Submitted to: Society for Range Management Meeting Abstracts
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 11/5/2017
Publication Date: 2/9/2018
Citation: Wilmer, H.N. 2018. When ranchers don't know what to do: Care and rangeland management decision-making under uncertainity. Society for Range Management Meeting Abstracts. Abstract Proceedings of the 71st Society for Range Management, Technical Training, and Trade Show. Jan 28 - Feb 2, 2018, Sparks, NV.
Technical Abstract: This presentation asks: how do ranchers know what to do when they are faced with a decision under high levels of complexity and uncertainty? In the semi-arid Western Great Plains of North America, rancher decisions have implications for rangeland ecosystems and for livelihoods. Adaptive management research has largely ignored the emotional geographies and ethical frameworks that enable decision-making in surprising or highly variable situations. I propose adding the conceptual lens of ethics of care to the adaptive management research toolbox enables a more complete exploration of this phenomenon. I evaluated repeated interviews with ranchers in the western Great Plains to a) compare decision-making under relatively certain and uncertain conditions and b) to explore how ethical frameworks helped ranchers identify and prioritize management actions. I describe how traditional ranching practices relate to justice-based ethics in more certain conditions, while care-based ethics are useful in new and uncertain decisions. Rancher practices of care also reveal three themes: 1) care depends on ranchers feeling some level of control in complex systems; 2) ranchers’ stewardship ethic prioritizes care for situated livelihoods (those tied to specific places and contexts); and 3) care ethics lead to a “managing for the middle” paradigm (e.g. conservative, static stocking rates and homogenous cattle distribution) because care is associated with limiting both economic risk and exploitation of rangeland resources. I consider how this analysis of care ethics and critical gaps in rancher justifications for management decisions enhances existing economic and sociological theories of rancher decision-making processes. I conclude by arguing that efforts to promote management for heterogeneity on rangelands through the restoration of processes like fire and prairie dog populations should consider both the economic and ethical considerations of ranch managers.