Opinion by Emily KachergisWritten by Saige
By Emily Kachergis and Justin Derner, USDA-ARS Rangeland Resources Research Unit; Jim Magagna and Kosha Olsen, Wyoming Stock Growers Association; Rachel Mealor, UW Extension
How did you decide how many pastures to divide your ranch into? How do you know when to move cattle on to the next pasture? If a drought like the recent one in Texas comes to Wyoming next summer, how will you adapt?
Every day, rangeland managers make complicated decisions to balance multiple outcomes. The complex nature of ranch decision-making is not well understood by scientists, policy makers or the general public. To fill this gap, the Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA) has partnered with the Agricultural Research Service and UW Extension on the Rangeland Decision-Making Survey, which will arrive in the mailboxes of WSGA producer members this week.
This survey is an opportunity for ranchers throughout Wyoming to tell us “here is what influences how I make decisions and why.” It focuses on how land managers receive and use information, and the set of factors that are most important in the grazing decision-making process. The survey was developed through interviews and focus groups with ranchers, in which they shared stories about the ranch and their thoughts about the pressing issues the survey should include.
Results from this survey will allow us to identify and communicate ways that ranchers effectively meet the challenges of a changing world. This survey will help WSGA advocate for ranchers, help scientists do research that is relevant for land managers and help UW Extension provide learning opportunities that enhance the quality of life of state residents. Here is a little more information about how each survey partner will put survey results to work for Wyoming ranchers and rangelands.
WSGA will use the information to advocate for land management policies designed with ranchers’ preferences and values in mind. We will share applicable information, as appropriate, with state and federal decision makers. It will better enable us to explain to the public through our outreach programs that today’s rancher is a professional who employs sophisticated range management tools while regularly adopting management to meet changing needs and conditions.
UW Extension will use survey results to create educational programs focused on topics that ranchers are interested in and use to make decisions. Thoughts and opinions from survey respondents will be used to tailor UW Extension outreach efforts regarding rangeland management. Applied research projects may be developed based on survey results. Information obtained from this survey will be critical as UW Extension moves forward in developing relevant and useful educational programs.
The ARS Rangeland Resources Research Unit will use the information to conduct rangeland research that is relevant for, and can be applied by, land managers in Wyoming and surrounding states. Specifically, this information will help us conduct a large-scale adaptive grazing management study beginning in 2013 on the Central Plains Experimental Range in northeast Colorado. We have learned a lot from long-term, controlled experiments there – now it is time to evaluate the effects of realistic, adaptive range management decisions like the ones Wyoming ranchers make every day.
You can also use this information, which will be available to the public in aggregate form next winter (no individual survey answer will be identifiable). We will share the preliminary survey results at the summer WSGA meeting in Jackson Hole and here in the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Full results will be presented at the next WSGA Winter Roundup and in CowCountry, the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and other ranching publications, as well as in scientific journals.
The Rangeland Decision-Making Survey was also conducted in California in 2011 by the California Cattleman’s Association and the University of California at Davis (UC Davis). Preliminary results show that California ranchers balance multiple production and ecosystem health-related goals in managing rangelands – livestock and forage production are first, followed closely by water quality, invasive weed management and soil health. California ranchers are working to adapt their operations to the local context, mostly by improving facilities and infrastructure and herd management practices. They requested more information about these and vegetation management practices. Of incentive programs available in both states, about 30 percent of ranchers used EQIP, and 10 percent each used conservation easements or the Conservation Reserve Program. UC Davis researchers are currently working on a research brief looking at relationships between attitudes and conservation easement participation for use by the California Cattleman’s Association in their advocacy work.
In closing, social and environmental conditions are changing – we want to understand decision-making strategies, innovation and adaptation on Wyoming rangelands. Ranchers are the experts in that, so we are asking you. The usefulness of the survey results relies on participation across many operations, big or small, throughout the state. If you receive a copy of the Rangeland Decision-Making Survey in the mail, please respond promptly. Your answers will be anonymous – the researchers analyzing the data will not have access to individual answers, nor will WSGA. We thank you in advance for your time and consideration, and we look forward to learning from you about how you are meeting today’s challenges.