Enabling Smart Users of Big Landscapes with Stocksmart, a Decision Support Tool for Rangeland Professionals

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2024: $99,106.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2027
Grant Recipient: Washington State University
Region: Western
State: Washington
Principal Investigator:
Tipton Hudson
Washington State University
Matt Rahr
Univ. of Arizona


No commodities identified


No practices identified

Proposal abstract:

We are proposing to disseminate and support adoption of a
state-of-the-art grazing capacity tool that can inform public and
private rangeland grazing at a time when adaptive grazing
management is needed to deal with invasive species, altered fire
regimes, and semi-arid rangelands vulnerable to subtle climate
shifts. Federal agencies often lack sufficient data describing
vegetation performance to inform contentious public lands grazing
decisions and revisions.

Prior stocking rate tools assume land managers have spatially
accurate information on forage quantity on vast and heterogeneous
landscapes. But in arid and semi-arid ecosystems the inherent
interannual variability of precipitation and forage production is
high, values are largely unknown and vary across the landscape,
and these uncertainties complicate stocking rate decisions. This
environmental variability also highlights the importance of
animal distribution efforts, usually driven by grazing
infrastructure such as watering sites and fences.

StockSmart incorporates historical forage production and
variability with user-defined animal behavior prediction to
permit spatially-explicit dynamic stocking calculations and
grazing planning (Hudson et al., 2021). It also allows testing of
scenarios of different infrastructure investments by quantifying
expected changes in forage availability and quantity. These
analyses are critical for federal and state agency National
Environmental Policy Act permit renewals, grazing alternatives in
Environmental Impact Statements, and calculations of grazing
capacity for new grazing proposals.

The StockSmart team will conduct outreach on the proper use of
this collaboratively-developed web application. We will focus
effort on public agency personnel in the Western United States
who make grazing decisions on federal, state, and tribal lands
and technical service providers who advise landowners on the
management of private grazing lands. 

Project objectives from proposal:

The primary project objectives are to build awareness of the
existence and capabilities of StockSmart, and the data-derived
calculations it provides, among rangeland professionals across 11
western States; ensure a diverse network of ranchers, public
lands managers, technical service providers and consultants have
the skills, training, and support they need to both use
StockSmart themselves and to train others in its use; expand
StockSmart capabilities so that advanced users can use it access
other big data products that provide credible forage production
estimates in their particular region.

We will design training such that participants better understand:

  • precipitation and ANPP variability in lands they manage
  • spatial heterogeneity of ANPP across lands they manage
  • factors influencing livestock terrain use
  • the need to constrain available forage estimates to areas
    actually accessed by livestock, which may be much less than total
    permitted or fenced area.
  • factors in sustainable stocking rate and the wide variation
    in results based on multiple variables, see (Hudson et al.,
  • how to explore how much additional forage could become
    available given particular infrastructure improvements
  • implications of alternative scenarios according to NEPA

This understanding will enable users of the tool to:

  • synthesize multiple sources of spatially-explicit forage
    production data with existing agency data on grazing history and
  • develop starting stocking rates using StockSmart and
    user-defined animal terrain use factors
  • evaluate the full range of expected animal units against
    highly variable landscapes while balancing wildlife needs
  • combine StockSmart results with prior grazing plans and
    rangeland condition and changes in vegetation cover over time to
    create future grazing plans with a broader set of data
  • analyze proposed or possible infrastructure changes such as
    new cross-fence, revised management divisions using virtual
    fence, new stockwatering locations, adjusting class or breed or
    species of livestock, etc.
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.