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ARS Home » Plains Area » Fort Collins, Colorado » Center for Agricultural Resources Research » Rangeland Resources & Systems Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #359352

Research Project: Improved Management to Balance Production and Conservation in Great Plains Rangelands

Location: Rangeland Resources & Systems Research

Title: Humbled by nature: A rancher’s mental-model of adaptation in the Great Plains

item Wilmer, Hailey
item STURROCK, JIM - Producer

Submitted to: Great Plains Research
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 11/7/2018
Publication Date: 4/6/2020
Citation: Wilmer, H.N., Sturrock, J. 2020. Humbled by nature: A rancher’s mental-model of adaptation in the Great Plains. Great Plains Research. 30(1):15-33.

Interpretive Summary: This paper provides an in-depth look at how ranchers make decisions. It details a rancher's mental model of the multiple dimensions of ranching. It describes how the rancher views weather, markets, livestock, and ecological dynamics, and how he sets goals to manage these dynamics for sustainable use into the future. The study uses qualitative data from repeated interviews to apply the mental model to a case in Colorado. We highlight how the rancher understands and adapts to the ecosystem in space, via a participatory map. We also show 10 years of management records, in a timeline, to highlight how the rancher changed over time in both his philosophy and management strategies. We discuss how this "insider's" look at ranching mental models enhances our understanding of ranch adaptation. This information might also inform other first generation ranchers seeking adaptive management strategies. Finally, our paper offers a unique collaborative methodology that can be useful for other researchers seeking to better understand the world views of ranchers.

Technical Abstract: Ranchers in the Great Plains make decisions in complex social and ecological environments. While a great deal of research has studied rancher adaptation, an insider’s or “emic” view rancher’s mental models is less well understood. In this study a rancher and a researcher collaborate to document ten years of management on a Colorado ranch. Using data from repeated interviews, participatory mapping and records review, we describe a conceptual model for ranch decision-making. Then, we illustrate the spatial ecology of these decisions, via a participatory map. Finally, we show management, climate, and ecological records over ten years. This timeline illustrates how the rancher’s management approach and relationship to the ecosystem changed over time from viewing himself as the “controller” of the ecological community to “member of it”. We discuss how our results complement existing research about ranch systems adaptation by documenting how climate, weather, economic and ecological dynamics interacted with the rancher’s own self-image and how management strategies changed over time. Our collaborative methodology and the resultant mental model may inform other first-generation ranchers seeking to develop adaptive management approaches, and researchers seeking to better understand the decision-making environments of their rancher collaborators.