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Adaptation Working Group Webinar

Tuesday, August 9, 2016 - 2:00pm to 3:00pm

The Adaptive Grazing Management Project: An Effort to Bridge the Rangeland Science/Management Divide through Collaboration

Hailey Wilmer, USDA-ARS Northern Plains Climate Hub Fellow

Dial in: 855-547-8255, passcode: 67416#

In this webinar, Hailey will describe ongoing CSU/ARS collaborative and interdisciplinary research efforts in Colorado and Wyoming that attempt to foster adaptive rangeland management. Rangeland social-ecological systems (SES) in the semiarid, western Great Plains persist under highly variable inter-and intra-annual climatic conditions, and face fluctuating market prices and changing social demands for multiple production and conservation management objectives.  The concerns of rangeland stakeholders include the desire to support diverse native plant communities, economically viable cattle ranches and grassland bird habitat.  Conventional rangeland experiments have traditionally excluded consideration of the decision-making and adaptation processes of grazing and ranch management.  The Adaptive Grazing Management project is a collaborative, interdisciplinary effort between rangeland stakeholders (conservation NGOs, ranchers, and government agencies) and researchers from USDA-ARS, CSU, Texas A&M and UC-Davis with expertise in rangeland ecology, animal science, economics, and community based natural resource management/social science. The project involves two related components that aim to foster partnerships and learning through active engagement of rangeland stakeholders.

The first component of the project, the Adaptive Grazing Management Experiment, is a ten-year study wherein 11 rangeland stakeholders engage in a structured, science-based decision-making process to manage ~220 cattle on 130 ha of shortgrass steppe at the Central Plains Experimental Range in Nunn, CO. Their decisions attempt to serve beef production, wildlife habitat and vegetation objectives. Social data collected during the first three years of stakeholder meetings, interviews and a focus group suggest that the experimental context of the project helps build trust and shared objectives across stakeholder types, reduces risks to public land stakeholders, and creates a space for social learning, though this learning occurs with ecological, social and political complications. The second component of the project is the Rancher Decision-Making Study, a nested case study of 17 family ranches in Colorado and Wyoming that aims to document rancher decision-making processes and the resultant ecological outcomes. In this study, we pair qualitative methods (including repeated rancher/family interviews) with ecological sampling to link indicators of rangeland condition with patterns in grazing management decisions, including adaptations to climate, market and social change.  Initial results of this study suggest that ranchers practice an ethic of care around multiple rangeland goals and objectives, including environmental and cultural stewardship, and that ecological outcomes are attributable to broader socio-economic and climatic drivers. Collaborative and participatory approaches involving managers and scientists hold promise to integrate local, experiential and scientific knowledge to inform and support adaptive management of rangelands.