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Transhumance and pastoralist resilience in the western United States.


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Dr Huntsinger is a rangeland ecologist whose work focuses on the conservation and management of rangelands and ranching. Larry C. Forero (lcforero@ucdavis. edu) is a Livestock and Farm Advisor, Shasta County UC Cooperative Extension, Redding,California. Dr Forero works with rangeland landowners, teaches, and conducts research on land conservation and ranch economics in the northern Sacramento Valley of California. Adriana Sulak ( is a post-doctoral researcher, Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, University of California, Berkeley. Dr Sulak's research is focused on land conservation, collaborative management, and working landscapes. Two case studies and a review of the literature show that ranches in the western United States manifest characteristics of pastoral systems, including transhumance, subject to forces akin to those driving a loss of pastoral mobility worldwide. Ranches typically depend on montane summer range where tenure is shared, insecure, and declining. Distinguishing between ranchers and pastoralists must rely less on any single feature, or a point on a continuum, than on the relative abundance and co-herence of a mutually reinforcing complex of pastoral features that shift in relative visibility as pastoral systems, inherently fl exible and opportunistic, adapt to envi-ronmental, political, demographic and economic variability.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Pastoralism Vol. 1 No. 1 January 2010
Lynn Huntsinger ( is Professor in the Department of Environmental
Science, Policy, and Management, University of California, Berkeley; Dr Huntsinger is a
rangeland ecologist whose work focuses on the conservation and management of rangelands
and ranching. Larry C. Forero (lcforero@ucdavis. edu) is a Livestock and Farm Advisor, Shasta
County UC Cooperative Extension, Redding,California. Dr Forero works with rangeland
landowners, teaches, and conducts research on land conservation and ranch economics in the
northern Sacramento Valley of California. Adriana Sulak ( is a post-
doctoral researcher, Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, University
of California, Berkeley. Dr Sulak’s research is focused on land conservation, collaborative
management, and working landscapes.
© Practical Action Publishing, 2010,
doi: 10.3362/2041-7136.2010.002, ISSN: 2041-7128 (print) ISSN 2041-7136 (online)
Transhumance and pastoralist
resilience in the Western United States
Two case studies and a review of the literature show that ranches in the western
United States manifest characteristics of pastoral systems, including transhumance,
subject to forces akin to those driving a loss of pastoral mobility worldwide. Ranches
typically depend on montane summer range where tenure is shared, insecure, and
declining. Distinguishing between ranchers and pastoralists must rely less on any
single feature, or a point on a continuum, than on the relative abundance and co-
herence of a mutually reinforcing complex of pastoral features that shift in relative
visibility as pastoral systems, inherently fl exible and opportunistic, adapt to envi-
ronmental, political, demographic and economic variability.
Keywords: Forest Service, USA, grazing, ranching, pastoral mobility, tenure
Commercial cattle ranching in the United States offers an archetype against
which traditional pastoralism can be broadly contrasted. It has been used
internationally as a template for ‘development’ of non-Western pastoral so-
cieties that has resulted in the destruction of traditional systems and the loss
of natural resources. With origins in the political and economic forces that
drove the conquest and settlement of the arid lands of the western conti-
nent, American cattle production is now an industry stratifi ed into multiple
layers including retail, processing, feedlot and ranch or farm. On ranches,
brood herds commonly owned by households are grazed on rangelands and
produce calves that are sold into the next, more often corporate, layer of the
production system.
Two California case studies and a review of the literature reveal that, at
the ranch level, characteristics of traditional pastoral societies are manifest,
January 2010 Pastoralism Vol. 1 No. 1
including transhumance that is subject to forces and confl icts similar to
those driving the loss of pastoral mobility worldwide. Greater restrictions on
transhumance can be attributed to insecurity of land tenure, and changes
in land use and vegetation, often undergirded by a narrative of ecological
degradation. We will argue that many of the characteristics, and problems, of
transhumant ranchers, including a decline in mobility, resonate with those
of more traditional pastoral societies, and that the origins of this decline and
some of the possible mitigations are also similar. Defi nitions of pastoralists
often invoke mobility, both as response to environment and shaper of cul-
ture, and it remains to be seen whether the other ‘pastoral characteristics’ of
ranchers will survive its loss.
Government-owned summer range is part of the production cycle of more
than 5,000 transhumant ranchers in the US Archival research and two fi eld
studies allow us to examine who transhumance ranchers are, the pastoral
characteristics that it may be argued they maintain, and the factors affecting
transhumance and hence pastoral practice in the western US. We begin with
a brief history of the development of cattle transhumance in the American
West, examine the concept of cattle ranchers as ‘pastoralists’, outline general
trends in the management of summer range by the US Forest Service, and
then, for ground-truthing, turn to two California case studies of ranchers us-
ing Forest Service summer range.
Development of transhumance in the Western United States
Transhumance in what is now the United States began with Spanish, Mexi-
can, and Native American livestock in the south-west. At its most simplifi ed
characterization, much of the West is lowland desert broken up by moun-
tain ranges that are snowy in the winter and rich in meadows and water
in the summer. Complementing the winter supply of palatable grasses and
shrubs on the deserts, the mountains provide the richest forage of the year,
summer range that stimulates milk production and fattens lambs and calves.
The Navajo obtained sheep and other livestock from Spanish colonists in the
seventeenth century, and were able to incorporate a mobile herding lifestyle
into their traditional culture, making use of highlands and lowlands season-
ally (Bailey 1980). At the same time and for the next 200 years, Spanish and
Mexican land grants, thousands of hectares in size, were given to individuals
and communities and traditionally included valleys and uplands for grazing
in seasonal patterns.
In the mid-19th century when Arizona and New Mexico were annexed by
the US, and settlers were moving rapidly into the arid western territories,
American land allocation policies were implemented. Community and indi-
vidual grants fell to clever entrepreneurs and lawyers, to the federal govern-
ment for back taxes, or rarely, remained in the hands of grantees. In most if
not all cases the high elevation ranges wound up in the hands of national
Pastoralism Vol. 1 No. 1 January 2010
land management agencies (de Buys 1985). Ranchers throughout the West
adopted traditional south-western patterns of transhumance or created pat-
terns of their own, moving stock from arid lowlands in the winter to mon-
tane meadows in the summer. Periodic droughts encouraged stock driving
into the mountains, creating and reinforcing transhumance patterns.
Restrictions on land claim sizes, and deferment of the cost of owning large
areas of rough country, left most western montane and desert range in the
nationally held ‘public domain’. A strategy of ‘control of the range by control
of the water’ emerged. Settlers focused on acquiring lowland areas with ar-
able lands and water, grazing their livestock on the surrounding open range.
In ranching communities, informal rules and practices evolved that helped
control grazing, including legal fencing of private home properties, illegal
fencing of public domain range, grazing agreements among members of a
community, and extra-legal threats and pressures to fend off outside intrud-
ers (Nelson 1995). Sayre describes an informal 19th century rule in Arizona
that the owner of a water source had the rights to graze the public domain
halfway to the next water source (2002). Common gathers where livestock
were sorted, with reciprocal labour and herding, and brands to monitor cattle
ownership, refl ected a nascent pastoral culture as well as hispano infl uence
(Farquhar 1930). In 1885, the US Congress compelled the removal of fenc-
ing on public lands, enforcing the open access character of the resource at
the time and contributing to battles over pasture use with ‘outsiders’ such as
widely roaming shepherds and speculative cattle enterprises (Nelson 1995).
In the late nineteenth century, an infl ux of speculative money, funded by
industrial wealth and family fortune, often from distant shores, drove the
rapid development of a commercial livestock industry based on access to
low-cost, uncontrolled land, with few ties to local communities. Profi teering
from running cattle crashed toward the end of the century with overstocked
ranges, inadequate and badly placed fences, and a few brutal winters. The
government asserted control over this range in the early twentieth century.
