Keeping Rangelands Profitable

Symposium

Organizers: Megan Clayton, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service; Bill Vodehnal, Retired, Nebraska Game and Parks; Carol Baldwin, ; Jared Beaver, Montana State University; Heidi Riddle, USFWS; Kyle Schumacher, ; Dan Sullins, Kansas State University; Romey Swanson, Audubon Texas; Carrie Trew, Oregon State University

Supported by:
The Wildlife Society; TWS Rangeland Wildlife Working Group

Traditional ranching operations focus on livestock production with wildlife conservation a secondary benefit of their management of the ranch.  Maximizing livestock production often results in homogeneous, specialized systems that diminish biodiversity. Integrating best management practices that benefit grassland wildlife as well as sustain private profitable ranching can be accomplished through partnership incentive efforts.  The effects of invasive species, predation and disease are exacerbated in rangelands that lack resiliency. In recent decades, we have seen a shift toward integration of livestock production and wildlife conservation, but producers are still up against policies and technologies that encourage conversion of rangelands to crop production. A variety of incentives including market-based approaches and conservation easements are crucial to allow ranchers opportunities to enhance wildlife habitat while still profiting from their lands. The value of the ecosystem services provided by producers that make the effort to adopt conservation practices benefits the broader public and merits fair compensation. Public understanding of the ecosystem services provided by such operations is also fundamental in creating a demand for sustainably grown products. Economic benefits to the ranchers are achieved through decreased operating costs, increased range productivity, and improved livestock health.

 
Rangeland Conservation and Management in Anthropocene
Sam Fuhlendorf
Rangelands, including grasslands, are often characterized by high variability in space and time. Much of the variability over time is associated high variation in inter- and intra-annual climate patterns. Additionally, these landscapes are largely dependent on disturbance patterns associated with grazing and fire. The interaction of these disturbances and landscape patterns in space and time are characteristics of rangeland systems that allow them to provide many ecosystem services. While ecosystem services are provided by grasslands, many approaches to management have focused primarily on the production of food and fiber and often this is counter to societal needs in this century. There are many threats to rangeland conservation, including policies that promote cultivation, woody plant encroachment, invasive species and climate change. Rangelands are best viewed as socio-ecological systems and from a broad-scale conservation perspective priorities need to be developed to focus on the factors that are most critical to maintain large, relatively unfragmented landscapes.  At a fine-scale, management and conservation can limit or enhance heterogeneity and the patterns are critical to conservation of grassland ecosystems. Understanding heterogeneity across multiple scales serves as the foundation for future conservation and management of these landscapes in the Anthropocene.
 
What Are Opportunities for Landowners to Benefit from Ecosystem Services
Jeff Goodwin
Ecosystem services are the numerous and diverse benefits provided to mankind from functioning natural ecosystem(s). Ecosystem services are produced daily across our natural environment. Our management of those natural environments play a key role in the prosperity of those services and are largely driven by the function of ecosystem processes. These services are generally categorized into four principal categories based on their function; provisioning, regulating, supporting, and cultural. The question then becomes how do landowners benefit from these ecosystem services? Ultimately, that answer involves a deeper understanding of the actual benefits ecosystem services bring to the operation, how are they quantified, and how are they valued economically, ecologically and socially? As our natural landscapes continue to face threats of land use change, fragmentation, habitat loss, etc. the valuation of ecosystem services and their benefits to society will likely play a key role in landscape management decisions into the foreseeable future.
 
What Are Opportunities for Landowners to Benefit from Ecosystem Services?
William Fox
Emerging Opportunities for Conserving & Managing Rangeland Ecosystems: A View from Texas Land management in Texas to serve human needs has evolved from the days of indigenous persons and their use of fire to manipulate vegetation and wildlife, through the introduction of domestic livestock beginning in the mid-1800’s to the recognition of wildlife as a revenue resource in the mid-1900’s.  Livestock and wildlife remain staple avenues of revenue development for many landowners, but more recently the emergence of new revenue sources are being explored based upon the goods and services rangelands provide beyond traditional management uses.  Carbon, water, biodiversity, air quality, ecotourism, and many more avenues are being explored as the value of “Nature’s Benefits” (coined by The Nature Conservancy) are recognized as tangible “products” that maintain a market value desired by many.  As the goods and services markets continue to mature, many landowners/managers are seeking to participate in these markets as a means to diversify rangeland operations.  As these markets mature, management decisions and the long-term resilience of our natural resource base will require adaptation to the strategies utilized to optimize across all revenue streams. 
 
