WERA1018: The Social-Ecological Resilience of Rangelands in Working Landscapes

(Multistate Research Coordinating Committee and Information Exchange Group)

Status: Inactive/Terminating

WERA1018: The Social-Ecological Resilience of Rangelands in Working Landscapes

Duration: 10/01/2012 to 09/30/2017

Administrative Advisor(s):

NIFA Reps:

Statement of Issues and Justification

The overarching goal of this proposal is to examine strategies for enhancing social-ecological resilience on rangelands with public-private linkages, and in the context of working landscapes. This goal will be approached at multiple scales (local to regional to national impacts) and through examination of multiple ecosystem stressors (e.g., climate change, wildfires, energy development, rangeland fragmentation, and public policies) on socially and economically important rangeland outputs (e.g., food security, ecosystem goods and services, and rangeland structure and function). The tradeoffs between costs and benefits of how society chooses to address rangeland stressors can be examined within the contexts of decision-making under uncertainty, the impacts of risk and risk management, and general management strategies.

Federal land management agencies have placed an increased emphasis on improving rangeland health and ecosystem resilience. From 2005 to 2009 the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) spent nearly $62 million in the 13 western states on conservation practices. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) have new efforts in rangeland restoration, including primary objectives of restoring degraded rangelands, improving habitat for sensitive species and providing wildlife habitat, woody biomass utilization, reducing fire danger, and watershed benefits, among others. About half of the NRCS funding is for brush management (Tanaka et al. 2011). Similar West-wide funding efforts to restore healthy lands have been initiated by the BLM (USDI-BLM 2011) and the USFS (USDA-FS 2011). These large-scale federally-funded restoration efforts have partnered with various organizations including ranchers, industry, environmental groups, and sportsmen to restore degraded lands. The land agencies recognize that ecosystem goods and services provided by restoration efforts are important aspects of their conservation and habitat improvement efforts. For example, NRCS lists six broad reasons for brush management (USDA-NRCS 2003): 1) added forage for livestock, 2) restoration of natural plant community balance, 3) creating the desired plant community, 4) controlling erosion, reducing sediment, improving water quality and enhancing stream flows, 5) maintaining and enhancing wildlife habitat including protection of endangered species, and 6) protection of life and property from wildfire hazards.

There is an unprecedented effort and level of funding available to restore degraded landscapes. Many within the land agencies and the range profession prescribe to the belief described by Nelson (1995, p. 98):

Deep down the true rangeland manager feels that it is morally, ethically, and professionally right to institute management practices that stop erosion, grow better forage and vegetation, and improve rangeland condition and trend. We should not have to economically justify these management practices.

However, land agencies face increasing pressure to do exactly that: justify their expenditures. As such, landowners and managers need to evaluate social, ecological, and economic tradeoffs for decision making (Maguire and Justus 2008; Tanaka et al. 2011).

Economic and social justification for rangeland restoration efforts to improve social-ecological resilience has moved away from the traditional valuation of added grass for livestock production to include other non-market and societal benefits as project justifications. Potential reductions in wildfire suppression expenditures and wildfire damages, watershed enhancements, improved carbon sequestration, reduced erosion, and enhanced recreation and wildlife values are often mentioned as potential societal benefits from restoration projects. Evaluating the efficiency of restoration efforts requires a traditional benefit/cost assessment which requires economic valuation of these societal benefits. Impacts on ranch families, rural communities, and regional economies often determine whether a specific project or program will be socially acceptable.

National or Regional Priorities

One of the key national and regional priorities being addressed by this proposed project is the sustainability of our nations rangelands. What happens on and to these lands affect priorities such as food security. In addition, stressors to rangeland ecosystems such as climate change, wildfires, and population growth can have a profound effect on ecological functioning, how society chooses to use ecosystems, and the economic well-being of society. Making rational decisions about how rangeland resources are being managed will continue to be critical at the local, regional, and national levels.

The economic value of restoration efforts that have traditionally been recognized but not economically valued will be coordinated between states. The complementary values of ranch production and non-agricultural benefits (e.g., livestock production and wildfire fuel management) will be considered. The primary stakeholders for the work of the proposed committee will include rangeland managers (public and private), researchers, and the interested public. Information generated through this project can be disseminated through a variety of methods including publications and websites.

Related Projects

W2133  Benefits and Costs of Natural Resources Policies Affecting Public and Private Lands. W2133 is focused on methods of nonmarket valuation of natural resources and is complementary to this proposal. While this proposal recognizes the need for nonmarket values in terms of decision-making on public and private rangelands, W2133 is focused more on how any nonmarket value can be estimated.

WERA40  Application and Utility of the Ecological Site and Condition Concept for Monitoring Rangeland Ecological Status in the Western U.S. WERA40 is focused on coordination among rangeland ecologists with particular focus on ecological sites and monitoring. This proposal will be closely tied in with the work being conducted by WERA40 ecologists, but will include ecologists not involved with that project.

WERA1008  Rangelands West Partnership. WERA1008 is composed of rangeland Extension specialists and subject matter librarians focused mostly on online information sharing. With WERA1008 are the online projects of Rangelands West (http://rangelandswest.org), Global Rangelands (http://globalrangelands.org), Range Science Information System (http://arc.lib.montana.edu/range-science/), and eXtension Rangelands (http://extension.org). Each of these projects has a different purpose and target audience. This project can potentially provide information to WERA1008 projects.

SRR  Sustainable Rangelands Roundtable. SRR is an effort of over 60 organizations seeking to identify criteria and indicators of rangeland sustainability. The criteria and indicators include ecological, social, and economic measures. SRR has also developed a conceptual framework on how the biophysical systems interact with the social and economic systems (Fox et al. 2009). Many of the indicators (data sets to be monitored over time) relate to the work to be conducted within this proposed project.


  1. Coordinate activities of land grant university scientists and federal land management agencies related to maintaining and enhancing the social-ecological resilience of rangelands.
  2. To exchange information on current and future research activities related to social, economic, and ecological aspects of integrated rangeland management.
  3. To investigate the ecological, social, and economic values of ecosystem services from rangeland ecosystem restoration.
  4. To investigate social-ecological linkages of rural communities and economies to rangelands.
  5. To provide information on social-ecological resilience to appropriate audiences

Procedures and Activities

1. We will (1) Facilitate and encourage cooperation among land grant universities and federal land management agencies to support and conduct research that emphasizes a systems approach to rangeland management, that enhances integrated rangeland management, and that facilitates collective decision-making for rangeland ecosystems. (2) Support and advocate the utility of coordinated inventory and monitoring of the nations rangelands through the use of standardized criteria and indicators at all scales  ranch, regional and national. (3) Develop a communication and distribution strategy to promote social-ecological systems management approaches, the monitoring of social-ecological sustainability of rangelands and the social, economic and ecological values of ecosystem services for rangelands. (4) Promote opportunities to inform and learn about social-ecological systems based rangeland management approaches through international interactions. Annual meetings of sociologists, economists, and ecologists will be facilitated to coordinate activities.

2. We will develop and implement a symposium at a professional meeting where current research can be highlighted and future research can be identified. Proceedings will be developed out of the symposia, at a minimum. Draft papers will be presented at the WERA meeting prior to the formal symposium. We will coordinate with the Sustainable Rangelands Roundtable.

3. We will coordinate with efforts identified in other regional projects (especially W2133) and the SRR with a focus on rangeland social-ecological resilience and estimation of value for rangeland ecosystem services.

4. We will exchange information to help understand linkages between rural communities and the ecological and economic sustainability of rangelands. Our work will identify trade-offs between the sustainable ecologies and economies.

5. In addition to the symposia in objective 2, we will develop materials such as proceedings and Extension bulletins that will be distributed through the Sustainable Rangelands Roundtable and Rangelands West websites. We will make presentations at appropriate Extension and outreach venues.

Expected Outcomes and Impacts

  • coordinate the development of collaborative research proposals for submission to NSF (e.g., Coupled Human and Natural Systems program), USDA AFRI program, etc.
  • presentations of research results of integrated rangeland management research at professional meetings, and publications about the social-ecological resilience of working rangeland landscapes
  • coordinate the development of standardized protocols to evaluate trade-offs related to social-ecological resilience and their impact on ecological and economic systems
  • unify across economic and ecological models to verify and validate their output to more accurately quantify their results

Projected Participation

View Appendix E: Participation

Educational Plan

We will make information generated through this project available through appropriate venues, including but not limited to peer reviewed journals, popular press, websites, and presentations. Our interaction with SRR and WERA1008 allow for numerous opportunities to deliver information to and interact with all of our potential stakeholders. WERA 1008 comprises most of the rangeland Extension specialists in the 17 western states and at least 3 other countries. SRR also includes opportunities to interact with federal and state land management agencies. Both groups are actively involved in educational and Extension programs with which this group can provide information and programs.


Standard governance will be used with a chair and secretary with the secretary moving to chair. Terms will be 2 years for each position. An administrative advisor will be appointed.

Literature Cited

Fox, W.E., D.W. McCollum, J.E. Mitchell, L.E. Swanson, U.P. Kreuter, J.A. Tanaka, G.R. Evans, and H.T. Heintz. 2009. An Integrated Social, Economic, and Ecologic Conceptual (ISEEC) Framework for Considering Rangeland Sustainability. Society and Natural Resources 22:593-606.

Maguire, L. A., and J. Justus. 2008. Why intrinsic value is a poor basis for conservation decisions. BioScience 58:910-911.

Nelson, R. H. 1995. Public lands and private rights: the failure of scientific management. Lanham, Md, USA: Rowman & Littlefield, 1995. 373 p.

Tanaka, J. A., M. Brunson, and L. A. Torell. 2011. A social and economic assessment of rangeland conservation practices. In: D. D. Briske [ED.]. Conservation benefits of rangeland practices: assessment, recommendations, and knowledge gaps. Lawrence, KS.: Allen Press. p. 371-422.

USDA-FS. 2011. USDA Forest Service woody biomass utilization. Available at: http://www.fs.fed.us/woodybiomass/. Accessed November 12, 2011.

USDA-NRCS. 2003. Natural Resource Conservation Service Conservation Practice Standard: Brush Managment. Practice Code 314, p. Available at: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/technical/Standards/nhcp.html. Accessed

USDI-BLM. 2011. Healthy Lands Initiative. Available at: http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/info/newsroom/2008/April/HLI_09_Fact_Sheets.html. Accessed November 12, 2011.


Land Grant Participating States/Institutions


Non Land Grant Participating States/Institutions

Arizona State University, BLM, University of Idaho
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