The western United States rangelands, a major resource

TitleThe western United States rangelands, a major resource
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2009
AuthorsHavstad K, Peters DC, Allen-Diaz B., Bestelmeyer BT, Briske D.D., Brown JR, Brunson M., Herrick JE, Johnson P., Joyce L.A, Pieper, Rex D., Svejcar A.J., Yao J, Bartolome J, Huntsinger L
Book TitleGrassland, Quietness and Strength for a New American Agriculture
ChapterChapter 5
ARIS Log Number222754
Keywordsnatural, rangeland, resource, western U.S.
AbstractRangeland is a type of land found predominantly in arid and semiarid regions, and managed as a natural ecosystem supporting vegetation of grasses, grass-like plants, forbs, or shrubs. There are approximately 761 m ac of rangeland in the United States, about 31% of the total land area. This land type is characterized by 4 features: 1) limited by water and nutrients, primarily nitrogen (N), 2) annual production is characterized by tremendous temporal and spatial variability, 3) a nested landscape of public and private ownership, and 4) throughout their history of use these lands have been uniquely coupled systems of both people and nature. In the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 1948 Yearbook of Agriculture, the chapter on rangelands focused on a description of these lands occurring by region across the western United States, and the principles, developed mostly in the early 20th century, to manage these lands to provide the provisioning services of food and fiber through livestock grazing. In the last 60 years, these western rangelands have undergone a transformation as the U.S. population has grown to over 300 million and relocated to urban areas within the western and southwestern states. This population dynamic, along with tremendous changes in agricultural production and a reduction in the population involved in agriculture have resulted in significant changes in the uses and emphases placed upon these western lands. This land type is now often looked to provide a multitude of goods and services not only to rural populations, but also to tens of millions of people in large urban areas located within these rangelands. In this chapter it is our intent to reflect on the extent and nature of this transformation over the last 60 years. We start with a description of this human dynamic, and its sociological implications. We describe the major regions of the western continental U.S., the focal point of U.S. rangelands.