Cattle as Partners in Conservation: Ecological, Economic, and Social Outcomes of Public-Private Partnerships on Colorado Landscapes

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2020: $24,727.00
Projected End Date: 07/31/2022
Host Institution Award ID: G235-21-W7902
Grant Recipient: Colorado State University
Region: Western
State: Colorado
Graduate Student:
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Stacy Lynn
Colorado State University

Information Products


  • Animals: bovine
  • Animal Products: meat


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, free-range, grazing management, grazing - rotational, range improvement, rangeland/pasture management, stocking rate
  • Education and Training: decision support system, networking, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: land access
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, carbon sequestration, habitat enhancement, indicators, soil stabilization
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, holistic management
  • Soil Management: organic matter, soil analysis, soil chemistry, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, partnerships, public participation, social networks, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    Conceptualizing cattle as partners in conservation would be a win-win for the livestock and rangeland conservation sectors, resolving the [often] paradoxical objectives of food production and natural resource management. For millennia the ecology of grasslands, characterized by high quality forage and profuse biodiversity, has supported large herds of herbivores. In turn herbivory has contributed to the maintenance of those ecosystems [1, 2]. However, a debate over the use of public rangelands for cattle grazing is ongoing at local, national, and global levels [3-7]. Amplifying the issue for conservationists and livestock producers alike is the notion that more land is used to raise cattle than is used for all other agricultural production combined [8].
    To learn more about the collaborative grazing management that occurs across Colorado’s rangelands, we will conduct a holistic investigation of four partnerships between private ranchers and public land managers. We will evaluate three system components – ecological, economic, and social – to answer our overarching question: How do strategic grazing partnerships on multi-use public landscapes achieve the dual goals of assisting land management agencies with natural resource conservation, and ranchers with maintaining sustainable beef production?
    Themes to be explored include soil health, biodiversity, forage quality, and stakeholder values and perceptions of ecosystem services. Results will be used to support collaborating ranchers and public lands agencies by informing how cattle may be managed as tools for conservation while producing a sustainable food product. We will also create an integrated model to broaden applicability to collaborative rangeland management efforts in other regions.

    Project objectives from proposal:

                The following objectives incorporate variables relevant to the model of sustainability. The ecological objectives include soil and biodiversity studies. Soil organic carbon and nitrogen, water infiltration, biodiversity, and forage quality are well established indicators of rangeland health and sustainable agriculture. In a time when climate change is an imminent threat, carbon sequestration and nitrogen management also provide solution-focused strategy for mitigation.  The economic objective investigates stakeholders’ valuation of ecosystem services produced by collaborative conservation. Evaluating human values as drivers of decision-making provides a method of emerging importance in sustainability science [33-38]. The social objective involves surveying public perceptions of conservation grazing. Public support is an integral aspect of multi-use landscapes, and perceptions of cattle grazing on conservation land can be a source of contention. Supplemental education could positively impact these perceptions.

      1. Examine the outcomes of collaborative grazing management on soil health as measured by levels of a) organic carbon, b) nitrogen, and c) water infiltration, over a 2-year period. 2. Examine the outcomes of collaborative grazing management on above-ground biodiversity as measured by a) plant species diversity (richness and evenness), and b) composition (functional groups), over a 2-year period. 3. Examine the outcomes of collaborative grazing management on forage nutritive quality as measured by a) crude protein, b) acid detergent fiber, and c) neutral detergent fiber, over a 2-year period. 4. Identify and evaluate the unique sets of values and perceptions toward ecosystem services among collaborative grazing management stakeholders and investigate how the prioritization of these values drive dynamic 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.