The Role of Land Trusts and Conservation Easements in Rangeland Profitability
Lori Olson
Land trusts are non-profit, conservation organizations that work in partnership with private landowners to conserve important natural and cultural resource lands in perpetuity. This presentation will give an introduction to land trusts, what they are and what they do, and one of the main tools they use to preserve land: the conservation easement. A conservation easement is a voluntary, written agreement between a landowner and the “holder” of the conservation easement under which a landowner voluntarily restricts certain uses of the property to protect its natural, productive, or cultural features. We will discuss what conservation easements are and how they work, the land trust role and partnership, as well as some of the financial incentives and funding programs available at the federal level for placing a conservation easement on a property. In particular, we will cover the enhanced federal conservation easement tax incentive as well as the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, which both offer financial incentives for keeping rangelands in production. 
 
Assessing Ecosystem Services on Texas Private Lands
Roel Lopez
Texas is comprised of nearly 142M acres of private working lands. The rich history of private land stewardship has contributed to the production and safeguarding of natural goods and services derived from these various ecosystems. Despite efforts to promote private land conservation in Texas, rapid population growth and suburbanization have placed these working lands under threat, as noted by the recent loss of over 2.2M acres in the last 20 years. Shedding light on the economic value of ecosystem services produced can serve to inform and support conservation efforts, to include conservation market development. The study objective was to quantify the financial benefits gained from various natural land cover types found in Texas. We conducted a literature review of common approaches in quantifying ecosystem service metrics used in other studies. From this review, we identified 13 select ecosystem services ranging from food and fiber production, water, flooding and erosion benefits, wildlife, and air and carbon values.  We then developed specific methodology for each of these 13 ecosystem measures to estimate value on a per acre basis by land cover type. Ecosystem values varied based on the type of service provided, and ranged from lower value estimates (e.g., food, fiber production, $6-12/acre/annually) to higher values associated with water benefits (e.g., $10-25/acre/annually). Some ecosystem values will require more precise estimates to aid in conservation market develop (e.g., soil carbon on rangelands).  
 
Targeted Brush Removal to Benefit Prairie Grouse and Cattle Operations
Daniel Sullins, David Haukos, Christian Hagen, KC Olson, Keith Harmoney
Strategic habitat conservation relies on iterations of planning, evaluation, and implementation as cogs in a wheel that can be effective and adaptive when managing for species of concern. At broad scales, conservation is often halted at the implementation stage, particularly when reliant on voluntary participation from private landowners and producers. In such situations, an evaluation of socioeconomic factors that constrain conservation action may become as important as identifying best management practices for wildlife. We provide an example of a potential win-win solution that could benefit both lesser prairie-chickens (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) and cattle operations in Kansas based on a comprehensive evaluation of habitat requirements, habitat availability, and socioeconomic factors. We first estimated the distribution of lesser prairie-chickens using data from individuals marked with GPS transmitters in Kansas and Colorado, USA, and empirically derived relationships with anthropogenic structure densities and grassland composition. We then used our estimated species distribution to provide spatially explicit prescriptions for tree removal in locations most likely to benefit lesser prairie-chickens. Strategic application of tree removal has the potential to restore 1,154 km2 of lesser prairie-chicken habitat. Based on published tree removal rates, it would cost approximately $32.6 million to remove trees in this area. Assuming that grassland forage ceases to exist when tree cover is >50%, preliminary estimates suggest that strategic removal of tree cover would provide forage for 3,360 steers at a stocking rate of 2 hectares per head and provide an additional $308,000 annually for private landowners. Our estimated benefits are conservative and do not account for greater water for herbaceous growth and direct consumption by cattle, nor the long-term benefits of proactive tree removal. Overall, mechanical tree removal may be more costly than short-term gains in cattle production, however, both cattle and lesser prairie-chickens can benefit long-term when future encroachment is prevented.
 
