Skip to main content
ARS Home » Plains Area » Fort Collins, Colorado » Center for Agricultural Resources Research » Rangeland Resources & Systems Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #348258

Title: Cattle, conservation and carbon in the western Great Plains

item SANDERSON, JOHN - Nature Conservancy
item BEUTLER, CURTIS - University Of Colorado
item BROWN, JOEL - Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS, USDA)
item BURKE, INDY - Yale University
item CHAPMAN, TERESA - Nature Conservancy
item CONANT, RICH - Colorado State University
item Derner, Justin
item EASTER, MARK - Oklahoma State University
item FUHLENDORF, SAMUEL - Oklahoma State University
item GRISSOM, GRADY - Producer
item Herrick, Jeffrey - Jeff
item LIPTZIN, DANIEL - Soil Health Institute
item MORGAN, JACK - Retired ARS Employee
item MURPH, RACHEL - Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS, USDA)
item PAGUE, CHRIS - The Nature Conservancy
item RANGWALA, IMITIAZ - University Of Colorado
item RAY, DAVID - Lowcountry Land Trust
item RONDEAU, RENEE - Colorado State University
item SCHULZ, TERRI - The Nature Conservancy
item SULLIVAN, TIM - The Nature Conservancy

Submitted to: Journal of Soil and Water Conservation
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 11/19/2019
Publication Date: 1/9/2020
Citation: Sanderson, J., Beutler, C., Brown, J.R., Burke, I., Chapman, T., Conant, R., Derner, J.D., Easter, M., Fuhlendorf, S.D., Grissom, G., Herrick, J.E., Liptzin, D., Morgan, J.A., Murph, R., Pague, C., Rangwala, I., Ray, D., Rondeau, R., Schulz, T., Sullivan, T. 2020. Cattle, conservation and carbon in the western Great Plains. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation. 75(1):5A-12A.

Interpretive Summary: Across the globe, the total amount of carbon stored in semiarid rangelands (i.e., carbon stocks) is high, but the role of management in increasing these stocks has been clouded by debates in scientific, popular press and social media that have obscured areas of broad agreement. Large losses of carbon follow cultivation of native semiarid rangelands, so maintaining current rangelands is the best means to maintaining carbon stocks. Optimizing ecosystem services in semiarid rangelands--including food production, conservation of biodiversity, and maintaining or increasing carbon stocks—is best done through goal-oriented, adaptively-managed grazing.

Technical Abstract: Management of carbon stocks on rangelands in the semi-arid western Great Plains of North America has been limited by a lack of scientific and managerial consensus regarding the influence of grazing management on carbon stocks. A similar debate is occurring in rangeland ecosystems throughout the world. We first summarize the primary biophysical and ecological controls on soil carbon in this extensive ecosystem, and then present three recommendations for synergistic strategies involving cattle, conservation and carbon. Whereas climate and soil texture are major, long-term determinants of carbon stocks, weather and land management are controls that can significantly impact short-term carbon fluxes. Goal-oriented, adaptive grazing management can improve vegetation, but the potential for additional soil carbon storage is likely relatively small. Efforts to develop win-win-win strategies for cattle, conservation and carbon should 1) be collaborative and transdisciplinary, 2) embrace complex social-ecological systems, and 3) be conducted at relevant spatial and temporal scales.