The University of Arizona

‘‘The Range Problem’’ After a Century of Rangeland Science: New Research Themes for Altered Landscapes

Nathan F. Sayre, William deBuys, Brandon T. Bestelmeyer, Kris M. Havstad

Abstract


The rangeland science profession in the United States has its roots in the widespread overgrazing and concurrent severe droughts of the late 19th century. These drivers contributed to rangeland resource degradation especially in the American Southwest—what E. O. Wooton (1908) called the ‘‘Range Problem.’’ Although logical for the time, the scientific activities and resulting policies that arose out of this catastrophe were based on reductionist experimentation and productionist emphases on food and fiber. After a century of science and policy, there are two additional perspectives that shape our vision for the emphases of the future. First, rangeland landscapes are extremely heterogeneous; general principles derived from scientific experimentation cannot be easily or generally applied without adjusting to the distinct societal and ecological characteristics of a location. Second, rangeland management occurs at spatial scales considerably larger than those that have typically been addressed in range science. Scaling up science results is not a simple, additive process. The leading features of the emerging science are 1) research at landscape scales and 2) over longer time spans that 3) approaches conservation and management practices as treatments requiring scientific evaluation, 4) incorporates local knowledge, 5) is explicitly applied in nature, and 6) is transparent in its practice. We strongly argue for a science that supports resource management by testing hypotheses relevant to
actual conservation practices and iteratively applying its findings in partnership with managers in an ongoing, adaptive fashion.


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