Ranching as a Means of Conservation

7-Nov-2007 12:00 AM EST

Allen Press Publishing

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Newswise — Ranch families working viable ranches that sustain ecosystem services and contribute to the social fabric and local economies are critical to a West that works, says Dr. Richard Knight. This perspective is provided in more depth in a new article from the latest issue of Rangelands.

Ranching has been found to support biodiversity, because it encompasses large amounts of land with low human densities and it alters native vegetation in modest ways. Private lands, Knight says, are more important than public lands in maintenance of the region's biodiversity. When ranches support viable populations of species that are sensitive to harmful effects of sprawl, they serve much the same role as protected areas because they act as "sources," or areas where birth rates of species exceed death rates, of sensitive plant and animal species.

Outdoor recreation is the second leading cause for the decline of federally threatened and endangered species on public lands, and residential development is the second. Exurban development and outdoor recreation are year-round activities of elevated human densities that both perforate and internally dissect land with roads, trails, house sites, and recreational facilities.

With the conversion of ranchlands to ranchettes, we will have more generalist species—species that thrive in association with humans—and fewer specialist species—those whose evolutionary histories failed to prepare them for elevated human densities and advanced technology.

Grazing by livestock, when appropriately done, contributes to the necessary disturbance that rangelands require. Ranching, done right, can coexist with healthy land or even restore land back to health. Done wrong, it can damage and destroy.

"Rather than rattlesnakes and warblers, we will have garter snakes and robins. Is that the West we want? It will be the West we get if we do not slow down and get to know the human and natural histories of our region better, and then act to conserve them," says Knight.

To read the entire article click here: http://www.allenpress.com/pdf/rala-29-05-04-09.pdf

Rangelands is published six times a year by the Society for Range Management. For more information, visit http://www.srm.org.

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