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ARS Home » Plains Area » Las Cruces, New Mexico » Range Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #149114



Submitted to: Journal of Range Management
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 6/15/2004
Publication Date: 11/1/2004
Citation: Sayre, N. 2004. Viewpoint: the need for qualitative research to understand ranch management. Journal of Range Management. 57(6):668-674.

Interpretive Summary: The challenge of ¿technology transfer¿¿the application of scientific research findings by producers¿is nearly as old as range science itself and is particularly difficult today due to changes both in scientific knowledge and in the demographics and land use of Western rangelands. Agricultural economists have documented the lack, or insignificance, of the profit motive among ranchers for more than thirty years, and numerous studies have attempted to quantify the extra-economic values and motivations of ranchers. Yet, very little correlation has been found between motivational categories and actual range management practices. This paper reviews the current state of our knowledge regarding actual and ideal range management and the sociological literature on ranching and arrives at the following conclusions: (1) There is very little solid information on actual, current management of rangelands and even less on past management. Information on current conditions and ideal management is too general to be of much use to on-the-ground practitioners. (2) Natural and social variability are so great on Western rangelands that aggregate methods are ineffectual for improving technology transfer. More fine-grained, qualitative, or ¿anthropological¿ methods are called for. (3) Research should focus more on practices and results than on values and motivations; methods should be suited to the spatial and temporal horizons of ranchers themselves. (4) Greater attention should be placed on the interactions among ranchers, rather than relying on individualistic methodologies. (5) More reciprocity should be cultivated between ranchers and scientists in defining and implementing research priorities.

Technical Abstract: From its inception, range science has been an applied discipline dedicated to improving range resources by delivering scientific information to managers on the ground. Attempts to evaluate the effectiveness of ¿technology transfer¿ are almost as old as the discipline itself. At a time of rapidly changing land use and ownership on western rangelands and new scientific theories of range ecology, the challenge of effecting quality management may be more difficult now than ever before. Comprehensive knowledge of actual management is very limited, and ideal management appears to depend on natural and social circumstances that are infinitely varied. Although a diverse array of research on the sociology of ranching exists, it is theoretically fragmented and of uncertain relevance to management. I trace these studies back to earlier research in agricultural economics to recuperate a methodological insight that addresses the tremendous natural and social variability found on western rangelands. In addition, I offer a set of provisional guidelines for improving the relationship between range science and management in today¿s West.