- Sustainable Communities: public policy, social capital
The practical importance of understanding land management as a combination of human and ecological systems is increasingly recognized. Rancher decision-making likely relies on both science-based and locally acquired knowledge of the natural environment. Choices can be constrained by public perceptions and threats of legal action to control ranchers’ use of public lands, an essential component to ranching in Arizona. However, with the exception of economics and policy, the human dimension has rarely been integrated with U.S. ranch management and ecology. We aim to better understand the influences on ranch management of society, politics and local environmental knowledge. We will compare the views and experiences of ranchers, university extension personnel and government land agency staff with regard to the natural and social environments of ranch management. We will validate these views against a detailed environmental history of one ranch. In so doing we should better understand whether formal planning would be improved by accounting for political, legal and social pressures on the decision making process, and by incorporating different understandings of the natural environment. Rangeland trend monitoring and the forage utilization concept are the focus of rangeland extension, coordinating agencies’ and ranchers’ collaborative efforts to support conservation ranching in Arizona. This project should clarify whether such formal planning would be improved by accounting for political, legal and social pressures on the decision making process, and by incorporating different understandings of the natural environment.
Project objectives from proposal:
1) To compare understandings of the local natural environment between experienced ranchers, agency staff and extension personnel. This includes how they understand the effects of land management over long periods, incorporating experiences of success and failure, and interactions with factors outside their control such as climate. Key areas of management to address are grazing management and brush control. Acquisition of local, experience-based knowledge would lead to ranchers having a different understanding of the environment. The intention is not to determine exactly how any aspect of knowledge was acquired. Rather, I aim to document environmental understanding and determine how it may differ between the three groups.
2) To compare ranchers’ environmental knowledge and management practices with the range science literature and evaluate each with respect to the other. This will clarify any differences between ranchers’ and science-based understandings of the natural environment.
3) To compare perceptions of the influence of the social and political environment between experienced ranchers, government land agency staff and university extension personnel.
4) To examine actual influences of public opinion and pressure on actual ranch management. This may include:
a. pressure from environmental groups and the general public, exerted through the media and community groups;
b. how (threats of) legal actions to constrain ranch management;
c. modifications made to environmental management and monitoring plans in order to influence public opinion or forestall unfavorable legal actions.