Ranching with Wildlife: Teaching Sustainable Livestock Production Practices for Wildlife Habitat

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2017: $78,838.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2019
Grant Recipient: Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service
Region: Southern
State: Texas
Principal Investigator:
John Tomecek
Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service


  • Animals: bovine, goats, sheep, Exotic Cervids
  • Animal Products: fiber, fur, leather


  • Animal Production: animal protection and health, feed/forage, free-range, grazing management, grazing - continuous, grazing - multispecies, grazing - rotational, pasture fertility, preventive practices, rangeland/pasture management, stocking rate
  • Crop Production: pollinator habitat, pollinator health
  • Education and Training: decision support system, demonstration, extension, on-farm/ranch research, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: agritourism
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, drift/runoff buffers, habitat enhancement, soil stabilization, wildlife
  • Pest Management: cultural control, integrated pest management, physical control

    Proposal abstract:

    Sustainable agriculture provides system stability for humans, wildlife, and the land. Today, the ability to capitalize on wildlife resources provides farmers and ranchers with additional financial flexibility during difficult times, which can make a critical difference in keeping family agricultural operations in business. At the same time, many wildlife populations rely on habitat created and maintained by agriculture. In rural communities, developed wildlife industries help create jobs, retain citizens, and provide for healthier rural America. Finally, many wildlife species provide services in the form of crop pollination and pest control worth billions to producers.

    Currently there are fewer than 10 Cooperative Extension and NRCS employees in Texas with sufficient training to provide producers support on how to best manage this resource with their production goals for long-term sustainability of both resources. This project will provide critical training to agency personnel with training on wildlife management in the context of agricultural production.

    We will conduct education in (3) ways: First, 2-day training workshops will teach participants the basis of wildlife habitat evaluation, manipulation, and management. Second, we will produce a printed manual of this material. Third, we will film and disseminate a series of videos for internet consumption, that demonstrates field habitat evaluation, management practices, and monitoring activities.

    We anticipate that this training will prepare participants to (1) evaluate wildlife habitat for various species of interest, (2) identify management strategies to improve targeted wildlife habitat, and (3) teach agricultural producers solutions for further integrating wildlife habitat within existing working lands.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    This project was conceived after interviewing Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service County Extension Agents (CEAs), as well as agricultural producers who utilize these agents. These discussions revealed that most CEAs were not prepared to offer advice on wildlife management for producers. Staff at Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) confirmed that, while their agency provides limited technical assistance to producers, TPWD employees typically do not have a sufficient perspective on agricultural production to give recommendations on integrating wildlife management with production needs. To effectively provide producers with advice and education based on sound science, we will train participants in several general categories.

    1. Ability to Conduct Habitat Evaluations for Producers
    Participants will learn how to evaluate the potential for various wildlife species to inhabit a given property, based on the habitat needs of locally occurring wildlife species. We consider habitat evaluations to be the most important element in providing wildlife management advice to producers. After training, participants should be able to target key habitat features, (need a verb) vegetation needs, identify relative quality and quantity of food resources, and determine the current status of target wildlife species on a given property. These habitat evaluations will address the needs of game species, as well as evaluate the potential for non-game species that can be managed for alternative wildlife enterprises such as bird watching. Additionally, the special evaluation of endangered species habitat needs and status will be taught.

    2. Ability to Target Wildlife Management Strategies
    Aside from evaluating habitat quality on a property, the ability to prioritize management strategies is critical for economic returns to producers. Participants will learn how to prioritize both (1) species and (2) locations for management, based on habitat evaluation (above). For example, this training will teach participants how to identify regions of an agricultural property that are better suited for target wildlife species, and to identify times of year during which habitat is available to provide for these species. As a result of this portion of the training, participants will be able to direct producers to the wildlife management options best suited to their property in its current state, recommend long-term management directions, and advise on practices needed to achieve goals.

    3. Skill to Provide Producers with Wildlife-Livestock Integration Solutions
    Although not necessarily incompatible, some livestock production schemes are not optimal for wildlife production. Participants will learn about (1) potential competition between wildlife and livestock for food, space, or both; (2) modifications to livestock management that meet production goals while allowing wildlife to thrive on the same property; and (3) planning wildlife and livestock management schedules that minimize conflicts between production needs and use of the land by wildlife enterprises.

    4. Knowledge to Advise Producers on Developing and Growing Wildlife Enterprises
    The existence of wildlife resources only provides the potential to generate capital; successfully marketing and developing a wildlife business takes additional knowledge and skill. Experienced ranchers, hunting outfitters, consultants, and tourism professionals will train participants on how successful, sustainable wildlife businesses are developed on agricultural lands. This training will include development of both consumptive (hunting) and non-consumptive (wildlife watching, hiking, camping, etc.) tourism, laws related to various businesses, and marketing strategies to optimize returns on investments. While participants will not be qualified to dispense legal advice, this training will provide a basic familiarity that participants can share with producers so that producers can navigate their entrepreneurial options with minimal need to enjoin a legal counsel.

    Desired changes in behavior: Participants will be comfortable and confident providing agricultural producers with timely, relevant advice on how to best steward wildlife resources on their property, capitalize on these resources, and understand legal matters surrounding certain species, including their options for mitigating effects on agricultural production.

    Participants successfully completing this course will receive a certificate of completion certifying their proficiency in sustainable wildlife management in agricultural systems.

    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.