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Ecological sustainability of rangelands

Weltz, Mark A., Dunn, Gale, Reeder, Jean, Frasier, Gary
Arid land research and management 2003 v.17 no.4 pp. 369
rangelands, range management, ecology, ecosystems, ecosystem management, sustainable agriculture, environmental monitoring, simulation models, decision support systems
Rangelands and pastures are found in every state and cover 55% of the land surface of the United States. Taken as a whole, from Western deserts and grasslands to meadows and woodlands, rangelands comprise some 364 million ha or 80% of the land in the 17 Western states. The vast expanses and remoteness of rangelands make assessing economic and ecological sustainability a difficult task. Currently, there is no national monitoring framework in place to collect data on long-term or episodic processes and agents of change over time. There are no defined methods for summarizing the health of rangelands. Thus individual conclusions about the health or sustainability of the nation's rangelands vary from person to person and organization to organization. Over one million people derive some portion of their income from farm and ranch activities on rangelands and pastures in the western United States. These individuals own and operate over 406,000 farms and ranches with revenues from selling beef cattle exceeding $13 billion in the 17 Western states. Their continued economic survival is dependent on the environmental sustainability of rangelands. Moreover, organizations and individuals charged with selection of best management systems on rangelands are under increasing pressure to consider not only livestock production issues, but also sustainability and health under multiple land use. As a result, ranchers, government agencies, and other organizations have a critical need for improved methods to balance the economic viability of ranchers, the well being of rural America, and the health and sustainability of the nation's range- and grazinglands. Therefore, a coordinated national research and technology transfer effort is required to successfully develop and transfer to ranchers and rangeland managers a science-based, monitoring system to determine the effect of management practices on sustainability of rangeland ecosystems.