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NATURAL RESOURCE SCIENCE AND MANAGEMENT IN THE WEST

Rotational grazing does the trick

Jul 17, 2014

Dear Editor,

I was shocked, and honestly appalled, at your article “Conservation Grazing: Ranchers Lead the Way.” You have created a totally false dichotomy between season-long grazing practices and what you call “rotational” grazing. It is certain that “high intensity, short duration” grazing, even in a rotational system, does not work in the western US. We never had the same native ungulate ecology as Africa. However, it is absolutely scientifically documented across the western US, that rotational grazing systems, utilizing proper use standards, are far superior to the previous season-long grazing practices. Rotational grazing systems, utilizing proper use standards, can rapidly restore degradation in stream conditions, as well as riparian and meadow vegetation; the degradation that occurred under “high intensity,” season-long grazing systems. I have worked with ranchers applying rotational grazing systems, including proper use standards, for over 20 years, with monitoring and scientific review, and the results are clearly evident and well documented.

Edith Asrow
Modoc County, CA


 

As Ms. Asrow’s letter points out, strategies for rotational grazing have many forms, and cannot be simplified to represent a dichotomy between livestock rotating among pastures vs. season-long grazing. The article “Cattle as Ecosystem Engineers” by Drs. Derner, Augustine, and Kachergis in the last issue, makes it clear that indeed, grazing strategies that implement rotations with different timing and intensities can improve wildlife habitat to increase biological diversity, and be used as conservation strategies. Indeed, the article “Conservation Grazing: Ranchers Lead the Way” shows that ranchers are receiving tangible benefits when they adjust grazing strategies and apply adaptive management, and that these strategies are benefitting wildlife as well. The article elaborates the difference between the way that ranchers know and understand systems, and the way that range scientists do.

The scientific community, as evidenced in much of the recent literature, grapples with how to study the results of adaptive management, constrained in many ways to traditional approaches of experimental designs, including replicates and “controls” and peer-reviewed evidence. Through our title, about ranchers leading, we hoped to explore the contrast between the responsiveness of ranchers to new ideas, and the skepticism of the scientific community. It was not our purpose to make too much of the “rotational grazing” vs. “season-long grazing” issue. Thank you very much for helping us to clarify this.

On a related note, in March, we (two range scientists from Wyoming) took students from both the UW Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources and the University of Buenos Aires on a field trip of rangelands in Patagonia (photo above). We met with ranchers and consultants practicing holistic management (adaptive management that includes rotational grazing), and with university scientists and national agricultural scientists of both Chile and Argentina. It was a provocative and productive experience for all of us, as we explored the communication gap between rangeland scientists and holistic grazing managers in South America as well as here in the western US.

Indy Burke
Director, Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources
University of Wyoming