Most summer range was reserved out of the public domain into the National
Forests, and now is under the jurisdiction of the United States Forest Service
(USFS). Most lowland ranges eventually came under the jurisdiction of the
United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM). First priority for alloca-
tion of government rangeland, or ‘public lands’, went to those owning land
with a home ranch nearby. ‘Grazing allotments’, areas of land individuated
to households whenever possible, were then allocated and a fee set for graz-
ing on a per head basis. Emphasis on ownership of nearby private property
meant that transhumant and sedentary cattle producers had the advantage
over shepherds and others who did not own proximate land.
Throughout the West, though ranches are of course a function of the cul-
ture of settlers and the details of the local environment (Starrs 1998), a typi-
cal cattle ranch evolved to have a ranch house and private ‘deeded acres’
located on water or a water development (Figure 1). On the deeded land is
found irrigated pasture, used in some parts of the livestock production cycle,
January 2010 Pastoralism Vol. 1 No. 1
hay fi elds, and sometimes, crops. The summer ranges, if the ranch has them,
are up in the mountains at elevations from 1,000 to 3,000 metres and under
the jurisdiction of the Forest Service or sometimes, timber companies and
other public and private ownerships. Lowland ranges, desert, steppe, or in
California, Mediterranean annual grassland, if not under the jurisdiction of
the BLM, may belong to Native American tribes, the military, public utilities,
states, and local districts and municipalities.
Part of the original mandate of the BLM and the USFS was the furtherance
of settlement and development of the West by protecting resources for set-
tler use, including timber and rangeland. Allotment grazing permits stipulate
grazing periods, numbers allowed, and so on – all adjudicated by local agency
representatives and ultimately subject to the vagaries of national politics. The
Forest Service controls approximately 78 million ha (
aboutus/), and the BLM controls 106 million ha in the western US (http:// (Figure 2). As examples, California, with good
water supplies, more arable land, swamp restoration lands, and Mexican and
Spanish land grants, is approximately 50 per cent private land, while the
Figure 1. A desert steppe ranch in Western Nevada. High elevation range is leased from the
Forest Service, desert steppe from the BLM. The 700 private hectares are used as irrigated
pasture, hay fi elds, and crop lands. The ranch haystack is visible in the mid-ground, as is
the barn and ranch compound that includes stone corrals, housing for the owners, and
a bunkhouse for workers. Throughout the desert steppe country, patches of trees often
signify a ranch, past or present. Ranches are often located near or on alluvial fans where
subsurface water can be tapped, or rises naturally to the surface to create, as in this case, a
‘sub-irrigated’ meadow.
Photo: P. Starrs
Pastoralism Vol. 1 No. 1 January 2010
adjacent state of Nevada, with extensive, highly arid, cold desert steppe, is
more than 90 per cent government land. One arguable simplifi cation would
be to say that the cost of owning rangeland far outstrips its value in more of
Nevada than in California.
Having ‘enough forage on the home ranch to support the herd when not on
the public lands’, was a criterion for the original allotment of grazing permits
Figure 2. Public lands in the United States. White areas are privately owned
Source: Adapted from the National Atlas of the United States, March 5, 2003,
January 2010 Pastoralism Vol. 1 No. 1
to ranchers, a system very similar to that described by Netting (1981) for a
Swiss Alpine community’s allocation of commons grazing rights. Other simi-
larities to this and other transhumant systems can be seen: families, members
of the family, or hired hands travel up to the mountains in the summer and
stay in a ‘line camp’, which is generally a summer cabin or sometimes a tent
on Forest Service land. Rinschede (1984) does a thorough job of describing
American transhumance in various western regions (Figure 3).
Transhumance in the West is a journey not just from biome to biome,
but also from ownership to ownership, each with its attendant formal and
informal rules. It also is a journey from autonomy to tenancy, as the ranch-
er, in journeying to upland range, acquires a huge federal bureaucracy for
a landlord. The rancher has no authority to determine when or how these
ranges are grazed, or to carry out land or vegetation management practices
without government permission. The complex patterns of landownership in
Figure 3. Transects of transhumance by livestock producers in Wyoming (upper), and in
California (lower).
Pastoralism Vol. 1 No. 1 January 2010
the western US, as well as equally complex policies for land allocation, and
human ingenuity in dealing with both, mean that there are also ranches that
do not use public lands, and that do not engage in off-ranch mobility. The
ranches that are the focus of this study use Forest Service rangelands for part
of a transhumant cycle of production and are in the majority family-owned
operations of limited profi tability (Gentner and Tanaka 2002), some of which
have persisted from early homesteads and land grants in previous centuries.
Typically they graze 200–300 cows.
Ranchers as pastoralists
In 2004 the African Conservation Centre initiated a project ‘seeking to unite
two groups with unexpectedly similar problems and goals from across the
globe to allow them to learn from their common yet never before shared
experiences’ (Klinkenborg 2001). The project sponsored a trip of Maasai
herdsman to the south-western United States to visit with the ranchers of the
Malpai Borderlands Group, a grassroots group dedicated to preserving ranch-
ing culture and rangeland productivity on public and private range.
The biggest problems faced by both groups are pasture deterioration and
land subdivision. Despite obvious major differences, they shared a common
sense that their culture, traditional management, and use of the natural en-
vironment is widely misunderstood. All were deeply concerned about land
tenure, including the loss of rangelands to alternative land uses, develop-
ment, and political forces that called for exclusion of grazing from traditional
pastures (ACC 2006).
Pastoralists have been defi ned in numerous ways, most having to do with
a mode of life centred on extensive livestock production, and characterized
by some form of mobility, including transhumance (Fernandez-Gimenez and
Le Febre 2006). One defi nition states that pastoralist households are those
with at least 50 per cent of their gross income from livestock or livestock-
related activities (Swift 1988). For Khazanov, the development of a unique,
livestock-oriented society, distinguished from farming societies, is important
(1994). For others, an economy based on subsistence is crucial (Galaty 2004).
Control over land as well as animals, and commodifi ed inputs and outputs,
are key components distinguishing ranching from pastoralism in Ingold’s
view (1980). Ingold described ranching and pastoral culture as opposing
forces, with ranching destructive of indigenous cultures. Sayre points to a
continuum between the two, concluding that where pastoralism ends and
ranching begins has not been well addressed (2002). Sheridan (2007) opts for
the use of the 19th century term ‘grazier’ to refer to ranchers using rangelands
to graze their stock.
In fact, even the most traditional pastoralists are changing, challenging
xed or narrow notions of what pastoralism is, as they begin to supplement
their subsistence economies with market enterprises, and opt on occasion to
January 2010 Pastoralism Vol. 1 No. 1
purchase livestock feeds or acquire land (Davies 2008). Transhumant ranchers
in the western US are not subsistence oriented, are integrated with the larger
society, own at least some private land, and buy and sell feeds and animals in
the marketplace. Many make less than 50 per cent of their household income
from ranching, though the amenity values and social status associated with
ranching can be seen as ‘non-commodity’ products. Despite these differences,
it can be argued that transhumant ranchers do share many of the attributes
that have been identifi ed as characteristics of traditional pastoralists.
Though American ranches are oriented to market sales, many remain
household enterprises that do not generate surplus income. Despite some
huge ranches and corporate owners, there are still signifi cant numbers of
families with small herds – the average beef cow herd in the US is 40 head,
but operations with 100 or more beef cows comprise only nine per cent of all
beef operations and 51 per cent of the beef cow inventory (USDA-ERS 2005).
