Submitted to: Book Chapter
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: August 24, 2010
Publication Date: September 20, 2012
Citation: Bestelmeyer, B.T. 2012. Is the historical range of variation relevant to rangeland management? In: Wiens, J., Hayward, G., Stafford, H., Giffen, C., editors. Historical Environmental Variation in Conservation and Natural Resources Management. Wiley-Blackwell Publishing. p.289-296.
Interpretive Summary: In this essay, I discuss the utility of historical range of variation concepts (hereafter HRV) to address the core problem of managing change in rangelands. The HRV describes the patterns and processes of plant community change that occurred prior to European influences in the United States. I argue that, although HRV has value, it is not by itself a firm basis for rangeland management.
Rangelands occupy about 40% of the Earth’s terrestrial surface, comprising grasslands, shrublands, and deserts (Havstad et al., 2007). Over a billion people live in rangelands, engaged primarily in pastoralism and limited crop agriculture for subsistence. Rangelands can be ideal coupled human-natural systems. They can harbor great biodiversity and beauty, while at the same time providing food and soul-enriching connections between humans and the natural world. Resources can be exploited in grazing ecosystems such that most historical or natural elements are sustained (Brown and MacDonald 1995). The sustainable partnership of people and rangelands, however, has not been easy in many places. Recent estimates suggest that a large proportion of rangelands has become degraded, where degradation includes effects ranging from shifts in species composition to soil loss. These changes have been harmful for both biodiversity and human welfare. Worse, rangeland degradation is expected to accelerate with increases in human population and regional aridification (Millenium Ecosystem Assessment 2005). In this essay, I offer some thoughts on the utility of historical range of variation concepts (hereafter HRV) to address the core problem of managing change in rangelands. I argue that, although HRV has value, it is not by itself a firm basis for rangeland management.