A group of researchers at University of California, Davis has received funding from the United States Department of Agriculture to conduct cutting edge social and ecological research on rangelands. The research team aims to understand the many ways in which ranchers manage livestock and lands for multiple goals. March 21 marked the beginning of the survey, which went out to more than 1,750 ranchers asking them to share their opinions and knowledge with the survey team.
The researchers seek to inform policy decision-makers and rangeland ecologists about the priorities and practices of California ranchers. Scientists will use the information to identify ways their studies can better simulate the complexity and diversity of management styles.
Ken Tate, lead scientist, says, “We are very interested in rancher perspectives on the value of varying intensity, grazing season and rest from grazing for ecosystem outcomes. There is a debate among scientists about the degree to which the outcomes we use to implement grazing strategies in field experiments mimic real-world circumstances. We need to know how to vary grazing and what outcomes matter most.”
To prepare for the survey, researchers have been conducting interviews for six months. Many ranchers have spent hours sharing stories about their ranches and thinking about the pressing issues that should be included in the survey.
Researcher Bethany Cutts is impressed by the ability of ranchers to manage so many priorities at once. “There are so many priorities for ranchers in California. There are an amazing number of food quality and environmental regulations that influence what ranchers do every day. It will be interesting to see how ranchers think about these issues.”
By conducting interviews, attending the California Cattlemen’s Association and California Farm Bureau Federation annual meetings and reviewing the results of previous rangeland studies, the team has worked to identify the right questions to ask. Ultimately, the survey includes two large sections. The first section asks about management practices and strategies for meeting diverse goals over diverse lands. This section asks about conservation programs and responses to drought. The second section asks about attitudes and values. This incorporates questions that appear in many other ranching surveys and will be used to make comparisons to studies in other states.
The results of the survey will also help design large-scale experiments that compare the extent to which different grazing options manage trade-offs in forage production, soil carbon, nitrogen, moisture, biodiversity, resistance to weed invasion and water quality. Scientists may also use the information to develop simple and straightforward monitoring activities that will allow ranchers to assess when management practices are working and when they are not.
Establishing patterns and trends in ranching practices relies on participation across all operations, big or small, whether working predominantly on land that is leased or owned, north or south. The team has taken every effort to survey the population of ranchers in California. Those who do not receive a survey may request one from Tracy Schohr, who will mail a copy as soon as possible (contact information below).
The project is a collaborative effort between the University of California, Davis and partners that include California Cattlemen’s Association (CCA), the California Farm Bureau Federation, California Rangeland Conservation Coalition and others.
Individual survey responses are voluntary and completely confidential. Data analysis and reporting will be limited to aggregation across all respondents. The information provided will not be identified by name, property or in any other way. The research team analyzing the surveys will not see or handle any personal information. Individual responses will not be shared with CCA or other participating organizations or parties. To guarantee anonymity, the address list will be maintained by CCA while all responses are returned to the University of California, Davis. Aggregated research results will be shared in future CCA publications and will be available upon request.
For more information or to receive a copy of the survey, contact CCA staff member Tracy Schohr by phone at (916) 444-0845 or email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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