Rangelands of the Northwest are complex, interconnected systems covering nearly 100 million acres that are sensitive to drought, wildfire, invasive species, and grazing. The large land extent and multiple ownerships characteristic of rangelands pose challenges to access, monitoring and decision-making under rapidly changing conditions. Climate change is increasing summer temperatures, reducing water resources, and increasing the variability of timing, availability, and quality of forage for grazing. These changes pose significant challenges to ranchers who may benefit from implementing responsive grazing management plans and other adaptation strategies. Managing rangelands for economic profitability and ecosystem function is complex, yet foundational to long-term success. Balancing these priorities is further complicated by overlapping land ownership among federal, state, and private entities. Each of these stewards have unique perspectives on the best ways to increase resilience, therefore identifying and sharing a variety of successful management strategies may improve efforts to help ranchers make informed management changes that enhance resilience.
Washington State University and the US Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station along with partners at the Idaho Rangelands Commission, State of Washington Conservation Commission, Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, and the Lazy R Ranch, are taking a case study approach to learning and sharing information that helps ranchers enhance their understanding of the likely impacts of climate change in the Northwest. The aim is to increase awareness of a variety of practices that may enhance resilience to climatic changes, including:
- Improving livestock distribution across the landscape
- Diversifying grazing resources to enhance flexibility and reduce ecological impacts during sensitive times
- Stocking rangelands conservatively to improve rangeland health and avoid need to de-stock during dry years
- De-stocking and restocking in the face of fire
- Grazing that reduces fire risk by suppressing seed production of invasive grasses and promotes native perennial plants
The studies highlight several strategies innovative ranchers are using to increase rangeland resilience to increasingly extreme and variable weather. The objective is to share insights developed by innovative ranchers and encourage other ranchers to consider making changes that enhance their resilience to ongoing and future climate change. The case studies:
- Identify vulnerabilities and explore adaptation options
- Display practices that improve climate resilience
- Explore trade-offs and co-benefits of adaptation approaches
- Discuss challenges encountered and the solutions utilized to address them
- Explore economic valuations of costs and benefits, based on the available data
- Provide economic analysis with relevant scientific information and additional resources for in-depth learning
Peer-reviewed case study fact sheets have been developed along with five videos featuring participant ranchers and their climate-resilient practices. These and additional information about the studies are included below:
- A Community-Based Response to Flooding: Jay Gordon. A Case study of Jay Gordon, a sixth-generation dairy farmer in Elma, WA, who has been working with others in his community to develop a strategy for lessening the impacts of future flooding in their watershed. See video for additional information.
Holistic Management: Maurice and Beth Robinette. Case study details are in progress and two videos on holistic management and summer calving are included below.
- Building a Tradition of Adaptive Rangeland Management: Jack Southworth. A Case study of Jack Southworth who runs a cow-calf-yearling operation in Seneca, Oregon on 42,000 acres of private and public land. See video linked below for additional information.
- Grazing Management that Achieves Multiple-Use Goals: Russ Stingley. A case study of Russ Stingley who runs a 25,000 acre cow-calf operation in Kittitas, Washington where cows and windmills comingle. See video linked below for additional information.
- Northwest Rangelands – Where Do our Climate Vulnerabilities Lie? The article provides a glimpse at the future of rangelands in the Pacific Northwest.
- How Rangeland Resilience Can Help Ranchers Facing Climate Change Impacts. A primer on resilience and what it means to ranchers in the Northwest.
Response to Flooding: Jay Gordon. (A community comes together to develop a strategy for lessening the impacts of future flooding in the Chehalis Valley, Washington).
Maximizing Water Through Holistic Management-Maurice and Beth Robinette (holistic management improves water retention for forage and simplifies stocking decisions at Lazy R Ranch in Cheney, Washington.)
The Benefits of Summer Calving-Maurice and Beth Robinette (summer calving benefits quality of ranch life at Lazy R).
The Stingleys: Grazing for Multiple Use Goals (wind farming, wildlife habitat, fire management and ranching partners work together and reap the benefits).
Jack Southworth: Ranching Grass, Cattle and Community Adaptive Rangeland Management Case Study (increasing stock density and decreasing grazing periods to decrease water stress).
The Richards Family: Building Resilient Ranching Through Relationships (engagement with agencies provides opportunity to enhance management flexibility and decision-making).