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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: The western United States rangeland, a major resource

Author
item Svejcar, Anthony

Submitted to: Book Chapter
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: January 29, 2009
Publication Date: August 1, 2009
Citation: Havstad, K.M., Peters, D.C., Allen-Diaz, B., Bartolome, J., Bestelmeyer, B.T., Briske, D., Brown, J., Brunson, M., Herrick, J.E., Huntsinger, L., Johnson, P., Joyce, L., Pieper, R., Svejcar, A.J., Yao, J. 2009. The western United States rangeland, a major resource. In: Wedin, W.F, Fales, S.L. editors. Grassland quietness and strength for a new American agriculture. Madison, WI:American Society of Agronomy, Inc., Crop Science Society of America, Inc., Soil Science Society of America, Inc. p.75-93.

Interpretive Summary: It seems clear that population growth in the Great Basin will continue into the future. Major population centers will continue to grow, which will cause outflow to surrounding small and medium-sized towns. An increasing number of retirees will also seek places with a favorable climate and recreational opportunities. These individuals do not require jobs and are often able to live in areas with a limited economic base. The increasing population will place more pressure on recreational opportunities and increase the impacts of recreation on a variety of ecosystem services. There is likely to be more pressure on agriculture to apply conservation practices and sustainable management for a variety of resources (water, wildlife habitat, vegetation diversity, clean air and water, and even carbon sequestration). The focus on these issues has a long history in much of the Great Basin and will continue. Some of the major challenges will revolve around the expansion of invasive species (especially cheatgrass), fire cycles, and changing atmospheric CO2 and climate. Recent research has clearly shown that cheatgrass responds very favorably to increasing atmospheric CO2. There is also evidence that winter temperatures are increasing and growing seasons are slightly longer than they were in the recent past. These factors all pose potential risks for those interested in favoring native rangeland species and minimizing invasions. With an expansion in invasive annual grasses comes more frequent fires, loss of wildlife habitat and livestock forage, and risks to air and water quality. I think that atmospheric CO2 will increase for years to come. Whether recent trends in climate (temperature and precipitation) will continue into the future is less certain. There are numerous efforts to restore and revegetate annual-dominated Great Basin rangelands. Many of these efforts have met with limited success, especially when native species are seeded as the first step in restoration. The challenges posed from managing extensive rangelands and rehabilitating degraded rangelands will require close cooperation among researchers, land managers, and other interested parties. Some have expressed the sentiment that battles over grazing, water, and land use designations will seem pretty trivial if weedy species come to dominate our rangelands.

Technical Abstract: It seems clear that population growth in the Great Basin will continue into the future. Major population centers will continue to grow, which will cause outflow to surrounding small and medium-sized towns. An increasing number of retirees will also seek places with a favorable climate and recreational opportunities. These individuals do not require jobs and are often able to live in areas with a limited economic base. The increasing population will place more pressure on recreational opportunities and increase the impacts of recreation on a variety of ecosystem services. There is likely to be more pressure on agriculture to apply conservation practices and sustainable management for a variety of resources (water, wildlife habitat, vegetation diversity, clean air and water, and even carbon sequestration). The focus on these issues has a long history in much of the Great Basin and will continue. Some of the major challenges will revolve around the expansion of invasive species (especially cheatgrass), fire cycles, and changing atmospheric CO2 and climate. Recent research has clearly shown that cheatgrass responds very favorably to increasing atmospheric CO2. There is also evidence that winter temperatures are increasing and growing seasons are slightly longer than they were in the recent past. These factors all pose potential risks for those interested in favoring native rangeland species and minimizing invasions. With an expansion in invasive annual grasses comes more frequent fires, loss of wildlife habitat and livestock forage, and risks to air and water quality. I think that atmospheric CO2 will increase for years to come. Whether recent trends in climate (temperature and precipitation) will continue into the future is less certain. There are numerous efforts to restore and revegetate annual-dominated Great Basin rangelands. Many of these efforts have met with limited success, especially when native species are seeded as the first step in restoration. The challenges posed from managing extensive rangelands and rehabilitating degraded rangelands will require close cooperation among researchers, land managers, and other interested parties. Some have expressed the sentiment that battles over grazing, water, and land use designations will seem pretty trivial if weedy species come to dominate our rangelands.

Last Modified: 11/26/2014
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