- Animals: bovine
- Animal Production: grazing - continuous, grazing management, range improvement, grazing - rotational
- Education and Training: farmer to farmer, networking, participatory research
- Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, new enterprise development, cooperatives, agritourism
- Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, habitat enhancement, wildlife
- Production Systems: agroecosystems, holistic management
- Sustainable Communities: community planning, new business opportunities, sustainability measures
Livestock producers, often private landowners, own about 90% of remaining native North American prairies, and have stewarded these grasslands for generations. Partly because of ranchers, a small number of large native grasslands remain, such as the Nebraska Sandhills and the Flint Hills of Kansas, plus areas of native grass on the edges of expanding cultivated agriculture. Even though these are mostly native grasslands, grassland wildlife populations and ecosystem services provided by grasslands have been declining. Ranchers have access to conservation programs (e.g., EQIP, GRP) as a source of income, but these programs have decreased funding in the 2014 Farm Bill. Because ranches are managed independently and most use similar management strategies, the landscape is increasingly homogenous and supports only a subset of native grassland wildlife. There are three main goals of my research: bolster ranch incomes, help reverse declining grassland wildlife populations and ecosystem services, and prevent conversion of native grassland to cultivated agriculture. These goals may be achieved using collaborative management strategies to manage landscapes. With my research, I will determine which of a set of proposed collaboration strategies would be most appealing to landowners, and if differences in willingness to participate are attributable to where their land is (e.g., high rainfall area, area that is at high risk for crop conversion). I also hope to determine what personal characteristics are associated with willingness to participate in collaborative management for conservation (e.g., high levels of empathy, family history of cooperation). I will use a mixed-methods approach to answer these questions. First, I will conduct an exploratory study of rancher collaboration experiences. I will interview a targeted group of landowners to refine the proposed collaboration strategies and determine if there are additional opportunities that I should incorporate. Using the findings from the exploratory study, I will conduct an explanatory study of predictors of private landowner collaboration strategies. I will develop a survey that targets a wide range of landowners to quantify environmental and personality characteristics associated with willingness to participate in collaborative management strategies. The outcomes of this research will include development of strategies for landscape management that are relevant to private ranchers, and knowledge that can be put to use by agencies and non-governmental organizations interested in incentivizing landscape conservation. Being able to incentivize landowners in ways that are useful and profitable for them, while improving environmental outcomes, will be beneficial for the landowners, agencies, and the public.
Project objectives from proposal:
The research I propose will be beneficial to ranchers because opportunities for profiting from conservation projects will be clearly identified. Understanding what programs will work best for landowners and ranchers, and distributing this information, may help to increase the adoption of collaborative conservation projects. Incentives can be structured to reflect rancher needs, economic and other, and made spatially relevant through better understanding of the influences of environmental factors on potential participation in collaborative conservation.
Results of this research will be used to develop strategies that can be implemented by government agencies or non-governmental organizations to engage ranchers in cross-property management. This includes discerning which of the proposed collaboration strategies is best to engage ranchers in conservation and in what context different strategies are most impactful (e.g., in grasslands that are relatively safe from conversion versus grasslands that are more at risk of conversion). Understanding driving forces, such as drought, land prices, or commodity prices, behind implementation of innovative strategies will allow for the best use of limited resources by agencies and NGOs. With the decrease of funds for conservation in the 2014 Farm Bill, but no lesser need for conservation, agencies will need to do more with less.
The methods I will use in this study also could be replicated in other regions of the United States to provide insights into private lands conservation elsewhere. Ultimately, the results of this study could lead to continued viable, perhaps vibrant, ranching enterprises while simultaneously maintaining and improving grassland ecosystem function.