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, 82 E-Suppl, E138-146

Is Rangeland Agriculture Sustainable?


Is Rangeland Agriculture Sustainable?

R K Heitschmidt et al. J Anim Sci.


The objective of this paper is to examine the sustainability of rangeland agriculture (i.e., managed grazing) on a world-wide basis, with a focus on North America. Sustainability is addressed on three fronts: 1) ecological, 2) economic, and 3) social acceptance. Based on previous and on-going research, we suggest that employment of science-based rangeland grazing management strategies and tactics can ensure ecological sustainability. The formidable challenge in employing such technology centers around the need to balance efficiency of solar energy capture and subsequent harvest efficiencies across an array of highly spatially and temporally variable vegetation growing conditions using animals that graze selectively. Failure to meet this fundamental challenge often accelerates rangeland desertification processes, and in some instances, enhances rate and extent of the invasion of noxious weeds. We also suggest that the fundamental reason that ecologically sound grazing management technologies are often not employed in the management of grazed ecological systems is because social values drive management decisions more so than ecological science issues. This is true in both well-developed societies with substantial economic resources and in less-developed societies with few economic resources. However, the social issues driving management are often entirely different, ranging from multiple-use issues in developed countries to human day-to-day survival issues in poorly developed countries. We conclude that the long-term sustainability of rangeland agriculture in 1) developed societies depends on the ability of rangeland agriculturalists to continually respond in a dynamic, positive, proactive manner to ever-changing social values and 2) less-developed societies on their ability to address the ecological and social consequences arising from unsustainable human populations before the adoption of science-based sustainable rangeland management technologies.

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