Ranchers have, for at least several decades, been price takers rather than price
setters, because of competition from calf producers using low-cost agricul-
tural residues and alternate forage sources, the economic domination of the
feeding and packing operations, and the tendency of ranchers to subsidize
ranches with off-ranch income (Smith and Martin 1972, Torell et al. 2000).
Available national statistics about ranching are complicated by the defi ni-
tion of ‘ranch’, which in agricultural surveys can be anyone with livestock.
Focusing on transhumant ranchers helps distinguish backyard steer keepers,
and farmers with a few cattle on the side, from a family whose lifestyle, like
that of traditional pastoralists, is more deeply engaged with a herd of stock.
However, statistics about this group are not formally collected. Studies that
have singled out rangeland graziers have shown that US ranchers gain much
social capital from ranching, and that this is consistent throughout the West
and over time. They highly value being ranchers, including living on the
ranch, environmental amenities, leaving the ranch to their children, and
their autonomy in the production of livestock (Bartlett et al. 1989, Gentner
and Tanaka 2002, Grigsby 1980, Huntsinger et al. 1997, Liffmann et al. 2000,
Rowe et al. 2001, Smith and Martin 1972, Sulak et al. 2004, Torell et al. 2001).
Despite the opportunity to increase cash fl ow by selling land or changing
professions, ranchers are often characterized as clinging rather stubbornly to
what some see as an outmoded way of life. A common statement attributed
to cowhands and ranchers is that one reason they like ranching is that ‘the
work is different every day’, because ranchers perform diverse tasks, includ-
ing accounting, construction, herding, marketing of livestock, land and eco-
system management, and game management. Autonomy in decision-making
is often mentioned as characteristic of pastoralists (Blench 2001).
Like pastoralists, ranchers are known to have distinctive traditions that
vary by region and primary herd type (Marshall and Ahlborn 1981, Grigsby
1980, Yung and Belsky 2007, Rowan and White 1994, Starrs and Huntsing-
er 1998), similar to pastoralists around the globe. Ranching subcultures of
shared practices, ideologies, dress, behaviours, and regional histories, etc, are
Pastoralism Vol. 1 No. 1 January 2010
well described (Jordan 1981, Starrs 1998, Marshall and Ahlborn 1981). In
terms of social organization, ranchers in the US have always been ‘embedded
in the surrounding sedentary culture’ (Barfi eld 1993) and part of the national
politic. A general belief that society is somewhat hostile toward them and
their activities, and a mistrust of governmental authority (Liffmann et al.
2000, Yung and Belsky 2007) is widespread, as is the belief that they know
how to manage their stock and land better than outsiders, and that outsiders
do not understand them.
Other characteristics of US ranchers are also considered broadly pastoral:
reciprocal social relations and dependence on peers (Yung and Belsky 2007,
Ellickson 1991, Liffmann et al. 2000, Grigsby 1976, 1980) are familiar at-
tributes of rangeland ranchers. While ranchers value their ‘independence’
(Grigsby 1980), it is commonly acknowledged that peer pressure is the most
effective way to infl uence rancher behaviour, that they get most of their
information and advice from other ranchers, resolve disputes among them-
selves rather than turn to legal options (Ellickson 1991), follow informal
rules unique to their community (Yung and Belsky 2007) and rely on each
other for help at certain points in the production cycle. They celebrate their
interdependence with gatherings centred on events like branding of calves.
Driven by the rangeland aridity and climatic unpredictability that defi nes
rangelands globally, American ranchers, like pastoralists, engage in ecologi-
cal opportunism and need fl exibility and reliability in forage sources (White
and Conley 2007, Gripne 2005, Rowe et al. 2001, Sayre 2001, Starrs 1998).
Ranchers are reliability-seeking (Roe et al. 1998) in that they have access to
and make use of diverse forms of forage and feed, lobby for programmes that
protect prices and provide feed during drought, and maintain information
networks that monitor market conditions closely. Like pastoralists, US ranch-
ers have also been described as risk averse (Grigsby 1980). Many consider the
value of their property, and land appreciation, an important fi nancial ‘back
up’ and source of emergency cash, because they can sell off small parcels
from time to time for a fi nancial boost or to liquidate at retirement. On the
other hand, at the herd level they have traded the stability of mixed herds
for the effi ciency of uniform production, with most ranchers relying on cattle
Like pastoralists around the world, ranchers rely on extensive grazing land.
US ranchers almost always own some private land, fi tting them to some de-
gree into Ingold’s categorization of ranchers as those with control over their
land. However, the transhumant ranchers of this study use public range for
a signifi cant part of their production cycle, and although it is theoretically
‘allotted’ to them, in fact over much of that land their tenure is insecure,
shared, and declining. As we will demonstrate in the case studies, many of
these ranchers also use land leased from governmental or private entities dur-
ing the rest of the year.
On public land ranges US ranchers have been subjected to some of the
same pressures to individuate grazing as pastoralists in traditional societies.
January 2010 Pastoralism Vol. 1 No. 1
One resonant example of this mobility-restricting approach happened as
part of The Vale Rangeland Rehabilitation Program in eastern Oregon. This
domestic rangeland development project was initiated in 1962 (Huntsinger
and Heady 1988) with heavy government investment via the Bureau of
Land Management. Ranchers in this area had a history of using large gov-
ernment allotments in common. A premise of the development programme
was that many of these areas should be fenced into individual allotments.
Considerable investment was made in water developments, as many subdi-
visions had no natural water. Ultimately, an aircraft had to be leased to fl y
the area to make sure that the propane-driven wells and pipeline systems
were functioning, because in at least one case numerous cattle died when
a well ceased operating. The entire system became more labour and energy
intensive. The same phenomenon is known elsewhere, especially when land
re-allocation takes once-large land areas and divides them up for individual
landowners who then need to maximize production on land insuffi cient to
buffer drought and other unpredictable changes in productivity.
Individuated or not, ranchers share grazing allotments with other public
users, including hunters and recreationists. Agencies like the Forest Service are
generally not obligated to allow grazing to any particular level, and in many
cases have found other uses for the land. Rules for the timing and amount of
grazing lack fl exibility. Ranchers using government land must work with bu-
reaucratic entities that they may have more or less skill at negotiating with,
and must contend with competing public interests in public lands. This can
lead to agency-stipulated grazing management, timing, and rest periods that
are driven by goals that have little to do with what is thought necessary for
grazing ecology or supporting ranch households.
In the US the major land management agencies each have their own pro-
cesses and requirements for the management and monitoring of grazing while
stock are on their lands. In addition, ranchers, agency, and public tend to have
quite different perceptions of rangeland conditions (Huntsinger and Heady
1988), and even within the agencies themselves there is a lack of consensus
about livestock grazing, particularly as young, urban-educated recruits replace
retirees with a more rural background (Richards and Huntsinger 1994). In-
creasing public interest in using rangelands for recreation and nature reserves
has stimulated policy change and grazing reductions. Meanwhile, the ideas of
traditional graziers about how land and vegetation should be managed have
been largely ignored, a common problem for pastoralists globally.
Forest Service management in the Western United States
The Forest Service (USFS) controls most of the montane summer range in
the western US Changes in USFS goals and practices over time have been
researched at great length, and it is not our intention to repeat those fi nd-
ings here (Rowley 1985, Nelson 1995, Young and Sparks 1985). However, it
Pastoralism Vol. 1 No. 1 January 2010
is important to note that what was once seen as a land reservation for the
protection of resources to further the economic development of the West is
now seen by many as land set aside for recreation and nature preservation.
