Project Number: 2056-61630-001-000-D
Project Type: In-House Appropriated
Start Date: Oct 1, 2021
End Date: Jul 31, 2024
Objective 1. Determine ecological value of using sheep grazing to manipulate intermountain rangeland plant communities towards goals for biodiversity conservation via enhanced habitat quality.
U.S. sheep ranchers and farmers generate about one-half of the total lamb consumed in the United States; the remainder comes from New Zealand and Australia. Enhanced international competitiveness represents a great opportunity for U.S. sheep producers, many of which reside in rural communities scattered across the native rangelands of the U.S. Intermountain West. Much of these rangelands are subject to extreme climate and terrain variability and, thus, are not suitable for crop production. In this setting, rangeland-based livestock enterprises must be flexible and adaptive if they are to efficiently sustain quality food production, rural livelihoods, and ecosystem biodiversity, especially in areas of limited and variable precipitation. Accordingly, management solutions that improve rangeland resilience and robustness would have a positive effect on the health of rural communities and societies. At the same time, many stakeholder groups see Intermountain West rangelands as “wilderness habitat” for wildlife such as sage grouse, bears, wolves, and wild sheep. This leads to tension between rural communities, producers, conservationists, and environmentalists about how and for what purpose rangelands are managed. Balanced, science-based research is needed to provide sheep farmers and ranchers with solutions to improve the efficiency and competitiveness of U.S. sheep production, while informing land managers about the synergies and tradeoffs of these strategies on biodiversity conservation and profitability management objectives. In ARS National Program (NP) projects NP 215 (current project) and 101 (associated project), scientists will address these challenges through three key opportunities for innovation: 1) enhanced sustainability and rangeland health through science-based rangeland management practices (NP 215); 2) enhanced management decision-making based on knowledge of both the benefits and tradeoffs of different management practices on multiple rangeland outcomes, including biodiversity conservation and production (NP 215); and 3) enhanced profitability and international competitiveness through greater production efficiency (NP 101). Scientists will experimentally evaluate the effects of management actions, environmental events, and(or) climatic factors on ecosystem services. Interpretation and application of research results will contribute to solutions for carbon sequestration, native rangeland ecosystem function, sustainable U.S. livestock agriculture, national food security, and rural prosperity. Within the research resource scope, these investigations include mountain big sagebrush and subalpine-tall forb ecosystems, which are habitat for sage grouse, bighorn sheep, and grizzly bear. Livestock agriculture includes domestic sheep grazing, genetics, and production.