Co-developing criteria for white bark pine friendly ranching

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional + Producer
Funds awarded in 2024: $73,097.00
Projected End Date: 05/01/2027
Grant Recipients: USDA ARS; University of Montana-Western
Region: Western
State: Montana
Principal Investigator:


  • Additional Plants: native plants
  • Animals: bovine, sheep


  • Animal Production: rangeland/pasture management
  • Education and Training: participatory research
  • Natural Resources/Environment: habitat enhancement

    Proposal abstract:

    In Idaho and Montana, many public
    lands cattle and sheep ranchers are interdependent with forested
    public lands. Because social support for ranching on public lands
    is declining, and conservation concerns for biodiversity is
    increasing, ranchers need science-based grazing guidelines to
    improve and get credit for their land stewardship, especially
    where grazing occurs on lands home to the threatened whitebark
    pine tree. We propose to develop and deploy a prototype
    “Whitebark Pine Friendly Ranching  Certification”, following
    the success of a similar protocol for ski resorts in the region.
    Using two mountain ranges as test cases, our research questions
    center on 1) mapping: where do whitebark pine exist near
    livestock? 2) ecological assessment and monitoring: indicators of
    tree mortality, canopy structure, understory vegetation
    composition, livestock presence, and wildlife presence?  3)
    livestock grazing: how does sheep grazing impact whitebark pine
    seedlings? 4) local ecological knowledge: manager observations of
    ecology, grazing, and social change.  We will develop the
    project with ranchers, scientists, students, conservation groups
    and land managers in multiple meetings, and conduct an immersive
    backcountry tour of whitebark/grazing interactions. We will also
    develop a curriculum and internship program at University of
    Montana-Western. By braiding local and scientific knowledge into
    online outreach products and the Certification, we expect
    outcomes such as: 1) improvement and recognition of ranching
    practices that enhance forest conservation; 2) increased social
    support for ranching on public lands; 3) new relationships, and
    increased trust, and respect among different stakeholders; 4)
    improved sustainability of ranching enterprises.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The goal of this project is to
    advance sustainable grazing practices in high-elevation mountain
    ecosystems by improving the science on how grazing interacts with
    a threatened tree species, the whitebark pine
    . This
    project addresses rangeland-based sheep and cattle production, as
    well as backcountry outfitting agricultural businesses.
    Specifically, producers, researchers, and students will
    collaborate to conduct forest mapping and monitoring, a grazing
    experiment, and oral history interviews that will feed into the
    development of a prototype “White Bark Pine Friendly Ranching”
    certification protocol. Working in Montana and Idaho, our team
    will co-develop and deliver the research findings to ranchers,
    conservation groups, managers, and students through a novel
    outreach and education program that involves online and in-person
    training activities led by the University of Montana-Western. The
    specific project objectives are:

    Research Objective 1: Map
    whitebark and grazing interactions in existing grazing allotments
    Centennial and Gravelly Mountains.


    Research Objective 2: Assess current ecological conditions and
    develop a long-term monitoring study in areas where grazing and
    whitebark pine have historically overlapped in the Centennial
    (Idaho) and Gravelly Mountains (Montana).


    Research Objective 3: Quantify the capacity of sheep grazing to
    promote the conditions for whitebark establishment.


    Research Objective 4: Document local knowledge ecological change in
    the grazing allotments. Use interviews and oral histories with
    ranchers, herders, range riders, outfitters, and other land users
    (n>15) to document: land use, changes in forest and watershed
    conditions, grazing cultures, and emergent


    Research Objective 5: Develop a prototype “whitebark pine friendly
    ranching certification”.


    Education Objective 1: Increase awareness and adoption of whitebark
    pine friendly grazing practices among agricultural


    Education Objective 2: Create a new learning community that builds
    trust and supports co-development of scientific and local
    knowledge of sustainable ranching practices in whitebark pine


    Education Objective 3: Broaden participation, build research
    capacity, and train a new generation of rangeland scientists in
    sustainable agricultural research and education.


    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.