Submitted to: Encyclopedia of Soils in the Environment
Publication Type: Review Article
Publication Acceptance Date: 7/22/2003
Publication Date: 11/8/2004
Citation: Anderson, G.L. 2004. Rangeland and range management: divergent opinions with a common goal. Encyclopedia of Soils in the Environment, set 1-4. 3:360-366.
Technical Abstract: Divergent opinions concerning the best management practices of our rangelands, or even their composition, can frustrate discussions on how to properly manage the vast areas of public and private rangeland in the U.S. Thankfully the research community has made a great deal of progress in many areas of rangeland science over the past 100 years, but there continues to be gaps in our scientific knowledge that can lead to mismanagement or exploitation. Knowledge gaps can become significant when people with a social-political-economic agenda choose to exploit information gaps and ignore or distort what we actually know. One of the most influential factors behind range management decisions is the manager's understanding of what comprises a healthy rangeland. There are essentially 3 major rangeland models or concepts that influence range a rangeland managers understanding and actions. The first, concept evaluates range condition and trend based on vegetation composition, plant production, ground cover and soil erosion. A synopsis of this model is: 1) We know what the composition of native plant and animal species should be, and 2) by limiting human influence the climax state can be maintained (and given enough time) degraded ecosystems will ultimately return to a predetermined state of equilibrium. A similar ecological model of a healthy rangeland ecosystem also presumes a 'climax' state exists, but that this state is rarely, if ever achieved, because of natural and human impacts. A synopsis of this model is: We know what the composition of native plant and animal species should be, but due to natural and human disturbance, this ideal state is rarely, if ever, achieved. However, the closer the system is to the expected equilibrium the healthier it is perceived to be. The last concept is the transition and state model, the biological composition of rangelands can transition (change) over time into a variety of different plant communities. A synopsis of this model is: Many types of rangeland plant communities can develop in an area over time and that each can be 'healthy' and stable for long periods of time. However, the model takes into account that rangeland ecosystems can, and do, change when conditions are right. Rangelands are dynamic, complex, and it is hard to develop a good comprehensive scientifically understanding that covers all aspects of the system. Therefore, our understanding and management strategies must also be dynamic to account for new knowledge and what we don't know. Being open minded, basing decisions on sound science, and not letting preconceived notions (or philosophies that are not based in science) dominate management or policy decisions is a necessary step to ensuring rangeland health and soil health can be maintained for generations to come.