Rancher knowledge: an untapped resource

News
Dec 24, 2009
by WLJ

Land management and conservation agencies have traditionally performed rangeland management activities based predominately on technical information resulting from scientific research. However, rancher experience and knowledge is an untapped resource that could help broaden the scope of these activities and lead to more sustainable land management.

The number of ranchers in the U.S. is steadily decreasing. Therefore, it is more important than ever to document rancher knowledge and share it with other ranchers and with those involved in rangeland management.

Researchers gathered and codified the knowledge of ranchers in northwest Colorado; their results appear in the journal Rangeland Ecology and Management. Numerous studies document the local knowledge of pastoral communities in developing countries. However, only a few studies have focused on rancher knowledge, and until now, none has systematically studied rancher knowledge in a developed country.

Fewer people are choosing ranching as their profession because it is less economically viable to do so. As land is sold and subdivided for exurban development, invasive species become more difficult to control on these parcels. In addition, wildlife populations tend to move to intact ranches where they put additional stress on the available natural resources. As a result, those who are still in the ranching business face more and unique challenges than they have previously. This compilation of information represents the first step toward sharing previously undocumented knowledge with all land stakeholders so that more sustainable management practices can be implemented. The combination of active, embedded, and integrative knowledge of ranchers along with the knowledge gained scientifically through the testing of hypotheses will be key to managing rangelands in a way that will benefit the entire ecosystem.

Ranchers tend to gain most of their knowledge through personal experiences and from family and friends. This knowledge is traditionally not recorded. Because there are fewer ranchers and this trend is expected to continue, it is imperative that this important source of knowledge be documented and used by all of those involved in rangeland management.

To read the entire study, visit www2.allenpress.com/ pdf/RAMA-62.6fnl.pdf. — WLJ

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