Can soil carbon help fund rangeland management?

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2023: $349,795.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2026
Host Institution Award ID: G292-23-W9981
Grant Recipient: Working Lands Conservation/Multiplier
Region: Western
State: Utah
Principal Investigator:
Megan Nasto
Working Lands Conservation/Multiplier


  • Animals: bovine


  • Animal Production: grazing management
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration
  • Soil Management: organic matter, soil analysis, soil quality/health

    Proposal abstract:

    Soil organic carbon (SOC) is a primary indicator of soil health. As such, the reduction or loss of SOC lowers soil quality and leads to land degradation. In the western U.S., where 85% of public lands are rangelands, livestock grazing has led to a significant loss of SOC across the country’s vital agroecosystem under public ownership. A management strategy with the potential to balance grazing with rangeland soil health and SOC maintenance is the implementation grazing practices that minimize livestock’s physical impacts on rangelands and rangeland processes. A number of barriers, however, prevent Utah producers and land managers from implementing such practices. First, stakeholders do not always understand the links between grazing practices and the maintenance or accrual of SOC. Second, the costs of both implementing new grazing practices and measuring SOC are financially burdensome. These barriers can stymie producers and land managers from adopting management approaches despite their value for land stewardship.

                To address these barriers and stimulate the adoption of management approaches and technologies in conjunction with agricultural production, the goal of our research is threefold: 1) Examine whether grazing practices that alters traditional durations/timings can improve rangeland soil health and increase SOC storage; 2) Test how a new SOC analysis technology, midinfrared reflectance (MIR) spectroscopy, can lower SOC measurement costs; and 3) Assess whether SOC sequestration can yield the economic returns needed to shift grazing practices and support producer livelihoods. Coupling grazing practices with technological advances in soil health monitoring will allow us to examine the potential for western U.S. rangeland soils to sequester SOC when a new grazing system is implemented. It will also enable producers to enter voluntary C-marketplaces and generate novel revenue that can sustain the new grazing system.

                We will accomplish these goals by synergizing with a collaborative, multi-stakeholder grazing project taking place in Rich County, UT, and completing the first landscape-scale SOC sequestration assessment on UT rangelands. We expect the legacy of different historical grazing durations/timings will affect SOC stocks, and managing this element of grazing on rangelands will improve soil health. For example, we expect that pastures historically grazed for short durations/variable timings will result in the largest stocks of SOC. We also expect that switching the Rich County rangeland to a short-duration/variable timing rotational grazing system will yield measurable and meaningful increases in SOC. The dissemination of these project results – via field tours, local, regional, and national meetings, white papers, non-peer-reviewed and peer-reviewed publications – will benefit the field of rangeland science, the livelihoods of producers, the actionable goals of land managers, and the environment and economy of the western U.S.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Research objectives:

    1. Examine how the historical legacy of different grazing durations/timings affected soil organic carbon (SOC) storage across a semi-arid rangeland.
    2. Examine how a short-duration/variable-timing watershed-scale grazing system alters SOC storage.
    3. Compare the accuracy of conventional soil analysis methodologies with a new technology - midinfrared reflectance spectroscopy.
    4. Quantify the potential financial benefits of the new grazing system to increase SOC based on historical grazing durations/timings, and SOC analysis methodologies.


    Education objective:

    1. Develop a suite of outreach materials that communicates the importance of innovative grazing management to improve soil health, promotes the adoption of new grazing practices and technology, and recognizes the role of semi-arid rangelands in sequestering soil organic carbon.
    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.