Audubon Conservation Ranching
Thomas Schroeder
The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow, throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education, and on-the-ground conservation.  Native grasslands are among the most altered and imperiled ecosystems in the world—and one of the least protected. Throughout the Great Plains these critical ecosystems are increasingly fragmented and degraded through unsustainable agricultural uses, proliferation of invasive plants and vegetation, encroaching human development, and poor grazing practices. As a result, many iconic grassland bird species are declining at an alarming rate. Across the Great Plains the National Audubon Society and its partner organizations are working to regenerate and restore these critical ecosystems. The Audubon Conservation Ranching Initiative is an innovative, market-based approach that connects conservation-conscious consumers to farmers and ranchers that employ bird-friendly management practices in raising their livestock. By certifying ranches that meet our protocols, we empower meat-eating consumers to support grassland bird conservation with their purchases. We are striving to provide an economic incentive for ranchers to maximize bird habitat across millions of acres.
 
Collaborative Approach to Profitable Ranching & Conservation in the Nebraska Sandhills
chad christiansen
The Sandhills of Nebraska are a unique grassland ecosystem consisting primarily of rolling grasslands and wet meadow habitats. Identified as a largest stabilized grassland in the western hemisphere, the Sandhills provides home to a wide range of wildlife including a handful of federally endangered species. This area is also well-known as one of the top cattle-producing regions in the country. However, Sandhill’s ranchers are not immune to threats to their operations.  Through collaborative efforts with multiple entities, Landowners are able to address threats to their operations while maintaining or creating high quality habitat for wildlife. This results in keeping ranchers profitable and on the landscape and promoting long-term sustainable operations while maintaining or improving habitat for wildlife on their operations.
 
Biome-Scale Woody Encroachment Threatens Conservation Potential and Sustainability of U.S. Rangelands
Scott Morford, Brady Allred, Dirac Twidwell, Matt Jones, Jeremy Maestas, Dave Naugle
Woodland expansion is a dominant threat to the economic sustainability of working rangelands. Applying new satellite technology, we show that a quarter of U.S. rangelands are experiencing tree cover expansion and that tree cover in these areas has increased by 50% over the past 30 years. Combining satellite and USDA economic data reveals that forage production losses to tree encroachment have cost producers some $5 billion in revenue since 1990, with annual losses now topping $300 million. Identifying where tree encroachment contributes to ranch-level forage and revenue losses provides a mechanism to focus private-land conservation efforts to promote economically sustainable outcomes in U.S. working lands. To this end, we share a web-based application that allows users to investigate recent woody encroachment and herbaceous production loss at any location in the western U.S. These data and tools are freely available from the Rangeland Analysis Platform and are being used to guide the Great Plains and Sagebrush Biome Frameworks for Conservation Action developed by the NRCS.
 
Invasive Species on Rangelands: Making the Most of a Bad Situation
Timothy Fulbright
Invasive species cause economic loss to landowners and the public, as well as loss of native plants and animals, biodiversity, and altered ecosystem function.  Feral pigs (Sus scrofa) alone cause an estimated $1.5 billion in economic loss In the United States. Invasive grasses on rangelands replace native grassland communities, alter fire cycles, and in many cases reduce forage quality for livestock and wildlife. Managing invasive species is difficult and expensive. Eliminating invasive species once they are established is often impossible. Many invasive species are a mixed bag of positive and negative attributes. For example, feral pigs are popular among hunters. Buffelgrass (Pennisetum ciliare) creates near monocultures, but it provides good forage for livestock.  Range and wildlife managers can develop creative approaches to manage invasive species by taking advantage of their beneficial aspects and minimizing effects of their negative attributes. Examples include increasing income for landowners by leasing land to hunt feral pigs. Rangelands dominated by invasive grasses can be manipulated to improve habitat for wildlife. In south Texas, for example, patch burning and grazing pastures dominated by buffelgrass resulted in an increase in northern bobwhites (Colinus virginianus).

Symposium
Location: Virtual Date: November 2, 2021 Time: 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm