Rancher Preferences for Conservation Program in Nebraska’s Grasslands

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2020: $7,926.00
Projected End Date: 08/01/2021
Grant Recipients: University of Nebraska - Lincoln; Office of Sponsored Programs
Region: North Central
State: Nebraska
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Mark Burbach
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Information Products


Not commodity specific


  • Animal Production: rangeland/pasture management
  • Education and Training: participatory research
  • Farm Business Management: feasibility study
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, carbon sequestration, drift/runoff buffers, grass waterways, habitat enhancement, riparian buffers, riverbank protection, soil stabilization, wetlands, wildlife
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems
  • Soil Management: organic matter
  • Sustainable Communities: community development, leadership development, local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, partnerships, public policy, social capital, social networks, sustainability measures, urban/rural integration

    Proposal abstract:

    Rancher Preferences for Conservation Programs in Nebraska’s Grasslands

    Grasslands are considered one of the most widespread vegetation types in the world (Falconer et al., 1998), and one of the most altered and least protected (Wright, 2013). The conversion of grasslands has many undesirable consequences. Chiefly, soil erosion, the impairment of water resources, and loss of grassland dependent species (Wang, 2017). There is also a heavy emotional toll exacted on communities as rural economies attempt to adapt and the quality of life begins to change.

    A range of strategies have been used to influence land use in grasslands. Direct payments to agricultural practitioners for the conservation of landscapes are a longstanding policy instrument (Layton & Siikamaki, 2009). While there are numerous programs for “the conservation of goods and services” across grasslands (Havstad et. al, 2007), evidence shows that the rate of conversion in remaining temperate grassland is occurring five times faster than what can be protected (Lipsey et al., 2015).

    Two plausible reasons are that these programs have not appraised all the benefits and services grasslands provide, and they do not sufficiently understand the preferences of those who provide them. Our study aims to bridge this gap by measuring rancher preferences for conservation programming in Nebraska’s grasslands by using an emerging policy program known as Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES). PES is defined as "a transparent system for the additional provision of environmental services through conditional payments to voluntary providers" (Tacconi 2012, p. 35). PES has gained popularity as it seeks to create economic linkages for ranching viability and maximum public and ecological benefit.

    This study uses a series of choice experiments, conducted through in-person surveys, to discern what elements of a hypothetical PES program would lead to adoption by ranchers. Our analysis will measure specific attributes (e.g. management practices, contract length, and payment levels) and their perceived applicability to a rancher’s operation.

    We believe this study meets all three SARE outcomes through three objectives:

    • The analysis of data will provide insights that could reduce inefficiencies in current conservation programming, increasing participation and the profitability of Great Plains ranchers.
    • The study partners with ranchers, University researchers, and NGOs to test practical programs that are shown to improve ranch productivity and the resiliency of grasslands.
    • The resulting research will demonstrate that management of grasslands and the vitality of rural economies are both a nested public and private interest.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    We believe the outcomes of this research will increase learning, awareness, and attitudes toward grassland conservation programs, land-use management, and the development of ecosystem services markets in rural communities. This includes how programs are designed, implemented, and administered by ranchers in the North Central region of the US. This research project addresses the following:

    1. The preferences measured by the study will increase the knowledge of administrators when designing programs, as the models we test were developed in direct consultation with the ranching and conservation community.
    2. The associated, voluntary management actions will increase the attitudes and learning of ranchers as they financially benefit through the program’s implementation, and they witness increased resiliency of the landscape over time.
    3. The potential for behavior change also exists as these models seek to increase participation at a landscape level, regardless of operational capacity, total lands managed, or current financial resources.
    4. This research will provide foundational information for future conservation program development in grasslands. Furthermore, the resulting information can improve working relationships across the ranching, conservation, and scientific communities.

    As documented in the attached letters of support, the stakeholders see inherent value in this project because it builds an interdependent coalition that seeks to improve existing program offerings while testing features that may be the backbone of the next generation of grassland conservation programs.

    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.