No-Regrets Strategies that Benefit Ranching Operations and Provide Climate Resilience

By Georgine Yorgey

Ranchers already manage multiple risks—including those related to economics, production, the environment, and weather. Climate change represents an added risk, but one that is challenging to manage because impacts are uncertain, variable over space and time, and often perceived as being only of concern in the distant future (Leiserowitz et al. 2011).

Cattle grazing open rangeland, with forested hills and mountains in the background

Cattle grazing is the main productive activity in the high desert and dry forest landscape of the Bear Valley, near Seneca, Oregon, where our most recent resilience case study is focused. Photo: Jack and Teresa Southworth.

However, despite this challenge, there is a growing recognition that the same strategies that make ranches and rangelands more resilient to climate change will also provide other important co-benefits. These include enhanced resilience to current weather-related variability, enhanced ecological functioning, and in at least some cases, enhanced or more sustainable economic performance.

Implementing these “no-regrets” strategies is thus important for enhancing the resilience of rangelands to a wide variety of shocks including, but not limited to, climate change. Specific strategies include:

  • Management-intensive grazing or other strategies to ensure adequate rest periods. For example, relatively short rotations that ensure that native grasses are allowed to set seed in some years.
  • Regeneration and recovery of degraded plant communities by actively managing grazing. The intent is to manage cattle in a way that the plants’ phenological stage when they are grazed, the duration of each pasture’s use, and the multi-year sequencing of grazing events are selected to promote tillering, seed production, seed-to-soil contact, litter deposition, seed germination, and seedling establishment.
  • Grazing management that increases soil water holding capacity, reduce evaporation from the soil surface, and moderates soil temperatures.
  • Management to reduce fire risk through promotion of native perennial plants and suppression of seed production and establishment of invasive annual grasses.
  • Early de-stocking in the face of drought, to limit over-grazing and economic losses.

The Adaptation Library, created through four years of workshops with rangeland managers and public lands stakeholders around the western U.S., is one resource with a variety of additional ideas for building resilience to climate change for specific regions and vegetation types.

Headshot of Jack Southworth

Rancher Jack Southworth runs a cow-calf-yearling operation, grazing high-desert rangelands and dry forest systems using holistic management.

We have recently published another resource, our second case study in the Rancher-to-Rancher case study series, which showcases approaches ranchers are already using that increase their resilience to a changing climate. This most recent publication describes an operation near Seneca, Oregon, where Jack Southworth runs a cow-calf-yearling operation, grazing high-desert rangelands and dry forest systems using holistic management, with a strong focus on managing for rangeland and soil health. He has implemented a variety of strategies, including some of those described above. These practices, in combination with the ability and willingness to be flexible, have given Southworth’s ranch both ecological and operational resilience. Fundamentally, this allows him to remain profitable now while helping him manage the risks posed by changing climatic conditions.

 

This article is adapted from a sidebar in the Southworth case study by the same title. The full publication is referenced below, and is available online, with its accompanying video, at http://csanr.wsu.edu/case-studies/.

 

References:

Hall, S.A., Hudson, T.D., Yorgey, G.G., Neibergs, J.S., Reeves, M.C. 2019. Building a Tradition of Adaptive Rangeland Management: Jack Southworth. Rancher-to-Rancher Case Study Series: Increasing Resilience among Ranchers in the Pacific Northwest. Pacific Northwest Extension Publication No. PNW731. Available online at https://pubs.extension.wsu.edu/building-a-tradition-of-adaptive-rangeland-management-jack-southworth-rancher-to-rancher-case-study-series.

Leiserowitz, A., Maibach, E., Roser-Renouf, C., and Smith, N. 2011. Global Warming’s Six Americas in May 2011. Yale University and George Mason University.

One thought on “No-Regrets Strategies that Benefit Ranching Operations and Provide Climate Resilience

  1. Charles Burke

    Dear Author,
    The intensive grazing of 1/12 of a pasture per month piloted in Wilcox Arizona 20 plus years ago with the watering tank placed at the center of of the divided parcels has allowed beneficial native plants which cows like to eat for vitamins, minerals , etc, to revive and has enormous advantages for those who want to retain organic matter in the soils to retain soil moisture and thriving communities of microorganisms during drought and trees, shrubs, and tall grass control flooding during rainstorms reducing runoff of topsoil and retaining nitrogen-natural assets still mostly ignored. The stripping of native shade trees by bulldozers with concomitant compaction of the soil is frequently a mistake.as the trees and native shrubs and flowers provide shade and cooling to the soils and reduce heat stress the animals. and allow healthy natural insect pollinators and predators to live happily. A massive replanting of valuable native vegetation would help most US farms and some ranches; the ugly gullies seem in the SouthEasttern US and massive volumes of water runoff turning our our prisitine rivers into red torrents and sweeping away our aquatic wildlife are a multi- billion dollar error. I have never seen farmers or ranchers in my home area replant trees , shrubs and wildflowers for their animals or his field crops. To add to this problem, highway departments energy companies, jurisdictions and private parties mow with blades set too low on gradients and eliminate all wildlife and flowers.

    In the process they lose control of their water runoff and the result is unsightful gullies and in some areas Johnson Grass and other invasive alien plants are the the types of plants that encroach upon a landscape that has been intensively mowed, scalped or buckled by tractors tires and brushhogs. Of course the deep gullies formed in the Southwest, some parts of New Mexico, are notoriously non-resilient due to long histories of overgrazing. A long march toward capitalizing on natural assets could save farm and ranch futures. What do you think? Why doesn’t anyone promote the obvious inexpensive solutions?

    Reply

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