Collaborative monitoring for ranch resilience and social-ecological sustainability in central Montana

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2021: $29,000.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2023
Host Institution Award ID: G350-21-W8613
Grant Recipient: Milton Ranch
Region: Western
State: Montana
Principal Investigator:
Bill Milton
Milton Ranch


  • Animals: bovine


  • Animal Production: grazing management, rangeland/pasture management
  • Sustainable Communities: social networks

    Proposal summary:

    For an individual ranch, sustainable ranching requires adequate information and understanding to adapt management practices and improve ecological health, economic efficiency, and human well-being over time. Many ranchers pay for and participate in monitoring efforts to document successes and failures and understand how their management correlates to changes on the ground. This data collection and interpretation can improve management and the sustainability of their own operations, but the data are often siloed by topic and held in private. When taken a step further, the sharing and discussion of monitoring data across landowners can lead to learning and improved management at a broader landscape scale. The research questions explored in this project focus on how to make monitoring and management data more useful through collaboration and learning at all steps of the monitoring, analysis, and decision-making process. The Range Monitoring Group (RMG) in central Montana has worked to address these questions for four years. Currently, RMG includes a pilot group of three ranchers (including Bill Milton) who have multiple years of monitoring data and are willing to share the data among themselves, and eventually with the larger RMG membership. The ultimate outcome of this project will be to improve the utility of monitoring and data sharing to better understand the ecological, economic, and social impacts of various management practices. Because this project is led by a group of ranchers, dissemination of results will happen through immediate local networks as well as through regional and national non-profit partners.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The research objective of this project will be to:

    • Operationalize monitoring indicators and information about management practices that are consistent, useful, and feasible across landowners, and ensure that monitoring is interpretable and repeatable over space and time
    • Explore relationships between management practices and ecological impacts
    • Develop and document data analysis and visualization approaches that make data actionable for decision-making that improves rangeland and ranch sustainability

    The educational objectives of the project will be to:

    • Engage ranchers in self-education and a collaborative process of data sharing and discussion to better understand their own monitoring data
    • Co-create a process to look at monitoring data at a landscape scale to support decision-making
    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.