Submitted to: Rangeland Ecology and Management
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: May 1, 2012
Publication Date: November 1, 2012
Repository URL: http://handle.nal.usda.gov/10113/57190
Citation: Sayre, N., Debuys, W., Bestelmeyer, B.T., Havstad, K.M. 2012. The 'range problem' after a century of rangeland science: New research themes for altered landscapes. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 65:545-552. Interpretive Summary: This publication describes new research themes for rangeland science after a century of research in the western United States. For much of the past century, scientists have devoted efforts to identifying key principles for guiding rangeland management. However, scientists and land managers have also learned that principles can not be directly applied to all rangelands without adjusting to the specifics of regional climatic conditions, landscape features, soil characteristics, and a site’s history of past management. Rangeland science is now being practiced in a manner that has more direct applications to specific landscapes and specific management practices. Rather than practiced as a separate activity scientists now need to fully integrate science, the testing of hypotheses, within actual management settings. Science needs to be practiced fully in support of management of land for both agriculture outputs and conservation effects.
Technical Abstract: The rangeland science profession in the United States has its roots in the widespread overgrazing and concurrent severe droughts of the late 19th Century. These drivers contributed to rangeland resource degradation especially in the American Southwest—what E. O. Wooton (1908) called "The Range Problem." Although logical for the time, the scientific activities and resulting policies that arose out of this catastrophe were based on reductionist experimentation and productionist emphases on food and fiber. After a century of science and policy there are two additional perspectives that shape our vision for the emphases of the future. First, rangeland landscapes are extremely heterogeneous; general principles derived from scientific experimentation cannot be easily, or generally, applied without adjusting to the distinct societal and ecological characteristics of a location. Second, rangeland management occurs at spatial scales considerably larger than those that have typically been addressed in range science. Scaling up science results is not a simple, additive process. The leading features of the emerging science are (1) research at landscape scales and (2) over longer time spans, that (3) approaches conservation and management practices as treatments requiring scientific evaluation, (4) incorporates local knowledge, (5) is explicitly applied in nature, and (6) is transparent in its practice. We strongly argue for a science that supports resource management by testing hypotheses relevant to actual conservation practices and iteratively applying its findings in partnership with managers in an ongoing, adaptive fashion.