Prescribed Grazing to Sustain Livestock Production, Soil Quality, and Diversity in Rangeland Ecosystems
Practical grazing options are needed which sustain ecosystem services and livestock production – thus supporting western U.S. rural economies. We are developing a prescribed grazing support tool that blends scientific and management expertise to help managers identify grazing options to enhance ecosystem services. We surveyed 500 ranchers and are conducting 100 on-ranch assessments to:
1) determine how grazing management affects soil quality, plant diversity and forage production; and
2) identify practical and ecologically effective grazing options.
We will integrate existing research with survey and assessment results to develop an internet-based grazing management decision support tool and related outreach and publications.
Our project objectives address Western SARE Goal 1 (Objective 1) and Goal 5 (Objectives 1, 2 and 3). We propose to collaborate with the range management communities in Wyoming and California in general, and specifically with the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, California Cattlemen’s Association, Farm Bureau Federation, Rangeland Conservation Coalition, Audubon and other stakeholders to attain the following objectives:
1. Conduct a scientific survey of 500 rangeland grazing managers across California and Wyoming to determine what prescribed grazing practices they currently use, why they use them and how effective they view them to be; to understand how managers receive, assess and use grazing management information; and to determine their general perspectives and specific experiences managing grazing (e.g., intensity, grazing season and rest from grazing) to enhance ecosystem services (e.g., forage production, carbon sequestration, suppression of weeds).
1) Develop a survey with broad input from leadership of Wyoming Stock Growers and the California Cattlemen’s Association, NRCS and other stakeholders;
2) Achieve 30% initial return success of respondents to the survey in each state;
3) If return success rate is <30%, conduct follow-up contact of rangeland grazing managers by mail or email;
4) Summarize findings from survey;
5) Disseminate information on survey findings at annual meetings for the Wyoming Stock Growers, California Cattlemen’s Association, Society for Range Management and National Conference on Grazing Lands; and
6) Disseminate information on survey findings through popular press publications in Cow Country (publication of Wyoming Stock Growers), Rangelands (publication of the Society for Range Management), and University of Wyoming and California Extension outlets, and through a scientific publication in Rangeland Ecology and Management.
2. Conduct a ranch-scale, cross-sectional, observational field research survey to determine how field indicators of rangeland health on 50 ranches in each state (100 total for the project) correlate to grazing management decisions (e.g., stocking rate, season of grazing/rest, rotational strategies) at the plant community, ecological site and ranch scales.
1) Complete on-ranch research;
2) Conduct statistical analyses to identify and summarize correlations between grazing strategies and rangeland conditions; and
3) Disseminate findings of the on-ranch research as described for Objective 1 above.
3. Develop an internet-based prescribed grazing management decision support tool that allows users to: access information about prescribed grazing, explore ranch-scale specific grazing management and effective monitoring options, and participate in prescribed grazing information exchange.
1) Work with a core advisory group (e.g., ranchers, Cooperative Extension educators, NRCS) to determine information needs, delivery/format options and to develop a draft outline and design for the supporting web-site;
2) Distribute the draft layout of the support site to the 100 on-ranch research collaborators (from Objective 2) and revise site layout based on feedback;
3) Develop supporting programming and website design;
4) Populate site with survey response information (Objective 1), existing research information and results from on-ranch surveys (Objective 2);
5) Beta-test with the 100 on-ranch research collaborators and integrate feedback; and
6) Release final version of decision support tool.
- Completed the Rangeland Decision-Making Survey with the California Cattleman’s Association membership in spring 2011 with over 450 ranchers responding (32% response rate). Entered data and began summarizing findings. Initiated outreach reporting survey results, with presentations at the UC Davis “Managing Rangelands for Ecosystem Services Workshop and Field Day” (October 18, 2011; Image 3, below), at a California Cattleman’s Association meeting (November 17, 2011), and the UC Davis “Managing Rangelands for Multiple Ecosystem Services: 1st Rangeland Science Symposium” (January 19, 2012). Scientific publications, a “science brief” on how values and attitudes influence adoption of conservation easements, and other written outreach products are under development.
Completed the first mailing of the Rangeland Decision-Making Survey to the Wyoming Stock Grower’s Association (WSGA) membership in January 2012 (Image 1, below) with over 250 ranchers responding so far (26% response rate). Promoted the survey through presentations and a trade show booth at the WSGA Winter Roundup (Image 2, below), articles in the WSGA quarterly magazine, CowCountry, and in the weekly newspaper, the Wyoming Livestock Roundup, and through email outreach to University of Wyoming Extension, Conservation Districts and NRCS field offices. Data entry and second mailings are in progress.
