Ecological and Economic Benefit-Cost Comparison of Grazed and Ungrazed Prairie Land for Critical Species Protection in Western Washington

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2018: $248,229.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2021
Grant Recipient: Washington State University
Region: Western
State: Washington
Principal Investigator:
Stephen Bramwell
Washington State University

Information Products


  • Animals: bovine
  • Animal Products: meat


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, free-range, grazing management, grazing - rotational, pasture renovation, pasture fertility, rangeland/pasture management
  • Education and Training: extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, financial management
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, habitat enhancement, wildlife
  • Pest Management: competition, cultural control, weed ecology
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems
  • Sustainable Communities: community development, community planning, community services, local and regional food systems, public policy, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    Most rangelands west of the Cascades in the Pacific Northwest occur on sites that
    historically supported native prairie. Over 90% of the prairies in this region have been
    converted to agriculture or lost to development, making conservation of this rare system a
    top conservation priority. At the same time, the human population in this region
    continues to grow, demanding more from regional food production systems. Therefore,
    agricultural producers are under great pressure from growing needs for food production
    and habitat conservation. Because of this, it is increasingly recognized that effective
    prairie conservation can only be achieved by partnering with private landowners to
    develop incentivized conservation strategies that maintain productive farms.
    Through a unique collaboration between agricultural producers, conservation
    scientists, economists, sociologists, regulators and agricultural researchers, we propose to
    evaluate if and how agricultural productivity can be maintained or enhanced in working
    landscapes while simultaneously accruing conservation value for rare native plants and
    animals. Through replicated on-farm experimental demonstrations, we will quantify the
    ‘ecological lift’ generated by conservation tools (altered grazing regimes, spring rest
    period, seeding native species). Additionally, we will evaluate the costs and benefits
    associated with conservation actions, to provide guidance on strategies and expenses for
    agricultural producers. Finally, we will survey producers to identify concerns, questions
    and needs (financial, technical, other) surrounding habitat conservation on their
    properties. The combined ecological, economic and social survey data will help guide
    government incentive programs. We expect this work to identify opportunities for
    agricultural producers to increase the conservation value of their properties, while
    maintaining or even enhancing their bottom line.
    Study findings and educational materials resulting from the demonstration trials
    will be communicated through peer-reviewed publications, presentations at academic
    conferences, a published grazing management guidebook, and a series of collaborative
    regional workshops for agricultural producers, researchers, extension agents, and land

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Develop a regional network of three grazed prairie research sites to demonstrate and evaluate
    effects of conservation tools on prairie habitat. This objective will:
    a. Implement conservation tools for target species and habitats, with focus on management
    intensive grazing, exclusion during critical flowering periods and/or native seeding.
    b. Evaluate impact of conservation installations through a range of habitat and species
    abundance metrics over 3 years.
    2. Utilizing the regional network of grazed and ungrazed prairie sites, quantify the financial
    benefits and costs associated with managing critical habitat and species on grazed prairie as
    compared to ungrazed conservation prairie over a 3-year period. This objective will:
    a. Provide practical financial information to farmers, the conservation community, and the
    county planners concerning the costs of meeting HCP requirements on grazed and
    ungrazed prairie both on private and protected sites.
    b. Develop enterprise budgets and a benefit-cost analysis to inform HCP acreage targets for
    protecting critical species on grazed land relative to conservation preserve land.
    3. Engage private landowners by administering a social survey focused on landowner needs for
    increased involvement in land conservation programs (conservation easements, HCP, Safe
    Harbor Agreement). This objective will:
    a. Engage producers and regulatory entities in a productive discussion on incentives needed
    for habitat conservation on working lands.
    b. Provide feedback for regulatory programs on effective strategies to engage private
    4. Present opportunities for technical assistance related to habitat management and discuss
    economic and landowner incentive opportunities with agricultural producers, regulatory
    agencies and conservation land managers through several mechanisms:
    a. Workshop series, with field tours of the agricultural demonstration sites and native prairie
    preserve sites. Field tours will be sponsored by WSU, CNLM, Thurston County
    Conservation District and NRCS.
    b. WSU-Extension technical bulletin providing management guidelines and financial data
    for conservation tools; and two published manuscripts in peer-reviewed journals.
    c. Presentation of findings at regional and national conferences.

    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.