt the extensive rotational – many pastures strategy. Ranchers ranking livestock production lower than fourth place were the most likely (0.43) to adopt the high density short duration grazing strategy. Ranchers ranking livestock production as their top priority were the least likely (0.07) to adopt this grazing strategy.

We identified six distinct grazing strategies describing California and Wyoming rancher’s grazing management for the largest area of private rangeland they manage. Classifications were primarily driven by duration of grazing, timing of rest from grazing, livestock density and number of pastures. Individual rancher preference for each these strategies was predicted, in part, by their attitude towards experimentation and risk, the number of information sources they use and value, relative prioritization of production and natural resources goals, number of livestock and the ecosystem in which the ranch was located. The full results of this analysis re being developed as a manuscript.

Research conclusions:

Ninety-nine percent of ranchers responding to these surveys identified other ranchers as an excellent to good source of information about ranching and range management. This project represents a huge compilation and synthesis of the knowledge and perspectives that ranchers have on the suite of issues they must contend with when making management decisions. These results also provide the policy, research and extension education community with critical insight which can help them improve their connectivity and ability to collaborate more effectively with the ranching community. These results demonstrate the need for improved communication and translation between these groups.

Drought is a major challenge facing California, Wyoming and the western United States. The results of this project are providing specific information on the means and extent to which drought is impacting ranchers. The results also help us define the current tool box of proactive and reactive drought practices which ranchers implement to create drought strategies. The top two proactive drought strategies include conservative stocking rates and incorporating rest into the grazing strategy. These practices are complimentary with general natural resources protection goals and appear to represent a win-win for ranch enterprise resilience to drought and natural resources protection; a sentiment which is commonly voiced during the interviews with ranchers.

We have developed a webpage which makes these preliminary drought results accessible and have included key drought management information on the page.

http://rangelandwatersheds.ucdavis.edu/main/drought.html

We developed a press release with UC Davis News on the study as it relates to drought, which was released January 23, 2014.

http://news.ucdavis.edu/search/news_detail.lasso?id=10817

Immediately following the press release, we implemented a social media blitz targeting the ranching, livestock and farming community. The number of page views and hits to our website increased by 100% and persisted at that level for over two weeks. Our site is 50% more active at this time.

The project is also well-positioned to impact the national and international debate about the ecological and economic value of conservation practices such as grazing systems involving rotation and rest. The study directly addresses the two major findings of the recent comprehensive research literature review of prescribed grazing management (Briske 2011b): 1) potential tradeoffs and synergies between agricultural production and the maintenance of ecosystem services must be evaluated at the ranch enterprise level, and 2) partnerships among scientists, mangers and policy makers will provide the most relevant knowledge to guide grazing management to simultaneously enhance multiple ecosystem services. We have strong evidence that ranchers in California and Wyoming had developed and adapted relatively simple, extensive rotational grazing strategies, while much of the focus of research and policy has been comparing intensive rotational systems to season-long systems. These findings should help focus discussion and research on grazing systems which are more indicative of what the majority of ranchers are implementing. We also document the levels of rancher participation in conservation incentive programs, and that there is room for increasing participation.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

Lubell, M., B. Cutts, L.M. Roche, J.D. Derner, M. Hamilton, E. Kachergis, and K.W. Tate. 2013. Conservation Program Participation and Adaptive Rangeland Decision-Making. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 66:609-620

Kachergis, E., J. Derner, L.M. Roche, K.W. Tate, M. Lubell, R. Mealor, and J. Magagna. 2013. Characterizing Wyoming Ranching Operations: Natural Resource Goals, Management Practices and Information Sources. Natural Resources. 4:45-54.

Kachergis, E., J.D. Derner, B.B. Cutts, L.M. Roche, V.T. Eviner, M.N. Lubell, and K.W. Tate. Accepted with Minor Revision. Increasing Flexibility in Wyoming Rangeland Management during Drought. Ecosphere.

Schohr, T.K., L.M. Roche, J.D. Derner, M.N. Lubell, B.B. Cutts, K.W. Tate. In Preparation. Sustaining Multifunctional Working Rangelands: Social, Economic, and Ecological Insights into Rancher Decision-Making. Rangeland Ecology and Management.

Roche, L.M., B.B. Cutts, J.D. Derner, M.N. Lubell, and K.W. Tate. In Preparation. Survey of On-Ranch Grazing Management: Insight for the Grazing Systems Dilemma. Rangeland Ecology and Management.

Roche, L.M., M.N. Lubell, T.K. Schohr, and K.W. Tate. Social, Economic, and Ecological Insights into Rancher Drought Adaptation. Rangeland Ecology and Management.

Associated Websites –

http://rangelandwatersheds.ucdavis.edu/main/grazing_management_ecosystem_services.html

http://rangelandwatersheds.ucdavis.edu/main/drought.html

http://rangelandwatersheds.ucdavis.edu/MWQIC/

http://news.ucdavis.edu/search/news_detail.lasso?id=10817

Outreach for the Wyoming survey also includes two factsheets, four presentations, two magazine articles, a newspaper article and a trade show booth highlighting results from the both the California and Wyoming surveys. Outreach for the California survey has also included 10 presentations to multiple stakeholder groups, two presentations at a scientific meetings, two presentations at field days, UC Davis News AP Press Release, and recently, substantial traffic on our drought webpage.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

We did include questions in the survey and interviews which will allow us to conduct some economic analysis – or at least better understand the role of economics in range decision–making. For example, median annual household income category—including on-ranch and off-ranch sources—was $100,000-149,999; n = 463. Nearly one-third of respondents reported other agricultural production activities within their operation. Most survey respondents reported some level of off-ranch employment (79%; n = 479), with 44% of respondents relying on this income stream for more than 50% of their total household income. However, the majority of respondents (64%; n = 487) still identified the ranching operation as a critical source of income, and 63% (n=486) agreed that the ranching lifestyle was more important than economic return. The proportion of total household income from off-ranch employment generally increased with total household income.

Farmer Adoption

One hundred and seven individual ranchers, and in many cases their families, participated in the semi-structured interviews. Interview duration ranged from one to four hours, averaging about two hours in length. Eight hundred and fourteen ranchers from California and Wyoming completed a 60 plus question mail survey, with response rates of 33% and 49% respectively.

Ninety-nine percent of ranchers responding to these surveys identified other ranchers as an excellent to good source of information about ranching and range management. Eighty percent of ranchers identified UC Cooperative Extension as a good to excellent source of such information.

We are certain that rancher access, consideration, adoption and adaptation of the information compiled and analyzed during this study will be high. It is their own collective knowledge which is being efficiently shared via this project.

Comments on the some of the returned surveys include “This is a great survey, really made me think about things I normally don’t consider,” and “You will accumulate an amazing amount of information about the industry through this effort.” We have had ranchers call and ask to be interviewed, after talking to one or more of their peers who we did interview.

We also see substantial interest among agency staff and leadership, conservationists, researchers and other rangeland stakeholders looking for insight into these ranching communities.

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.