As Blench (2001) comments in his overview of contemporary pastoralism,
‘the marginal lands that have previously been the province of pastoralists are
increasingly coming into focus as reserves of biodiversity. Their very inacces-
sibility has permitted the survival of species eliminated in high-density agri-
cultural areas’. In the US, as this reconstruction has evolved, land uses that
result in market products seem to have become synonymous in the minds
of many with exploitation and abuse. Agency goals have shifted away from
managing for production of commodities such as livestock and timber. The
efforts of advocacy groups to remove grazing from public lands ebb and fl ow
as a part of the political landscape.
Attempts to make management of government ranges scientifi c in the 20th
century (Nelson 1995, Fernandez-Gimenez and Sayre 2003) have also led
to reductions in grazing on USFS land. The application of theories of equi-
librium ecosystem dynamics to the assessment and monitoring of govern-
ment rangelands, which implies that removing grazing can reverse ecological
changes brought about by grazing, drove reductions and the pursuit of a
xed ‘carrying capacity’. The ecological impacts of North American livestock
grazing, given its relatively recent origins, is beyond our scope. However, the
reductions in grazing that have followed the development of a dominant
narrative about grazing as degrader of ecosystems, and the mixed results eco-
logically, economically, and socially, resonate with the pastoralist experience
elsewhere (Davis 2007, Ellis and Swift 1988). As is the case in many pastoral
systems (Behnke and Scoones 1991), disequilibrium dynamics are now be-
lieved to be a more appropriate framework for the management of the range-
lands of the arid west, yet the infrastructure and institutions for carrying out
such management remain poorly developed.
In 1992, an average Forest Service grazing permit allowed a rancher to use
about 4,300 ha to graze a little over 1,000 ‘animal-unit-months’ (AUMs or
head-months) of forage (GAO 1993). As the typical transhumance ranch has
200 to 300 head, a likely scenario would be grazing 333 cows for a three
month summer season, using around 4 ha to support each cow for a month.
A standardized but rough measurement, an AUM is the amount of forage
consumed by a typical cow (or cow with small calf) in one month, or about
750–850 lbs, depending on forage characteristics. A 300 cow ranch would
need 3600 AUMs to feed the herd year-round. In a survey of ranchers using
public lands throughout the West, Gentner and Tanaka (2002) found that
all except those owning large ranches primarily for status and recreational
reasons (sometimes termed ‘trophy ranches’) reported that a mean of ap-
proximately 47 per cent of their income came from using summer range. The
relative scarcity of summer range, and its superior quality to many lowland
ranges, can make its value disproportionately high.
January 2010 Pastoralism Vol. 1 No. 1
It is diffi cult to follow changes in forage allocated for grazing by the Forest
Service over time because documentation is diffi cult to fi nd and assessment
methods and boundaries have changed several times. For this reason the data
presented are patchy. Historians of grazing on the National Forests (Rowley
1985) assert that grazing began to be monitored around 1905, and increased
rapidly to its highest known point with pressures to increase agricultural pro-
duction during WWI. The sharpest declines in stocking occurred from 1920
to 1950, followed by a slower decline up to the present. Duration of use has
also declined over time. Between 1980, after reasonably comparable records
are easily available, and 2005, forage consumed by cattle from the National
Forests declined from 7.7 million to 4.6 million animal unit months, a de-
cline of nearly 40 per cent, and the number of livestock owners reported to
be using Forest Service lands (including sheep and horse graziers and some
redundancy) declined from more than 16 thousand to less than 7 thousand,
a decline of nearly 64 per cent (modifi ed from Thomas, 2004). Data avail-
able for 1994–2005 shows a slight decline in the ‘permitted’ use of the land,
and a far greater reduction in actual, or ‘authorized use’ (Figure 4) (USDA-FS
1994–2005) for all livestock graziers. This is largely due to drought, accord-
ing to agency offi cials (GAO 2004), but may also refl ect reductions due to
temporary management or improvement activities on the allotment, or due
to ‘voluntary non-use’, where a grazier voluntarily, for a variety of reasons,
decides not to graze in the mountains in a particular year.
California case studies
Results of two California case studies of ranchers using Forest Service range
provide an opportunity to corroborate and extend national-level trends in
transhumant ranching using fi eld-based site-specifi c research. The overall ob-
jective of the case studies was to evaluate linkages between the Forest Service
and private lands in the region, because of conservation interest in the pri-
vate lands.
Figure 4. Forage use allowed by permit versus actually authorized and consumed, US
National Forests, 1994–2005
Pastoralism Vol. 1 No. 1 January 2010
The characteristics of ranchers, ranches, and USFS management changes
described for western transhumant ranchers apply to California. One differ-
ence that could factor into this discussion is that on the western side of the
major mountain range used for transhumance, lowland ranges have a Medi-
terranean climate, and ranchers tend to own more lowland private range than
do ranchers east of the Sierra Nevada. Ranchers in California are less likely
to use BLM range. In this region also, because of the mild climate and bur-
geoning coastal urban centres, there is strong pressure for urban or suburban
development. However, exurban sprawl is affecting huge areas of the West.
Comparative studies have shown that Californian rancher attitudes, values,
production practices, and economies are quite consistent with the rest of the
West today (Sulak et al. 2004, Rowe et al. 2001, Bartlett et al. 1989).
In California, a major stimulus to transhumance was the Gold Rush in
1849, when thousands of prospectors took up residence in the Sierra. Famil-
iarity with the mountains and a series of droughts, combined with the devel-
opment of lowland pastures for crop production, fostered the development
of transhumance grazing among ranchers (Burcham 1982). Competition for
level crop lands gradually limited ranching to the foothills and Sierra there-
after (Burcham 1982). One author asserts that sheep began to be driven into
the Sierra in 1864, in response to devastating drought, and that before that
time, forage in the Central Valley area was suffi cient (Gómez-Ibáñez 1967,
10). He points out that the well-known explorers Henry Brewer and Clar-
ence King fi rst noted the presence of livestock in the Sierra in 1864 (p. 36).
Today, there are a total of about 700,000 brood cows in California (USDA-
NASS 2005), most of them on rangelands for at least part of the year. About
71,000 of them use Forest Service rangelands under approximately 400 per-
mits (USDA-FS 2005).
Case study I: West central Sierra foothills of California
This survey research project was conducted in 2001–2 (Sulak and Hunt-
singer 2002, 2007, Sulak 2007), and assessed some of the forces affecting
transhumant graziers. Ranchers in the west central Sierra foothills using
National Forest (USFS) lands for summer range were interviewed (Figures 5
and 3), along with their neighbours who did not conduct transhumance.
Ranchers in the case study (n=37) had an average 692 ha of privately-
owned oak woodlands at elevations ranging from sea level to 1,000 me-
tres in the Sierra foothills. Forage supplies were an issue for them in both
summer and winter. In almost every case, the private ranch alone could
not support the herd through the winter, so ranchers supplemented their
lowland range with leases from private owners, public utilities and other
public owners, as well as by feeding hay. One transhumant interviewee used
eleven different leases. Speculative ownerships in the lowland woodlands
and forest fringe typically use grazing to reduce fi re hazard and to qualify for
agricultural tax relief while properties await development. This arrangement
January 2010 Pastoralism Vol. 1 No. 1
provides a tenuous supply of leasing opportunities to local ranchers. Ranch-
ers commented that it was getting harder every year to fi nd the full calendar
of forage needed, with some choosing to ship animals over 300 miles north
to Oregon for summer pasture.
Vegetation management differed between Forest Service and private ranges,
with consequences for forage production. A common management activity
undertaken by more than half of the ranchers on their own property was brush
control or clearing to keep woodlands open for grazing. Deliberate and ‘con-
trolled’ burning was employed when possible. In contrast, these activities were
Figure 5. Transhumance in California and case study locations
Pastoralism Vol. 1 No. 1 January 2010
rarely undertaken on public range. Comparing USFS summer range to other
kinds of leased summer range, brush control was three times more likely to be
undertaken on non-USFS summer range. Instead, on the USFS range fencing
creeks and ponds to keep cattle out was a signifi cantly more frequent activity,
occurring twice as often on public summer range as on private summer range.
The fencing of riparian areas has been an agency priority for about two decades
nationwide, based on the narrative that livestock always pollute streams, cause
erosion and damage riparian vegetation.
In similar fashion, starting about 1900 and until the 1980s, a default
policy of fi re suppression was followed on USFS lands. Lightning-caused,
agricultural and indigenous burning, prevalent in much of the West in the
nineteenth century, was suppressed. The regular fi res graziers used to keep
land open for grazing were criminalized and halted. Invasion of woody spe-
cies, including trees, has become commonplace on such lands and the re-
sultant catastrophic wildfi res are well-documented (McKelvey et al. 1996).
Interviewed ranchers reported that vegetation change was making it harder
for them to use the range and reducing available forage, and contributed to
the reduction in allowed use of ranges. Ranchers practising transhumance
Table 1. Sierra Nevada Case study I: Transhumant versus non-transhumant ranchers
(study area is shown in Figure 5).
% transhumance % ranchers X2
ranchers with without USFS
USFS grazing grazing permits
permits (n=23) (n=14)
My family began ranching in the Sierra foothills
before 1900 74 43 .06
I want to pass this ranch on to my children 65 36 .08
An important reason that I ranch is that the ranch
has been in my family for generations and I
maintain it to carry on that tradition 74 39 .04
Family considerations have an important impact on
my ability to use summer range 70 21 .01
I believe that ranching is a good way to make money 9 7 ns
I like ranch work 87 43 .00
Confl icts with other land users have an important
impact on my ability to use summer range 44 7 .00
Changes in vegetation have an important impact
on my ability to use summer range 52 14 .04
My management has been infl uenced by vegetation
change 74 21 .00
The development of surrounding land is highly important
in my management goals, decisions and practices 65 31 .05
In considering whether or not to sell my ranch, increas-
ing public regulations are an important consideration 46 30 ns
January 2010 Pastoralism Vol. 1 No. 1
using public lands were three times as likely to experience vegetation
changes that reduced grazing capacity than were ranchers in the same area
that did not practise transhumance (Table 1).
Another factor affecting the ability of ranchers to use summer range in
the Sierra is land use change and residential development. More than half
of the interviewed ranchers reported that they experienced confl icts with
homeowners, and 43 per cent reported that roads and buildings make their
access to summer range more diffi cult. Many resorted to using trucks to
transport their animals to the high country. Transhumance practitioners
were much more frequently affected by confl icts with other land users
(Table 1). Loss of agricultural infrastructure is also important – a lack of
nearby markets, veterinary services, or neighbours to help at crucial times
in the production cycle affected transhumants more than others. The devel-
opment of private lands surrounding the public lands adds further pressure
for livestock exclusion as well – as surrounding lands are converted to hous-
ing and roads, there is even less habitat for local wildlife. This increases the
need for public lands to serve as refugia for these species, and pressure to re-
duce grazing despite the fact that due to historical land allocation patterns,
the public lands may be of innately lower wildlife habitat quality. Ranchers
had seen many ranches nearby go to development, and said that as more
and more were gone, they felt more likely to sell out too.
In addition to the surveyed ranchers, four ranchers who had given up a
grazing permit since 1955 were interviewed. Two said a death in the family
was the cause, because there was too much work to do without the deceased,
and because of the added costs of estate disagreements. Inheritance issues
have been previously identifi ed as a crucial factor in ranch survival in the
Sierra (Johnson 1997). Other reasons were increases in the fees charged on
intermixed private lands, increased regulations and riparian fencing, loss of
foraging areas between the home ranch and mountains for the cattle drive,
and loss of a private lease used in conjunction with the public allotment. To
compensate they had purchased more land, sometimes at a distant location.
One reduced cattle numbers. Unfortunately ranchers that had quit ranching
altogether were not locatable.
Rancher interviewees did not think they had many alternatives if they lost
the ability to use the summer ranges entirely. Most wished to purchase or
lease more land to replace their grazing allotments if possible, but they also
said that they would be very likely to reduce their herd size. Ranchers attrib-
uted 40 to 50 per cent of their income to their summer range. If their grazing
allotments were lost or reduced, most believed that any strategy for coping
would result in less income. About 35 per cent reported that they would seri-
ously consider selling all or part of their ranches if they lost access to summer
forage on federal lands. Even so, the ranchers interviewed were committed to
ranching on the land they owned for as long as possible.
Further comparing transhumance practitioners to those without USFS
summer range showed that along with mobility as a pastoral characteristic,
Pastoralism Vol. 1 No. 1 January 2010
they had a longer ranching history and a stronger commitment to and affec-
tion for the lifestyle than non-transhumant ranchers (Table 1). Some ranch-
ers explained that because it was necessary for some family members to work
off the ranch to support the ranch, it was sometimes diffi cult to spend as
much time in the mountains as they needed to – hence the response about
‘family considerations’ (Table 1). Despite all this, three-fourths of all ranchers
in the study believed that ranching could be saved in their area.
Case study II: North Sacramento Valley
This research also examined the connections between Forest Service range-
lands and private ranches (Forero 2002). The Shasta Trinity National Forest is
on north end of the Sacramento Valley in California (Figure 5), where there
is less development pressure than in case study I. Grazing patterns are similar,
with ranchers using the USFS for summer grazing and annual grasslands and
oak woodlands in the winter. Painstaking analysis of historic Forest Service
(USFS) records enumerates the decline in grazing on the forest, a decline re-
sulting from changes in available rangeland area, shortened grazing seasons,
vegetation change and reductions in stocking rate as management emphasis
has shifted away from livestock production (Figure 6). The grazing area is less
than half of what was available for grazing in the early 20th century, as trees
and shrubs have thickened, and a dam has put some areas underwater. Forest
Service policies have also reduced grazing over time, partly as a result of the
Figure 6. Numbers of cattle and ranchers using the Shasta-Trinity National Forest,
California, 1906–2006 (Forero 2002).
f Cattle
Number of Cattle
Number of Ranchers
Number of
January 2010 Pastoralism Vol. 1 No. 1
development of strategies to protect endangered species and improve ‘range
condition’. Archival records, historic maps and in-depth interviews with 15
current and 12 former ranchers using the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in
the North Sacramento Valley of California were used to examine the causes
of the decline in grazing on the forest (Forero 2002). Livestock grazing is now
less than 10 per cent of what it was at its peak in 1920, refl ecting the West-
wide patterns in USFS forage allocations that have already been described.
Currently, there are 18 permittees grazing the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.
The current boundaries of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest encompass
roughly 850,000 ha. Elevation ranges from about 300 to over 4,000 m. Ac-
cording to the 1995 Shasta-Trinity National Forest Land and Resource Man-
agement Plan there are 26 allotments on the forest. Livestock grazing these
allotments include 2,350 head of cattle, 45 horses and 2,120 sheep. In the last
two decades, several allotments have become vacant or abandoned.
Archival records show that from the outset in 1906, when the Forest Ser-
vice began administrating grazing on the National Forests, USFS personnel
on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest actively pursued three major manage-
ment initiatives that severely affected a pattern of transhumance that had
existed in situ for decades: establishing grazing seasons, limiting livestock
numbers and eliminating fi re. Comparison of historic grazing atlases with
the 1995 Shasta-Trinity Forest Plan reveal how vegetation management po-
lices like fi re suppression, managing for timber and reduced livestock graz-
ing have changed vegetation. Interviewees said that woody vegetation has
become denser and lands suitable for grazing rarer, an observation supported
for signifi cant parts of the Forest by a broad-scale comparison of historic and
contemporary maps. Examining individual allotments, suitable range and
stocking rate have declined severely. Canopy closure, and loss of forage sup-
ply, has been a signifi cant factor.
As early as the very beginning of Forest Service grazing on the forest, rang-
ers reported that the vegetation was thickening and becoming less suitable
for grazing. An in-depth analysis of vegetation change data on one allotment
revealed a reduction in per-acre forage harvested of more than 50 per cent
from 1916 to 1996. The 1909 Summary of Grazing Condition on the Trinity
National Forest reported the following:
The grazing areas on the Trinity are gradually coming to a timber growth
and in some situations very rapidly…At lower elevations on the south
and west slopes the young pines are, in a great many places, fi lling up the
thinly wooded slopes…The forage crop throughout the forest is improv-
ing but the grazing land is on the decrease. Some of the stockmen take a
very discouraging view of this.
Drift fences on this Forest would not seem to be of suffi cient benefi t to
the Service to warrant construction at Government (sic) expense. The
stockman show a reluctance to cooperate on fences of this character….
very few of them are able fi nancially to put much outlay into fences, as
Pastoralism Vol. 1 No. 1 January 2010
there is very little profi t to most of the grazers [sic] on the Forest from
their bands. Careless methods are responsible for this in some degree.
With but few exceptions, however, the very small number to which each
must be limited makes it only an assistance toward a living and not a
business (USDA-FS 1909, 4).
Ranchers in the area burned to clear vegetation until the practice was out-
lawed throughout the West early in the twentieth century. Dick Hamilton
(1999), a rancher and logger in Trinity County, recalled being on the Trinity
Divide in the early 1960s and observing large fi re-scarred ponderosa pine, lit-
tle woody understory, and a forest fl oor dominated by grass. Stillwater Land
and Cattle was a signifi cant grazer between 1906 and 1920. At their peak,
they were grazing over 1,000 cows across several allotments in the Squaw
Creek area. Stillwater eventually lost their grazing permit over differences in
re-use philosophy. The USFS waged an active and constant campaign to pre-
vent fi re, accidental or otherwise. Fighting and preventing fi re even became
confl ated with patriotism during the First World War (Pyne 1997). In 1918
the Shasta Trinity Forest Supervisor sent letters to local stockmen quoting
President Wilson as follows:
Preventable fi re is more than a private misfortune. It is a public derelic-
tion. At a time like this of emergency and manifest necessity for the
conservation of national resources, it is more than ever a matter of deep
and pressing consequences that every means should be taken to prevent
this evil (New York Times 1918).
The Forest Supervisor goes on to impute that the fact that WWI was going
on made the crime of burning especially heinous. He states that it took the
equivalent of 400 men working every day for four months to suppress man-
caused fi res, and these men were needed at the front. It was therefore the
patriotic duty of the stockman to prevent fi re (Morrow 1918).
Comparison of allotment maps throughout the management tenure of the
Shasta-Trinity National Forest document that acreage allocated to grazing was
reduced in 1946 and in 1964 because of the construction of two major dams
and reservoirs. However, some ranchers gave up their permits voluntarily.
Claude Baker stated in a letter circa 1952 that with increasing restrictions on
how much and where he could graze, the costs of using his lease were simply
too high, stating that ‘it is with regrets that I give up my permit this year as
I have come to those mountains for 40 years’. When current permit holders
where asked why they might give up their grazing leases, the top two reasons
were economics (40 per cent) and regulations (48 per cent).
Ranchers interviewed owned an average of around 600 ha of private prop-
erty and owned about 135 cattle. On average, they considered themselves
the third generation of ranchers in their families, and had owned their land
since before the Forest Service came into being. A strong majority indicated
that even if they only broke even on their ranching, they would continue to
ranch, and fi nd augmenting household income streams.
January 2010 Pastoralism Vol. 1 No. 1
When former permit holders were asked why they actually quit grazing
on the Forest, answers were more diverse. Around a quarter ceased grazing
the Forest for personal reasons, including family health issues, a death in
the family, or economic reasons that did not have to do with the grazing
permit (Table 2). Several former permit holders also noted poor livestock per-
formance as among the reasons they ceased to graze National Forest Lands.
Lower weaning weights, poorer reproductive performance, the need to run
more bulls, and a higher percentage of dry cows were all mentioned. One
producer reported threat to life and property was factored into their decision
to cease their public land grazing. Illicit drug operations and marijuana culti-
vation in remote locations have been implicated in cattle shootings and the
poaching of calves for human consumption.
Ranchers who no longer have grazing leases have had to fi nd summer for-
age elsewhere. Interviews revealed that for ten of them, their ranches become
smaller, with an average decline of 55 per cent in private land area. Ranches
with permits retained more land than those who gave up permits, with an
average decline of only 20 per cent. More former permit holders leased ad-
ditional private land, compared with the current permit holders. Those with
permits either increased their number of stock or remained stable, while
those without permits either remained stable or had less stock over time.
Two of the ranches that gave up their permits ceased operations.
Most permit holders stated that she or he had an average or better rela-
tionship with the USFS but feel the relationship could be improved through
better communication. The lack of communication between permittees and
the USFS is underscored by the fact the Aquatic Conservation Strategy, a set
of standards and guidelines for managing grazing and water resources, is the
framework used to manage the grazing programme on Shasta Trinity Forest
lands and yet had not been heard of by 80 per cent of the ranchers inter-
viewed. More than 85 per cent of all of the ranchers interviewed in this case
study agreed that ranching on public lands did not have much of a future.
If the similarities between pastoralists and ranchers are debatable, the reasons
for their loss of mobility are uncannily alike. Ranching history and literature,
and two fi eld studies, reveal six factors behind the decline in transhumance:
(1) a land management priority shift to recreation and nature preservation;
Table 2. Reasons former permit holders quit grazing on the Shasta Trinity National Forest
Economics Regulations Labour Personal reasons Not meeting Land trade
production goals
8% 17% 8% 25% 8% 17%
Pastoralism Vol. 1 No. 1 January 2010
(2) regulations and management paradigms driven by the dominant society’s
perception of grazing and its relationship to the environment; (3) manage-
ment practices that have reduced rangeland forage production; (4) compet-
ing land uses; (5) family demographics and (6) the persistently marginal
economics of livestock grazing. Ranchers are leasing more private properties,
purchasing feed, transporting animals to other regions, selling stock, and sell-
ing ranches to compensate. Sometimes the need to work in town, or a lack
of interest by the younger generation (Brunson and Huntsinger 2008), limits
the ability of the household to participate in transhumance or travel into
the mountains to check on the herd. Transhumants have a longer history in
ranching and a stronger commitment to the lifestyle than other ranchers, and
yet are more strongly affected by vegetation change, regulation, and compe-
tition from other uses (Rowe et al. 2001). Transhumant ranchers West-wide
generally attribute more than 40 per cent of income to Forest Service range-
lands (Rowe et al. 2001, Bartlett et al. 1989, Gentner and Tanaka 2002).
Forest Service lands historically contributed to tenure stability on associ-
ated private lands by providing a relatively stable source of upland forage at a
reasonable cost. Today transhumant ranchers using USFS land cannot predict
the future productive capacity of ranching, because it could be curtailed at
any time by changes in access to USFS land. A rancher dependent on USFS
summer range, and in many cases, lowland public range, has limited control
over the means of production or the future of their mobility.
