The University of Arizona

Conservation of Pattern and Process: Developing an Alternative Paradigm of Rangeland Management

Samuel D. Fuhlendorf, David M. Engle, R. Dwayne Elmore, Ryan F. Limb, Terrence G. Bidwell


This article examines the question of how well the rangeland management profession has served conservation of patterns and processes that support multiple ecosystem services. We examine the paradigms under which rangeland management operates and argue that our profession developed under the utilitarian paradigm with the primary goals of sustainable forage for livestock production. While optimization of multiple rangeland products and services has always been a consideration, a comprehensive set of principles have not be been developed to advance this concept. We argue that fire and grazing, often viewed as mere tools used for production goals, should rather be viewed as essential ecosystem processes. Rangeland management continues to operate under the utilitarian paradigm appropriate to societal values of the 20th century and by and
large has failed to provide management guidance to reverse degradation of several highly valued ecosystem services. We support this argument with evidence that biodiversity has declined on rangelands in the past half century and that much of this decline is due to management goals that favor a narrow suite of species. The full suite of ecosystem services valued by society will only benefit by management for heterogeneity, which implies that there is no one goal for management and that landscape-level planning is crucial. Explicitly incorporating heterogeneity into state-and-transition models is an important advancement not yet achieved by our profession.We present new principles for rangeland management formed on the basis of conservation of pattern and process. While recognizing that many rangelands have significant deviations from historic plant communities and
disturbance regimes, we suggest that management for conservation of pattern and process should focus on fire and grazing to the extent possible to promote a shifting mosaic across large landscapes that include patches that are highly variable in the amount of disturbance rather than the current goal of uniform moderate disturbance.

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