Influences of Society, Politics and Local Knowledge on Ranch Management

2011 Annual Report for GW10-034

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2010: $25,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Grant Recipient: University of Arizona
Region: Western
State: Arizona
Graduate Student:
Principal Investigator:
George Ruyle
University of Arizona

Influences of Society, Politics and Local Knowledge on Ranch Management


Ranchers often incorporate locally acquired knowledge of the natural environment into decisions regarding rangeland management and conservation. For instance, many ranchers use informal monitoring on a daily basis to assess and adapt to changes in the condition and productivity of rangelands. Conservation practices can benefit from collaboration between ranchers and government agencies. For example, environmental regulations can render costs of planning, gaining permission and implementation prohibitive for individual ranches. This project uses interviews with ranchers and agency personnel to understand such influences on ranchland management in a community comprising approximately twenty ranches sharing a common watershed in Southeast Arizona.

Objectives/Performance Targets

We originally proposed to base this study on focus groups and interviews. To maximize the information gathered from each hour of every participant’s time and to achieve greater depth and detail, we amended the methods and performance targets to rely on a greater number of individual interviews. We have therefore reformulated our objectives and performance targets as follows.

  • To compare understandings of the local natural environment between experienced ranchers, agency staff and extension personnel. Specifically, to document and compare the ways the natural environment is monitored, both by formal methods (e.g. transects) and informally (e.g. visual estimates of amount of forage or bare ground) and to determine how such information is used in rangeland management and conservation. To document and compare perceptions of the influences of the social and political environment between experienced ranchers, government land agency staff and university extension personnel. This is to include the role of collaboration between ranchers and government agencies on ranchland conservation and the impacts of environmental legislation. To examine how, if at all, public opinion and pressure may influence ranch management.

Sample sizes from government agencies will be limited by the number of such personnel directly involved in the Altar Valley. Sample sizes for ranchers will be constrained according to limits imposed by the number of experienced ranchers directly involved in the Altar Valley and by willingness to participate. Our a priori goal for sample sizes is be a minimum of (a) 16 ranchers, (b) 6 extension/conservation agency personnel, and (c) 6 personnel from government land-leasing agencies; for a minimum total of 28 participants. These sample sizes are expected to be sufficient for formal data saturation regarding our study but will be increased if circumstances permit. Repeat interviews will also be used where there is a clear prospect of obtaining additional useful data.


We have conducted 22 semi-structured interviews with ranchers and government agency personnel. Agreement has been secured for an additional 10 interviews, which would bring the total to 32 interviews with 30 participants. We are therefore on track to slightly exceed our minimum sample size of 28 participants.

We have elicited views of ranchers and agency personnel on formal and informal monitoring of the local natural environment; the utility of collaboration between ranchers and government agencies on prescribed fire and on other areas of common interest, such as securing grants to improve water supplies for both livestock and wildlife; the roles of environmental regulation and threats of legal action over conservation; and of the impact on the natural environment of illegal cross-border traffic.

Further interviews will add depth and detail to all these areas. They will also be used to expand on the practice of informal monitoring of the natural environment and on the use of both formal and informal monitoring of the environment in conservation decision making.

Interviews will be supplemented with documentation on, for example, environmental laws, mission and policy statements of government agencies and collaboration between ranchers and government agencies in requests for conservation grants.

Preliminary analyses have been performed, in order to help direct later interviews. However, the majority of the necessary analysis and synthesis remain to be completed, as does preparation of our findings for publication.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

This study is expected to improve understanding of the practicalities of ranchland conservation in the context of the human as well as the natural environment. It will describe socio-political constraints on rangeland management and opportunities for and benefits of collaboration between stakeholders, namely, ranchers and government agencies. It will describe the means by which such stakeholders may gather information about the environment and use this information to make decisions regarding conservation. By disseminating such understanding through a range of journals, both scholarly and community-based, we expect to improve:

(a) collaboration between ranchers and agencies in rangeland management;

(b) effectiveness of outreach by university extension; and

(c) engagement between ranchers and the wider rural public.


George Ruyle

[email protected]
Professor and Extension Specialist
The University of Arizona
School of Natural Resources
1311 E. 4th St.
Tucson, AZ 85721-0043
Office Phone: 5206211384