Some environmental groups opposed to grazing are offering ranchers di-
rect fi nancial compensation to stop grazing allotments via a ‘permit buyout’
programme. Buyout payments are typically well above what an economist
would calculate as the going rate. A nationwide analysis of the allotment
buyout programme found that the diffi culties of working with federal bu-
reaucratic processes and rules was a critical reason why ranchers were will-
ing to sell their permits, along with debt, an uncertain forage supply, and
confl icts with other users (Steinbach and Thomas 2007). As one example,
in the Grand Canyon area, the Conservation Fund paid a rancher to cease
grazing his public allotment. The rancher felt that confl icts with motorized
recreation made his use of the range unprofi table. He sold all his cattle and
plans either to convert to a ‘dude’ (touristic) ranch, or to sell his private land,
and use the sale proceeds and the buyout money to buy a ranch in a better
setting (Reese 2005).
The need to cope with the increased diffi culties of achieving traditional
mobility has spawned grassroots efforts to recover fl exibility and loss of access
to forage, including collaborative grazing, leasing, feeding, new patterns of
livestock movement, conservation contracting, the use of transitional lands
on an opportunistic basis, and stabilizing land tenure, exhibiting the fl ex-
ibility that is characteristic of pastoralists (Fernandez-Gimenez and Le Febre
2006). In one example, the Malpai Borderlands Group is collaborating with
conservation organizations and government agencies to increase stability of
land tenure through institutional innovation that makes the permanence of
January 2010 Pastoralism Vol. 1 No. 1
conservation easements barring conversion of ranches dependent on con-
tinued public land access (Sayre 2005). Malpai and a variety of other groups
including California’s Central Coast Rangeland Coalition and New Mexico’s
Quivera Coalition are also working to demonstrate the ability to combine
livestock herding and biodiversity conservation.
In some areas, ranches are beginning to work together to move stock to
ranches with more forage during drought (Sayre 2007). Grassbanking is an-
other method used to compensate for losses in mobility (White and Conley
2007, Gripne 2005). One defi nition states that ‘a grassbank is a partnership
that leverages conservation practices across multiple ownerships based on
the exchange of forage for tangible conservation benefi ts’ (Gripne 2005). Pri-
vate ranches share forage, with one ranch or area of range that has conserva-
tion as a priority acting as a ‘bank’ for the other private enterprises, to be used
during drought or to relieve other rangelands of grazing for a set amount
of time. There are about 22 different grassbanking initiatives in the West
(Harper 2002).
Some new forms of mobility are heavily energy dependent. Trucks and
even planes are used to move animals seasonally and sometimes across large
distances. There is considerable movement between states and across biomes.
In an extreme example, about 17,000 young weaned cattle are shipped into
California each year from Hawaii. They graze on California rangelands, or
sometimes consume agricultural by-products, and then are shipped to anoth-
er state to be fed grain. Typically they enter the state in the fall as the winter
rains stimulate grass growth, and leave in the late spring as the grasses dry.
Between 60,000 and 90,000 brood cow herds go into and out of California
each year to graze on rangelands in the nearby states of Nevada, Idaho, and
Oregon (Shields and Matthews 2001, Ashcraft 2005 pers. com). More than
115,000 steers came into the state from Mexico in 2004.
Selling one ranch and using the proceeds to buy another ranch further
from urban expansion might be considered another form of mobility that
was augmented by the pre-2008 real estate boom (Torell and Kincade 1996).
This resolves numerous problems for the family: it provides capital that en-
ables resolution of heirship disputes and debt; it allows the family to reside
in an area with better infrastructure for ranch production and fewer confl icts
with urban dwellers; and it may allow the purchase of a larger, better ranch
(Liffmann et al. 2000).
There is more than just a forage base required for ranch production – a
‘critical mass’ is needed to maintain cultural and physical infrastructure
(Huntsinger and Hopkinson 1996). A feedback loop is created as ranches are
sold for development. Each ranch that disappears adds to the reasons for the
next ranch to sell out, in an increasing rate of ranching decline fed by the
growing impacts of suburban development. A tipping point has been posited
for when a critical mass of ranches is lost and ranching loses viability in
an area (Liffmann et al. 2000). Another way to describe this phenomenon
Pastoralism Vol. 1 No. 1 January 2010
would be that a threshold is crossed when ranching community resilience is
Strategies recommended for strengthening the resilience of pastoralism
are similar to those promoted for ranches in the US. Surveying the status of
pastoralism world-wide (2001), Blench argues that the elements likely to en-
able the persistence of pastoralists are the ability to produce niche products,
integration of crop and livestock production, the development of interlock-
ing strategies to link conservation of wildlife with pastoral production, and
the expansion of low-volume tourism with pastoralists providing services.
The ‘working landscapes’ movement in American ranching is an initiative
that has grown greatly in the last decade, and stresses the compatibility of
livestock production and nature conservation. Production of ‘grass-fed’ beef
or other value-added products, provision of ecosystem services for society at
large and for paying visitors and maintenance of the ‘family farm’ are also
prominent goals.
Several of the papers we reviewed did not offer any clear defi nition of pas-
toralism. This is likely because many groups that would be widely accepted
as pastoralists now fall outside of strict, structural defi nitions created before
the widespread economic, population and environmental changes of the last
two decades. Distinguishing ranchers and pastoralists may rely less on any
single feature, or the identifi cation of a point on a continuum, but rather be
determined by the relative abundance and resilience of a complex of pasto-
ral features that shift, with some elements taken up, cast off, or altered, as
pastoral systems, inherently fl exible and opportunistic, adapt in response to
environmental, political and economic variability. To us it seems like deter-
mining whether or not ranchers ‘are pastoralists’ will depend largely on why
it is desirable in any particular situation to make the distinction. The loss
of pastoral mobility now experienced in the US may reduce the coherence
of the pastoral elements that are part of Western ranching, causing a loss of
many associated and mutually reinforcing pastoral characteristics, or ranch-
ers may succeed through further adaptation in maintaining many features of
pastoral practice and culture.
We would like to thank two anonymous reviewers and the editors for their
excellent suggestions, and the ranchers of California for their patience and
persistence. We would also like to thank the students of Berkeley’s ESPM 279
for their helpful review.
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... Livestock grazing gradually evolved from a "frontier" style of letting animals graze and rounding them up once in a while to more controlled ranch grazing, which grew more established through the nineteenth and early twentieth century (Burcham, 1982). The Gold Rush of 1849 brought graziers into the mountains, creating a system of transhumance from grasslands and oak woodlands to forests and montane meadows (Huntsinger et al., 2010). Private properties in California's lowlands could be quite large, based on Spanish and Mexican land grants that survived statehood, but as the nineteenth century came to a close, the federal government and the state asserted ownership of much of the higher elevation public domain forests, and eventually the deserts, both lands whose physical characteristics limited homesteading. ...
... Forest Service policies allowing grazing favored cattle producers over sheepherders, American-born vs. immigrant, wealthy over poor, and Anglo over Hispanic (Sayre, 2018;Saitua, 2019). Grazing was allowed to grow massively during the first World War with the goal of supplying the war effort, but has declined ever since as land management agencies navigate among multiple competing goals for the forests, and seek to balance grazing and forage (Huntsinger et al., 2010). Unfortunately, in the unpredictable and highly varied weather of the West and California, such a balance is elusive and maximizing flexibility is more in line with current understandings of rangeland vegetation-yet the efforts of the agencies have by and large been stability-oriented, relying on set stocking rates. ...
... He states that it took the equivalent of 400 men working every day for 4 months to suppress man caused fires, and these men were needed at the front. It was therefore the patriotic duty of the FIGURE 7 | Your forests-your fault-your loss (Flagg, 1934(Flagg, -1943 stockman to prevent fire (Morrow, 1918;Huntsinger et al., 2010). Eventually, Smokey Bear became the iconic representative of the fire suppression movement. ...
