A Home on the Range for Fast and Helpful Computerized Models
|Compared to the lush, green pastures
of the Southeast, the prickly cactus, leathery shrubs, and coarse grasses of
the American Southwest may make these dry, rugged ecosystems seem harsh and
Yet the ranges of Arizona and New Mexico and, across the border, the Mexican
states of Chihuahua and Durango, sustain healthy herds of grazing animals.
Cattle, sheep, and goats can thrive on actively managed landscapes, as can
pronghorn antelope and whitetail deer. Other creatures can also flourish there,
including quail, jackrabbits, and small, wild pigs called javelinas.
To help American and Mexican ranchers keep this ecosystemand their
profitsin good health, USDA scientists and colleagues in Mexico are
collaborating on a unique new project. Similarities in the plants, soil,
climate, and land uses along both sides of the border make this project a
logical move and a likely success.
The collaboration is designed to bring two different decisionmaking aids to the
rancher's desktop computer. One, from ARS, is a computerized model called MODSS
(pronounced modes), short for "multi-objective decision support
system." Ranchers and watershed managers in the two countries will be able
to use it to evaluate the pros and cons of many options or combinations of
options for solving conservation problems on their lands. Those concerns could
include, for example, accelerated erosion, a decline in the forage species that
livestock prefer, or loss of water quality.
A sister USDA agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, will
computerize its planning model called SWAPA+H. That's short for "soil,
water, air, plant, and animal resources plus humans." The resource
agency's rangeland management specialists use it when invited by ranchers to
help pinpoint conservation-related problems thatif unresolvedwould
undermine the health of the rangelands. SWAPA+H yields combinations of proven,
practical solutions to solve the problems.
But it's up to the rancher to evaluate those alternatives. That's where MODSS
comes in. It helps ranchers look at and weigh the potential impact of each
alternative on each of the natural resources that are in the SWAPA+H model.
Both models empower ranchers, because they complement and augment the rancher's
own storehouse of knowledge and experience.
Plans call for converting SWAPA+H into a downloadable form that would be
available to ranchers in English and Spanish. MODSS is already computerized.
Ideally, ranchers and other natural resource managers would use SWAPA+H and
then MODSSin that orderto develop or revise their management plans.
The collaboration includes researchers Jeffry J. Stone and Philip Heilman at
the ARS Southwest Watershed Research Center, Tucson, Arizona; and Jeffrey E.
Herrick at the ARS Jornada Experimental Range in Las Cruces, New
Mexico.By Marcia Wood,
Agricultural Research Service Information Staff.
This research is part of Rangeland, Pasture, and Forages, an ARS National
Program (#205) described on the World Wide Web at
To reach scientists mentioned in this article, contact Marcia Wood, USDA-ARS Information Staff, 800 Buchanan St., Albany, CA 94710; phone (510) 559-6070, fax (510) 559-5882.
"A Home on the Range for Fast and Helpful Computerized Models" was published in the April 2001 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.