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ARS Home » Plains Area » Las Cruces, New Mexico » Range Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #222754

Title: The western United States rangelands, a major resource

item Havstad, Kris
item Peters, Debra
item BARTOLOME, JAMES - University Of California
item Bestelmeyer, Brandon
item BRISKE, DAVID - Texas A&M University
item BROWN, JOEL - Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS, USDA)
item BRUNSON, MARK - Utah State University
item Herrick, Jeffrey - Jeff
item JOHNSON, PATRICIA - South Dakota State University
item JOYCE, LINDA - Us Forest Service (FS)
item PIEPER, REX - New Mexico State University
item Svejcar, Anthony
item YAO, JIN - New Mexico State University

Submitted to: Book Chapter
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: 1/19/2009
Publication Date: 6/1/2009
Citation: Havstad, K.M., Peters, D.C., Allen-Diaz, B., Bartolome, J., Bestelmeyer, B.T., Briske, D., Brown, J., Brunson, M., Herrick, J.E., Huntsinger, L., Johnson, P., Joyce, L., Pieper, R., Svejcar, A.J., Yao, J. 2009. The western United States rangelands, a major resource. In: Wedin, W.F., Fales, S.L. editors. Grassland Quietness and Strength for a New American Agriculture. Madison, WI. American Society of Agronomy, Inc., Crop Science Society of America, Inc., Soil Science Society of America, Inc. p. 75-93.

Interpretive Summary: The United States contains about 761 m acres, or 31% of its total land areas, of rangelands. This land type includes the desert of the southwest, the plains of the Midwest, the expanse of shrublands across Nevada and Utah, the remnant prairies of the Pacific Northwest, the grasslands of Texas and Oklahoma, and the native savannas across Florida. Historically, these rangelands have supported a livestock industry that produces animals for red meat production finished in feedlots across the U.S. More recently, and the U.S. population has increased to over 300 million people, these landscapes are increasingly used for non-agricultural services, such as recreation uses, and as retirement destinations. This chapter describes the transitions and uses of western U.S. rangelands over the last 60 years. Technologies that are utilized or needed to manage these extensive landscapes in order to sustainably use these natural resources are described.

Technical Abstract: Rangeland is a type of land found predominantly in arid and semiarid regions, and managed as a natural ecosystem supporting vegetation of grasses, grass-like plants, forbs, or shrubs. There are approximately 761 m ac of rangeland in the United States, about 31% of the total land area. This land type is characterized by 4 features: 1) limited by water and nutrients, primarily nitrogen (N), 2) annual production is characterized by tremendous temporal and spatial variability, 3) a nested landscape of public and private ownership, and 4) throughout their history of use these lands have been uniquely coupled systems of both people and nature. In the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 1948 Yearbook of Agriculture, the chapter on rangelands focused on a description of these lands occurring by region across the western United States, and the principles, developed mostly in the early 20th century, to manage these lands to provide the provisioning services of food and fiber through livestock grazing. In the last 60 years, these western rangelands have undergone a transformation as the U.S. population has grown to over 300 million and relocated to urban areas within the western and southwestern states. This population dynamic, along with tremendous changes in agricultural production and a reduction in the population involved in agriculture have resulted in significant changes in the uses and emphases placed upon these western lands. This land type is now often looked to provide a multitude of goods and services not only to rural populations, but also to tens of millions of people in large urban areas located within these rangelands. In this chapter it is our intent to reflect on the extent and nature of this transformation over the last 60 years. We start with a description of this human dynamic, and its sociological implications. We describe the major regions of the western continental U.S., the focal point of U.S. rangelands.