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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Social Values in the Assessment of Livestock Grazing in the Great Plains

Authors
item Heitschmidt, Rodney
item Johnson, J - MONTANA STATE UNIVERSITY
item Klement, Keith

Submitted to: Great Plains Research
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: July 1, 2001
Publication Date: October 1, 2001
Citation: HEITSCHMIDT, R.K., JOHNSON, J., KLEMENT, K.D. SOCIAL VALUES IN THE ASSESSMENT OF LIVESTOCK GRAZING IN THE GREAT PLAINS. GREAT PLAINS RESEARCH. v. 11. p. 361-374. 2001.

Interpretive Summary: We believe that although livestock grazing of the Great Plains is ecologically sustainable it is often neither economically sustainable nor socially acceptable. This is surprising in that one would tend to believe that practices that are ecologically sustainable should be economically sustainable and socially acceptable. We believe there are two fundamental reasons for this anomaly. First, the public assumes grazing affects all ecosystems the same. Thus, when it is reported that grazing has a negative effect on western US rangelands, they assume grazing has a similar effect on Great Plains rangelands. But this in fact is untrue because Great Plains rangelands evolved under intense grazing; thus, grazing is a very natural and necessary process in the Great Plains. Secondly, we provide evidence that shows scientists tend to interject their personal biases into their interpretation of scientific data so as to support their value system. By reviewing three broad based scientific reviews, we show that individual scientists can selectively find scientific data that supports their personal positions relative to livestock grazing of US rangelands. Thus, those opposed to the US livestock grazing industry selectively find evidence in support of their position whereas those in support of the industry selectively find evidence is support of their position. We believe it imperative the public understand how these two factors can affect their perceptions relative to grazing of US rangelands.

Technical Abstract: We examine the sustainability of the livestock grazing industry in the Great Plains of North America relative to ecological processes, economic viability, and social acceptance. We conclude from the review that livestock grazing is an appropriate use of Great Plains grasslands, and when properly managed, ecologically sustainable. However, we also present evidence that the Great Plains grazing industry is not always economically sustainable and/or socially acceptable. We attribute this anomaly in large part to the consuming public's general lack of understanding and appreciation for the ecological linkages between current livestock grazing tactics and the evolutionary history of the Great Plains. A contributing factor to this problem is the scientific community's interjection of personal biases and value systems when interpreting ecological response patterns to varying forms of land use. We present evidence in support of this hypothesis by comparing concluding statements and reviewing supporting literature citations from three recently published literature reviews addressing the ecological impacts of livestock grazing on North American rangelands.

Last Modified: 7/25/2014
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