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Guest Opinions

Out of Range

Written by Brian Mealor

By Brian Mealor, President of the Wyoming Section of the Society for Range Management

I am on the “smart” phone more than I would like to be. My job at the University of Wyoming demands a constant stream of communication to and from Extension clientele, research cooperators, graduate students and others. It is not just phone conversations, either. What the phone companies refer to as data comes in the form of texts, emails and tweets, but one of the beauties of our great state is that there are times when I am out of range – my phone does not receive signal transmission. I can more clearly concentrate on the task at hand and contemplate larger issues in life. Sometimes when I am out of range, I consider how much of our state is “in range.”

Somewhere around 85 percent of Wyoming’s land area is classified as rangeland – lands where the dominant vegetation is comprised of grasses, forbs and shrubs. Rangelands are often associated with extensive livestock production, which is one of the primary land uses of our Wyoming rangelands. But they are more than just pastures. Wyoming’s rangelands provide energy, clean air and water, wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities and more. They contribute to our state’s, and our own, identity. 

It seems that society – the “general public,” if such a thing exists – is paying more attention to rangeland-related issues than ever before. Recent events have been highlighted by the national media, perhaps sensationalized to some extent, and citizens far removed from western rangelands have had to try to process that information from a relatively uninformed perspective. 

The nature of issues facing range managers has also seemed to increase in complexity over time, perhaps in response to the recognition that rangelands should be managed to provide multiple “ecosystem services,” instead of a simple handful. Instead of planning for drought from a water and forage availability standpoint, we must now consider the broad-reaching impacts of trends of the greater sage grouse population, how our range management actions or inactions may impact the grouse and how those trends and accompanying policy decisions may affect the local and national economy. This is only one example. Many range management challenges elicit a strong emotional response from all sides of the debates.

I now find myself circling back to the data from which I tried to escape in the first paragraph when I was out of range. Policy decisions are not best informed by knee-jerk, emotional entreaties. They are not improved by misinformation from biased sources easily found online. Such important decisions, whether they are made at the pasture scale or the national scale, should be guided by high-quality, unbiased information. 

As range scientists and managers, we should consider the importance of supporting our stances with sound information, so we can engage in dialogue with those of opposing viewpoints from a position of informational integrity. Can you refute a claim that your grazing management practices are damaging the resources if you have no “proof” to support your argument? Can you provide evidence that you have improved the land if you have not documented the improvements? Do you want to be able to tell your own story, or would you rather have someone else develop the narrative. Avoiding information is not a solution – do not stay out of range.

The Wyoming Section of the Society for Range Management is holding its annual meeting in Evanston on Nov. 18-20. The theme of this year’s meeting is “Innovation and Opportunity Across Borders – Managing Rangelands to Create Resilient Natural and Social Systems.” Speakers and participants will learn about ongoing programs developing creative solutions to complex rangeland management issues. 

The technical sessions will also be available in a webinar format, for those who may have travel limitations. More information about the meeting can be found at rangelands.org/wyoming. For more information on Wyoming rangelands, visit uwyoextension.org/range or rangelands.org/wyoming.

Brian A. Mealor is also an assistant professor and Extension feed specialist for the University of Wyoming.