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Current Issue Topic

Western Rangeland Management: Balancing Diverse Views

Western rangelands include prairies and grasslands, sagebrush steppes, and woodland areas.  Rangelands comprise more than 40% of the total productive land base in the western U.S.  Rangelands sustain an abundance of forage for both livestock and wildlife, as well as providing aesthetic beauty enjoyed by many.  Rangeland resources are a critically important ecosystem component of the western US landscape and are a vital economic factor for many agricultural producers.

Western rangeland management objectives include grazing, timber harvest, recreational uses (including hiking, camping, fishing, hunting, etc.) and mining.  Western rangelands are diverse and rich in natural resources and provide an essential fresh water source for all of the western U.S. Public land managers and agriculturalists work to protect these resources to ensure their sustainability for generations to come.

Envirothon Teams will learn about the importance of western rangelands, and the need for balance in management planning.  Livestock producers are an important economic driver in the western US, sustainably utilizing the rangelands to maintain a living and produce a valued product. As good stewards of the land, most livestock producers work to protect natural resources, including sage grouse habitat and prevent catastrophic wildfire.  Differences of opinion on management strategies of western public rangelands have resulted in escalating friction between Non- Government Organizations (NGO’s), political representatives, federal land managers, and permittees.  Disputes arising from this diversity of opinion often end up in the judicial system, through expensive and lengthy litigation.  This process does not lead to timely and effective land management decisions, nor does it foster good working relationships between stakeholders.  Federal land managers are placed in a difficult position, charged with consideration of multiple and often conflicting views, and are often seen as capitulating to one or other groups with extreme views. It is important that public rangelands be managed in consideration of all environmental, social and economic objectives, so as to provide the widest possible range of benefits.  A key factor in developing the best possible management strategy is honest and effective communication between stakeholders.

Envirothon teams will learn how Best Management Practices are used to protect western rangelands, improve grazing management schemes, promote pest management, reduce uncontrolled wildfires, and improve habitat for sage grouse and other wildlife.  Information provided and site visits will demonstrate the importance of finding the optimum balance between natural resource protection and agricultural use on western public rangelands.

Key Topics:

  1. Grazing is a popular tool in western rangeland management. How can this tool be used to help manage the ecosystem?
  2. What can management strategies help to reduce the spread and impact of noxious weeds?
  3. How can western rangeland management have a positive impact on fire suppression, and how can the lack of management be a negative impact on fire suppression?
  4. How can western rangeland management be used to maintain a balanced plant community to support livestock, sage grouse, as well as other wildlife and land uses?
  5. How can rangeland managers balance livestock production (grazing) with the maintenance of water quality?
  6. How can stakeholders with different values and opinions improve communication and working relationships to develop improved rangeland management strategies?

Learning Objectives:

Information and examples provided will help Envirothon Teams understand the following:

  1. Characteristics and location of rangeland in the Western United States and how it is currently managed.
  2. The percentage of land in the west that is federally controlled and allows multiple resource use.
  3. Ways to protect water quality within western rangeland management.
  4. How grazing is used as an effective management tool to control noxious weeds, reduce catastrophic wildfires, and improve wildlife habitat.
  5. The current Best Management Practices (BMPs) for western rangelands and how they support livestock production, pest management, fire suppression, and wildlife habitat maintenance.
  6. How different ecosystems (wetland, riparian, and upland areas) within the rangelands interact.
  7. How the use of the land by humans, domestic livestock, and wildlife affects the plant community.
  8. The rights of private landowners and citizens’ related to public land.