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Adaptive Rangeland Management

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Project Summary: 

We are exploring the institutional and social factors involved with the adoption and diffusion or innovative grazing practices. This is in collaboration with rangeland ecologists who will use an experimental rangeland to measure changes in ecosystem services under different grazing strategies. Survey data will be collected from California and Wyoming ranchers to understand the factors influencing adaptive decision-making.

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California’s rangelands make up over 15% of the land area in the state. Grazing management decisions in rangelands influence the extent to which lands
(1) provides forage that can support livestock,
(2) stores carbon and nitrogen,
(3) hosts diverse plant and animal communities,
(4) minimizes invasions by weedy species, and
(5) contributes to water storage for human consumption.

The outcomes of grazing choices can have profound influences over local ecology, rural agricultural economies, and the drinking water supplies of all Californians. This study uses ecological and social methods to investigate grazing management practices as they relate to each of these services.

The goal is to understand how different scales of influence intersect to inspire innovativeg grazing strategies that support landscape-level ecological function and the economic interests of ranchers. Our inquiry in to the social components of decision making are paired with experimental grazing treatments implemented by Dr. Ken Tate and doctoral candidate Leslie Roche. While they examine how changes in intensity, time of year, and rest regimes influences ecosystem services, we will examine the social contexts in which rangeland management occurs. A survey of ranchers will help understand how experts in the science, policy, and practice of ranching can communicate with one another more effectively and identify how the structure of the current system creates both barriers and opportunities to managing land to most effectively reach multiple goals.

Ultimately, we are interested in improving the usefulness of decision support tools. The goal is to allow people who make grazing decisions to explore grazing management options and to access useful and credible information about different prescribed grazing and restoration strategies.

Currently, we are crafting the survey and conducting interviews with ranchers and key supporters of the project. The interviews will be used to (1) develop a research project focusing on the factors that influence grazing decisions (2) shape emerging research and decision support tools to fit the needs of their intended applied audiences and most concretely (3) develop a sense for suitable language and content for a large-scale survey aiming to examine the factors drive grazing decisions; to understand how managers receive, assess, and use grazing management information; and to identify management perspectives on managing grazing intensity, grazing season, and rest from grazing for restoration of soil, plant, and water functions and other ecosystem services.

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