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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: SEMIARID RANGELAND ECOSYSTEMS: THE CONSERVATION-PRODUCTION INTERFACE

Location: Rangeland Resources Research

Title: Characterizing Wyoming ranching operations: Natural resource goals, management practices and information sources

Authors
item Kachergis, Emily
item DERNER, JUSTIN
item Roche, Leslie -
item Tate, Kenneth -
item Lubell, Mark -
item Mealor, Rachel -
item Magagna, Jim -

Submitted to: Natural Resources
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: January 19, 2013
Publication Date: March 28, 2013
Citation: Kachergis, E.J., Derner, J.D., Roche, L.M., Tate, K.W., Lubell, M., Mealor, R., Magagna, J. 2013. Characterizing Wyoming ranching operations: Natural resource goals, management practices and information sources. Natural Resources. 4:45-54.

Interpretive Summary: Wyoming rangelands produce food and provide other vital benefits related to conservation of natural landscapes, such as clean water and wildlife habitat. However, the decision-making process of the private ranchers who steward these lands is poorly understood. What are the characteristics of Wyoming ranches, and how do ranchers manage nearly 30 million acres of rangelands? In cooperation with the Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA)—a major agricultural organization in the state—we surveyed WSGA producer members about their goals, ranch characteristics, and management practices. A total of 307 ranchers (50%) responded to the survey. Livestock production and forage production were the top management goals, with ecosystem characteristics that support these goals (e.g., soil health, water quality) tied for second. Survey respondents’ ranches had a median size of about 10,500 acres, but ranged up to 450,000 acres; 71% of operations included public land and 60% included private leased land. The majority of reporting operations grazed cow-calf pairs (91%), with a median of 260 pairs per ranch. Most survey respondents managed grazing by moving 1-5 herds of livestock (84%) among two or more pastures (92%) after three months of grazing or less (87%). Most operations (72%) included other resource use activities, with extractive recreation (e.g., hunting; 55%), conventional energy development (23%), and other agricultural production (20%) most common. Survey respondents primarily got information about grazing management from other ranchers (97%), although they preferred to receive information through print publications (69%) over word of mouth (27%) or the internet (21%). Wyoming ranches are diverse in operation characteristics and management practices, which may represent a challenge for policy makers designing programs and incentives to increase conservation benefits from rangelands. However, policy efforts that focus on livestock and forage production and supporting ecosystem functions are most likely to find synergies with ongoing management goals and strategies.

Technical Abstract: Wyoming rangelands produce food and provide other vital ecosystem services, but the decision-making process of the ranchers who steward these lands is complex and poorly understood. What are the characteristics of Wyoming ranches, and how do ranchers manage natural resources? In cooperation with the Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA)—a predominant agricultural organization in the state—we asked WSGA producer members about their goals, ranching operation characteristics, and management practices via a mail survey. A total of 307 ranchers (50%) responded to the survey. Livestock production and forage production were the top management goals, with ecosystem characteristics that support these goals (e.g., soil health, water quality) tied for second. Survey respondents’ ranches had a median size of 4,220 hectares, but ranged up to 185,000 hectares; 71% of operations included public land and 60% included private leased land. The majority of reporting operations grazed cow-calf pairs (91%), with a median of 260 pairs per ranch. Most survey respondents managed grazing by moving 1-5 herds of livestock (84%) among two or more pastures (92%) after three months of grazing or less (87%). Most operations (72%) included other resource use activities, with extractive recreation (e.g., hunting; 55%), conventional energy development (23%), and other agricultural production (20%) most common. Survey respondents primarily got information about grazing management from other ranchers (97%), although they preferred to receive information through print publications (69%) rather than word of mouth (27%) or the internet (21%). Wyoming ranching operations are diverse in operation characteristics and management practices, which may represent a challenge for policy makers designing programs and incentives to increase provisioning of ecosystem services. Policy efforts that focus on livestock and forage production and supporting ecosystem functions are most likely to find synergies with ongoing management goals and strategies.

Last Modified: 9/10/2014
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