Many parts of the West, whether under public or private ownership, have been impacted by historical grazing practices that preceded contemporary understanding of rangeland science and ecology.
But today there are growing numbers of exemplary ranchers using innovative management practices to restore degraded rangelands and maintain existing healthy landscapes, while also supporting a sustainable business that contributes to the local economy.
Conservation-minded ranchers are playing a vital role in improving the health and productivity of both rangelands and forests. Ranchlands are a significant carbon sink and properly managed grazing has been shown to increase soil carbon storage in western rangelands. A stable ranching community provides food and fiber, meaningful employment, resource conservation and wide open spaces.
Economy and Culture
Ranchers operate on over 400 million acres of private and public grasslands, rangelands, and forests in eleven western states. Cattle and other livestock species convert forage into meat and a variety of other products through grazing. A significant amount of this land is not suitable for crop production. Well managed grazing of this land provides jobs and food, while also supporting the heritage and economies of many rural communities.
Ranching can be a cost effective, sustainable approach to conservation, helping protect waters and wildlife, while also supporting carbon sequestration and storage, recreational opportunities and a way of life. There are many examples of grazing contributing to biodiversity and a healthier environment. A growing number of ranchers are learning how conservation can contribute to the resilience of their operations.
Ranches remain the frontline defense in protecting open space and preventing the fragmentation of land. Maintaining viable ranching operations requires large open spaces, which in turn are of ecological and aesthetic value to all of us.
Protecting Public and Private Lands
The viability of many ranches is dependent on access to public lands. In turn, private lands support stream and watershed functions, provide important habitat for migratory wildlife, and often support valuable ecosystems not found on adjacent public lands. Appropriate, sustainable, public land grazing that recognizes the interplay between public and private holdings allows for broader landscape-scale conservation efforts.
Here are a few rancher-organized and led groups that are making significant strides for conservation.
Ranchers Stewardship Alliance - www.ranchersstewardshipalliance.org
Country Natural Beef - www.countrynaturalbeef.com
Lemhi Regional Land Trust - www.lemhilandtrust.org
Madison Valley Ranchlands - www.madisonvalleyranchlands.org