Collaborative Approaches to Strengthen the Role of Science in Rangeland Conservation

TitleCollaborative Approaches to Strengthen the Role of Science in Rangeland Conservation
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsBestelmeyer BT, Burkett LM, Lister L, Brown JR, Schooley RL
Date PublishedOctober 2019
ARIS Log Number356711
Keywordsbrush management, Collaborative adaptive management, ecological sites, monitoring, State transition models

“Conservation practices,” as used by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), refer to management interventions in agroecosystems intended to promote the sustainability of production and nonproduction ecosystem services.

1 Historically, “conservation” referred to soil and nutrients, which underpin land potential and options for a variety of land uses, but the goals of conservation practices are now much broader. Current conservation goals in rangelands generally focus on maintaining or restoring a desired ecological state while sustaining the flow of economic benefits. In rangelands, conservation goals are both individual and societal. There are individual goals because ranchers want to sustain their enterprises and steward the land for future generations. There are societal goals insofar as government agencies, especially the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), support management via conservation programs and technical assistance to promote public goods, such as wildlife conservation and air and water quality. When public land is involved, conservation actions must additionally serve the multiple-use mission of responsible agencies. Science has been called upon to evaluate and improve the effectiveness of conservation practices, most comprehensively via the NRCS Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP).

2 The role of science in conservation planning, however, has been limited by environmental complexity and the lack of suitable methods and sufficient resources.1 The Changing Role of Science in Rangeland Conservation Science’s role in rangeland conservation has evolved over the past century.7 In the Southwestern United States, early rangeland science (from about 1900 to 1965) focused on improving vegetation conditions for livestock production. The products of this research—often featuring general recommendations based on research at individual study sites—were delivered by scientists in a “top-down” fashion via field days 218 Rangelands On the Ground. The use of science to inform conservation practices is limited by broad generalities generated from limited sampling alongside narrow ecosystem service perspectives. Collaborative science approaches featuring ‘‘socialecological system’’ perspectives are being used as a means to improve the utility of science. We review our approach to collaborative science to improve brush management outcomes in rangelands in the Chihuahuan Desert. Expanding the use and utility of collaborative science requires stable support via targeted funding and technical expertise, as well as web-based tools and mobile applications that link specific locations to science information and conservation practice guidelines.