Completed plans for on-ranch visits in Wyoming and California. Visits will include 1) interviews with ranchers to collect ranch-specific information on their decision-making processes and to identify on-ranch sampling locations, and 2) measurements of ecosystem services at identified locations, including indicators of soil quality, diversity, wildlife habitat and hydrology. On-ranch visits will be conducted in Wyoming and California in the upcoming year.
The web-based decision-making support tool is still in development, and will be based on survey results and on-ranch visits, as well as input from the advisory team.
- Cover of the Wyoming edition of the Rangeland Decision-Making Survey, mailed out in January 2012 in cooperation with the Wyoming Stock Growers Association.
- Ranchers, natural resource managers, and the research team discuss how to monitor ecosystem services at the “Managing Rangelands for Ecosystem Services Workshop and Field Day” near Grass Valley, California (October 18, 2011).
- Trade show booth at the Wyoming Stock Growers Association Winter Roundup, featuring outreach for the Wyoming Rangeland Decision-Making Survey and preliminary results from the California survey (bottom right).
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
- The Rangeland Decision-Making Survey will help scientists, policy makers and the general public understand the complex nature of ranch decision-making. Results from the survey will enhance the web-based decision-making tool and assist the research team with providing information that ranchers can use. More broadly, they will also help scientists do research that is relevant for land managers, inform policies that affect ranchers and help Extension provide learning opportunities that enhance their quality of life. The survey has been completed in California and is underway in Wyoming, with over 600 ranchers responding overall. Recent outreach for the Wyoming survey has included two newspaper articles, two magazine articles, three presentations and a trade show booth at the Wyoming Stock Growers Association Winter Roundup describing the project and highlighting some of the results from the California survey. In addition, informational emails have gone out to natural resource professionals throughout Wyoming. We will share results from the Wyoming and California surveys broadly in popular and scientific publications, and also make them available to the public.
We have held several workshops for producers and natural resource professionals to inform them of project activities and progress and capture immediate feedback. Future workshops will also incorporate training sessions for the final decision support tool. Diverse producers and natural resource professionals attended two large workshops recently held in California: the “Managing Rangelands for Ecosystem Services Workshop and Field Day” (October 17-19, 2011; Images 1 and 2, below) and the “Managing Rangelands for Multiple Ecosystem Services: 1st Rangeland Science Symposium” (January 19, 2012). During the three-day workshop and field day event in October, we held project meetings with California advisory group members, presented new and upcoming research to clientele and conducted a field tour on three local ranches. Both workshops highlighted what we know about how rangeland management can promote multiple ecosystem services, explored next steps and also solicited feedback. They were very well-attended, with 135 attendees at the October workshop and over 400 at the January symposium. Follow-up workshops in both California and Wyoming are currently in the planning stages for the coming year.
On-ranch visits will generate new knowledge about how rangelands can and do provide multiple benefits to society. The individual producers who participate will benefit in several tangible ways. We will share the data collected on their property with them. It will also be an opportunity for dialogue about the decision-making process and the challenges that face ranchers today. Producers who do not participate can benefit from research and outreach products provided via the web-based decision-making tool, workshops and field days and popular magazine and journal publications.
The web-based decision making tool will allow ranchers to experiment with “what-if” scenarios examining the responses of multiple ecosystem services under ranch specific conditions. The user will select the specific ecosystem services he/she wants to enhance and prioritize these goals. Recommendations generated by the support tool will be presented in an adaptive management framework and will provide a starting point for the adaptive management process. The support tool will recommend ecosystem service indicators and simple field observations that the manager should conduct in order to determine that grazing is being implemented as recommended, and that ecosystem services are responding as desired. Based upon these indicators, the user can adapt management iteratively. Overall, this will result in improved ability to manage rangelands for production and conservation.
- Participants walk back to the vehicles after visiting a grazing exclosure at the “Managing Rangelands for Ecosystem Services Workshop and Field Day” near Grass Valley, California (October 18, 2011).
- The research team shares what is known about how rangeland management practices can promote ecosystem services at the “Managing Rangelands for Ecosystem Services Workshop and Field Day” near Grass Valley, California (October 18. 2011).
USDA-Agricultural Research Service
High Plains Grasslands Research Station
8408 Hildreth Road
Cheyenne, WY 82001
Office Phone: 3077722433