Can we manage public rangelands for producers and the environment?: Using grazing-duration to balance livelihoods, clean water, sage-grouse habitat, and sustainable forage

Project Overview

SW19-905
Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2019: $349,979.32
Projected End Date: 04/30/2022
Grant Recipient: Utah State University
Region: Western
State: Utah
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Kris Hulvey
Working Lands Conservation
Co-Investigators:
Taylor Payne
Utah Department of Agriculture's Grazing Improvement Program

Commodities

  • Animals: bovine

Practices

  • Animal Production: grazing management, rangeland/pasture management
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns
  • Natural Resources/Environment: habitat enhancement
  • Sustainable Communities: partnerships

    Proposal abstract:

    Public rangelands support producer livelihoods and ranching communities. Society also expects public rangelands to provide clean water for recreation and drinking, plus habitat for wildlife of special concern such as the Greater sage-grouse. Because grazing can reduce water quality and wildlife habitat, federal agencies face litigation curtailing grazing. A common way to address ecological concerns on public lands is to de-stock rangelands. While reducing grazing intensity, such as by de-stocking, can improve range condition, reducing cattle numbers negatively affects rancher incomes and communities.

    To address this tricky management problem, thirty-six Rich County Utah producers engaged in an eleven-year collaborative process with federal and state agencies to develop an innovative grazing plan for their public lands. A key element is altering grazing-duration (defined as length of grazing-time) along streams. Understanding how grazing-duration affects key ecological goals and producer economic-vitality is critical to determining this project’s success.

    Our study addresses this goal by examining how three grazing-durations in replicated riparian areas affect water quality, sage-grouse habitat, and forage recovery. We additionally assess producer cost for altering durations as required in the new Grazing Plan adopted by Rich County producers. Our objectives are to quantify benefits and costs of switching grazing-duration, and demonstrate for producers and policy-makers how altering duration across a working landscape improves ecological outcomes. To this end, our study examines not just how grazing-duration affects forage production, which has been studied, but also how duration impacts ecological benefits and producer economic-vitality – elements often overlooked.  

    Our education and outreach plan includes local data-sharing via personal meetings and field days with producers and agency managers who will use this information to adaptively manage these public lands. We will share information nationally through extension fact sheets, a community newsletter, website postings, and scientific publications and presentations at national conferences.

    Results will ensure the new Rich County Grazing Plan achieves state-mandated water standards and sage-grouse habitat goals, while supporting economically-viable livestock operations. These results are aimed to avert lawsuits targeting public-lands grazing, and provide a balanced public-lands grazing model that can be replicated in other areas. 

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Objectives

    (1)   Determine how grazing-duration affects: (a) stream-side vegetation recovery from grazing, (b) sage-grouse habitat quality, and (c) water quality (Yr 1&2).

    (2)   Quantify improvements to environmental quality (i.e., recovery of stream-side vegetation sage-grouse habitat, and water quality) gained via shorter grazing-durations used with implementation of the Three Creeks Grazing Allotment Consolidation Plan (Yr 1-3; plus Yr 4-6 if we gain additional funding as a long-term project).

    (3)   Quantify the economic costs incurred by producers of changing grazing-durations via implementation of the Three Creeks Grazing Allotment Consolidation Plan by comparing producer costs before implementation to after implementation (Yr 1-3; plus Yr 4-6 if we gain additional funding as a long-term project).

    (4)   Compare implementation costs incurred by producers with improvements to environmental quality to determine pros and cons of altering grazing-durations on Rich County public lands (Yr 3; plus Yr 4-6 if we gain additional funding as a long-term project).

    (5)   Evaluate the value to local producers of altering grazing management (including grazing-durations) via implementation of the Three Creeks Grazing Allotment Consolidation Plan by conducting producer surveys and interviews. These will gauge producer-perceived costs of changing grazing management (e.g., monetary, time) and benefits of doing so (e.g., improved environmental quality, reduced risk of litigation) (Yr 1: survey before the Plan implementation; Yr3: survey and interview after implementation).

    (6)   Share project results, including any found benefits of using grazing-duration as a tool to balance public-lands grazing with provision of clean water, sage-grouse habitat, and resilient riparian areas to rangeland managers and federal agencies in charge of public-lands policy (Yr 2 & 3; plus Yr 4-6 if gain long-term funding).

    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.