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Title: Ecological services to and from rangelands of the United States

item Havstad, Kris
item Peters, Debra
item Bestelmeyer, Brandon
item Frederickson, Eddie
item Herrick, Jeffrey - Jeff

Submitted to: Ecological Economics
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 12/6/2006
Publication Date: 11/1/2007
Citation: Havstad, K.M., Peters, D.C., Skaggs, R., Brown, J., Bestelmeyer, B.T., Fredrickson, E.L., Herrick, J.E., Wright, J. 2007. Ecological services to and from rangelands of the United States. Ecological Economics. 64:261-268.

Interpretive Summary: This manuscript describes the potential for rangelands of the United States to provide additional goods and services besides food and fiber in the future. We do expect that rangelands will more commonly provide increased water and serve as habitats for biodiversity. However, it is unlikely that rangelands can serve to store carbon as an offset to increased carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere because storage capacity is less than 1 t per acre and difficult to quantify, and the value of stored carbon on current trading markets is too low. There are many programs that provided incentives to private landowners to conserve rangelands so that alternative goods and services can be provided. These programs are becoming more widely used and are beginning to have an impact on resource conservation. Irrespective of the types of goods and services provided, rangelands that have been degraded need to be repaired in order for these lands to provide other goods and services.

Technical Abstract: The over 300 million ha of public and private rangelands in the western United States are characterized by low and variable precipitation, nutrient-poor soils, and high spatial and temporal variability in plant production. This land type has provided a variety of goods and services, with the provisioning of food and fiber dominating through much of the 20th century. Food production from a western rangeland-based livestock industry is currently pressured for a variety of reasons, including poor economic returns, increased regulations, an aging commercial rancher population, and increasingly diverse interests of land owners. A shift to other provisioning, regulating, cultural, and supporting services is occurring with important implications for carbon sequestration, biodiversity, and conservation incentives. There are numerous goods and services possible from rangelands that can supply societal demands such as clean water and a safe food supply. The use of ecologically based principles of land management remains at the core of the ability of private land owners and public land managers to provide these existing and emerging services. We suggest that expectations need to be based on a thorough understanding of the diverse potentials of these lands and their inherent limits. A critical provisioning service to rangelands will be management practices that either maintain ecosystem functions or that restore functions to systems that have been substantially degraded over past decades. With proper incentives and economic benefits, rangelands can be expected to provide these historical and more unique goods and services in a sustainable fashion, albeit in different proportions than in the past.