Prescribed Grazing to Sustain Livestock Production, Soil Quality, and Diversity in Rangeland Ecosystems

2012 Annual Report for SW10-073

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2010: $197,268.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: Western
State: Wyoming
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Kenneth Tate
University of California Davis

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.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Our project objectives address Western SARE Goal 1 (Objective 1) and Goal 5 (Objectives 1, 2 and 3). We proposed 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).

Performance Targets: 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 Association, 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 Association), Rangelands (publication of the Society for Range Management), and University of Wyoming and University of California Cooperative 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.

Performance Targets: 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.

Performance Targets: 1) Work with a core advisory group (e.g., ranchers, UC Cooperative Extension educators, NRCS) to determine information needs, delivery/format options, and 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.


1. Continued outreach and drafted several scientific publications based on the California Rangeland Decision-Making Survey of 511 producer members (33.5% response rate) of the California Cattlemen’s Association. Presented survey results in diverse venues, including the California Cattleman’s Association mid-year (June 14-15, Coalinga, CA) and annual conventions (November 15-16, Santa Clara, CA), the California Climate & Agriculture Network Field Day (October 30, Paicines Ranch, CA), and the Rangeland Science Symposium and California Rangeland Conservation Coalition Summit (January 24-25, Davis, CA). Presented results at the Ecological Society of America’s annual meeting (August 5-10, Portland, OR) and completed a “science brief” on how values and attitudes influence adoption of conservation easements. Drafted a broad scientific publication summarizing survey results—with specific emphasis on characterizing the socio-economic-structural makeup of California ranch enterprises, as well as identifying ranchers’ 1) ecosystem service goals, 2) management strategies to achieve these goals and 3) information needs for developing management strategies. Additionally, drafted scientific publications examining survey results, focusing on 1) adoption of rangeland conservation easements and 2) characterizing on-ranch prescribed grazing strategies and investigating how individual rancher knowledge sources, behaviors and attitudes are associated with their decisions about grazing strategies. Additional publications on factors influencing adaptive management responses in relation to drought are under development. Further outreach will continue to share survey results broadly through presentations, scientific and popular publications and the project website (

2. Completed the Rangeland Decision-Making Survey with the Wyoming Stock Growers Association membership in spring 2012, with over 300 ranchers responding (50% response rate). Entered data and began summarizing findings. Initiated outreach reporting survey results, including over 600 factsheets distributed at the summer (May 30-June 2, Jackson, WY) and winter (December 10-12, Casper, WY) Wyoming Stock Growers Association meetings, presentations at the Colorado Society for Range Management Meeting in Fort Collins, CO (November 30) and the joint Wyoming Stock Growers Association/Wyoming Society for Range Management/Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts meeting in Casper, WY (December 10-12), and articles in the Wyoming Stock Growers Association quarterly magazine Cow Country and the weekly newspaper, Wyoming Livestock Roundup. A scientific publication summarizing survey results was submitted and accepted to the open-access journal Natural Resources and will be available to the public in March 2013. Outreach focusing on survey results relevant to the ongoing drought is also underway in collaborative efforts with the University of Wyoming Extension. We presented survey results regarding drought at a Managing Drought Risk on the Ranch workshop in Cody, Wyoming (September 24) and at Colorado State University (October 10). A scientific publication focused on rangeland management practices during drought is under development. Further outreach will continue to share survey results broadly through presentations and scientific and popular publications.

3. Completed 20 on-ranch visits in southeastern Wyoming in June-August 2012. Visits included 1) interviews with ranchers to collect ranch-specific information on their decision-making processes and to identify two on-ranch sampling locations and 2) measurements of ecosystem services at identified locations, including indicators of soil quality, diversity, wildlife habitat and hydrology (Images 1 and 2). Entered and checked data. Assembled and mailed each study participant a binder of data and interpretation from their ranch. Analyses of rangeland management decision-making and how practices relate to ecosystem services are ongoing. Because 2012 was an exceptional drought year, next year we are planning to re-visit the same ranches to explore how inter-annual climate variability (and post-drought influences if precipitation is adequate, or continued drought if precipitation remains low) affects grazing management decision-making and provision of ecosystem services.

4. To broaden the applicability of Wyoming ranch visit results, we conducted several additional activities during summer and fall of 2012. First, we interviewed nine rangeland professionals in the southeastern region of Wyoming to understand their rangeland management decision-making process. Interviewees represented diverse interests including federal agencies, conservation organizations, researchers and extension. Interviews have been transcribed and will be analyzed in conjunction with the on-ranch interviews to provide a broader understanding of rangeland management in different contexts. Second, we conducted measurements of ecosystem services in a twice-replicated long-term (since 1982) stocking rate experiment at the High Plains Grasslands Research Station in southeastern Wyoming (Images 3 and 4). These data will complement the ranch visit data by providing an understanding of the effects of stocking rate on rangeland ecosystem services in the region, which can be compared to the effects of more complex grazing decisions.

5. On-ranch visits and semi-structured interviews will be conducted in California in the upcoming year. During the summer-winter of 2012, we conducted outreach on the project at joint stakeholder meetings across the state. We also visited with a diverse group of ranchers (16 individuals) and UC extension advisors — the objective of these preliminary visits was to help inform question development for the semi-structured interviews and on-ranch sampling in the upcoming years. We will continue to enroll a diversity of managers from cross-state transects in northern, central and southern California. On-ranch interviews will begin spring 2013.

6. 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.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

1. 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 Wyoming, with over 800 ranchers responding overall. Recent outreach for the Wyoming survey has included two factsheets, four presentations, two magazine articles, a newspaper article, and a trade show booth highlighting results from the California and Wyoming surveys. In addition, a scientific paper highlighting Wyoming survey results has been accepted to an open-access journal where it will be broadly available to the public. Several additional publications are in preparation, including two that address ways of increasing flexibility in rangeland management during drought. Recent outreach for the California survey has also included five presentations to multiple stakeholder groups, two presentations at a scientific meeting, and internet-based outreach (stakeholder e-newsletters, project webpage). We will continue to share results from the Wyoming and California surveys broadly in popular and scientific publications, and also make them available to the public.

2. We have held several workshops for producers and natural resource professionals to inform them of project activities and progress, as well as to capture immediate feedback. Follow-up workshops in both California and Wyoming are currently in the planning stages for the coming year. Participants in the Wyoming ranch visits have been invited to a field day at the High Plains Grasslands Research Station in Cheyenne, WY, on June 20, 2013, to learn project results they can use and tour the long-term (since 1982) grazing management experiments there (Images 3 and 4). Ranchers, rangeland managers and conservation professionals from across California will be invited to a field day at the Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center in Browns Valley, CA on May 7, 2013 — which will highlight results from the California research program. Future workshops will also incorporate training sessions for the final decision support tool.

3. On-ranch visits will generate new knowledge about how rangelands can and do provide multiple benefits to society (Images 1 and 2). The individual producers who participate have benefited in several tangible ways. We have shared the data collected on their property with them. The ranch visit also provided 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.

4. 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.


Justin Derner

[email protected]
Rangeland Scientist
USDA-Agricultural Research Service
High Plains Grasslands Research Station
8408 Hildreth Road
Cheyenne, WY 82001
Office Phone: 3077722433