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The California landscape is layered and multifunctional, both historically and spatially. Currently, wildfire size, frequency, and intensity are without precedent, at great cost to human health, property, and lives. We review the contemporary firescape, the indigenous landscape that shaped pre-contact California's vegetation, the post-contact landscape that led us to our current situation, and the re-imagined grazing-scape that offers potential relief. Vegetation has been profoundly altered by the loss of Indigenous management, introduction of non-native species, implantation of inappropriate, militarized, forest management from western Europe, and climate change, creating novel ecosystems almost always more susceptible to wildfire than before. Vegetation flourishes during the mild wet winters of a Mediterranean climate and dries to a crisp in hot, completely dry, summers. Livestock grazing can break up continuous fuels, reduce rangeland fuels annually, and suppress brush encroachment, yet it is not promoted by federal or state forestry and fire-fighting agencies. Agencies, especially when it comes to fire, operate largely under a command and control model, while ranchers are a diverse group not generally subject to agency regulations, with a culture of autonomy in decision-making and a unit of production that is mobile. Concerns about potential loss of control have limited prescribed burning despite landowner and manager enthusiasm. Agriculture and active management in general are much neglected as an approach to developing fire-resistant landscape configurations, yet such interventions are essential. Prescribed burning facilitates grazing; grazing facilitates prescribed burning; both can reduce fuels. Leaving nature “to itself” absent recognizing that California's ecosystems have been irrecoverably altered has become a disaster of enormous proportions. We recommend the development of a database of the effects and uses of prescribed fire and grazing in different vegetation types and regions throughout the state, and suggest linking to existing databases when possible. At present, livestock grazing is California's most widespread vegetation management activity, and if purposefully applied to fuel management has great potential to do more.
... In the western United States, Huntsinger et al. (2010) estimated that over 5000 ranches rely on government-owned summer range a part of their production cycle. As the authors note, ranchers tend to rely on montane summer ranges where much of their tenure is "shared, insecure, and declining" (Huntsinger et al., 2010). The scale of change on public lands grazing allotments was evaluated in an Idaho case study (Swette & Lambin, 2021), who found that forage consumed by livestock declined by 64% while 21% of grazing allotments were closed over a 90-year period. ...
... Larger ranchers or those with spatial separation of grazing lands in different parts of the same region, in different regions, and/or states provide land managers with flexibility to match animal demand to forage availability through movement in time and space, like livestock mobility across large landscapes in Australia for reducing risk to variability in forage production in space (McAllister, 2012;McAllister et al., 2006). However, trends in reduced access to public grazing resources in the western United States (Huntsinger et al., 2010;Lewin et al., 2019) and increased public pressure to remove cattle from public lands (Kauffman et al., 2022) are notable barriers to increased mobility and the adaptation afforded by these strategies. Grazing land cooperatives offer an opportunity to collectively take advantage of social learning networks (Bennett et al., 2021;Ghorbani & Azadi, 2021;Ooi et al., 2015), and potentially improve social and material support for adaptation greater than can be individually attained within a single property. ...
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Abstract We outline practical considerations for grazing land adaptations with a changing climate, with an emphasis on the ranch operation scale and specific attention to directional climate changes and increased climate variability. These adaptive strategies fall into two themes: flexibility and learning under uncertainty. Ranches and livestock operations with greater land, social, or other capital resources may have more flexibility. Risk can be reduced for managers (ranchers, farmers, operators, and livestock managers) through participation in conservation or farm policy programs and/or market‐based approaches. Bolstering adaptive capacity across landscapes and time can originate from social capital of operators and strategic collaborations among managers and scientists. As climate diverges from historical baselines and the realm of managers’ experiential knowledge, new conceptual frameworks are needed to structure conversations, influence research relevancy and impact, and drive imaginative solutions among researchers, managers, and local communities for socio‐ecological systems. We provide simplified frameworks to help guide conversation, future research, and new imaginative solutions for systems‐scale knowledge needs and adaptation to address increasingly uncertain and complex change at multiple scales. Practical considerations for adaptive strategies by grazing land managers with a changing climate will be accelerated through (1) collaborative efforts among managers and explicitly with science–management partnerships becoming more mainstream, (2) co‐produced research with managers and researchers at ranch scales, (3) development of communities of practice and associated learning opportunities, and (4) continued co‐development and advancement of technologies and tools that result in high uptake adoption by ranch managers.
... Coping with annual fluctuations in forage availability is a core challenge of raising livestock on desert rangelands that has defied ancient pastoralist societies and modern farmers and ranchers alike (Huntsinger et al., 2010;Reid et al., 2014). Enormous variability across space and time is an intrinsic feature of dryland ecosystems (Havstad et al., 2009). ...
Climate change is amplifying the spatiotemporal heterogeneity of desert rangeland forages through its impact on precipitation variability. Foraging behavior plasticity (an animal's ability to alter its behavior to cope with environmental variation) could be a key trait for climate adaptation of beef cattle in arid environments. We analyzed GPS-derived movement and activity data of Criollo and commercial beef cattle from eight studies conducted at sites in North and South America to determine whether seasonal and year-to-year behavior plasticity varied significantly between breeds. We calculated dormant/brown season or driest year percent change in foraging behavior relative to growing/green season or wettest year. Compared to commercial beef breeds, Criollo cattle exhibited significantly greater seasonal adjustment in daily distance traveled (20% increase vs. 2% decrease, P ≤ 0.02) and daily grazing effort (25% vs. 1.5% increase, P = 0.01) during the dormant/brown vs. growing/green season. Increase in daily area explored during the dormant/brown season was almost three times greater in Criollo vs. commercial beef cattle (P = 0.09). Seasonal adjustment in daily time spent grazing was similar for Criollo and commercial beef breeds. Increase in daily area explored during the dormant/brown season of dry vs. wet years was three times greater for Criollo vs. commercial beef breeds (P = 0.03). Criollo cattle tended (P = 0.09) to exhibit greater behavior adjustment than commercial beef counterparts in daily distance traveled during the dormant/brown season of dry vs. wet years (22% vs. 4% increase, respectively). No breed differences in adjustment of time spent grazing (P = 0.36) or grazing effort (P = 0.20) during dormant/brown season of dry vs. wet years were observed. Dry vs. wet year grazing behavior adjustments during the growing/green season were similar for both breeds. Grazing behavior plasticity observed in Criollo cows could be a critical trait for desert beef herds in the face of increasingly variable rainfall patterns occurring as a result of climate change.
... Though shaped by different political and cultural systems, mountain communities around the world share many similarities regarding livelihoods. For centuries, many mountain communities have depended on some form of pastoralism and subsistence agriculture rooted in local climate and traditional knowledge(Huntsinger et al 2010;Imperiale and Vanclay 2016b;Schermer et al 2016). However, the modernization and globalization of mountain regions, coupled with mass tourism, industrialization, population growth, and drastic climate change effects within the last century, have led to increased vulnerability of mountain ecosystems and their surrounding socialecological networks. ...
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Mountains are home to a considerable share of the human population. Around a billion people live in mountainous areas, which harbor rich natural and sociocultural diversity. Today, many people living in mountainous areas worldwide face fundamental changes to their cultural and economic living conditions. At the same time, mountain communities have defied harsh environments in the past by adapting to changing natural conditions and showing remarkable levels of resilience. In this review paper, we provide a comprehensive overview of English-language scientific literature on resilience-related topics in mountain areas based on a systematic review of the Scopus® literature database. We propose a structured starting point for science–practice interactions and concrete action-based activities to support livelihoods and strengthen resilience in mountain areas. We suggest that existing knowledge gaps can be addressed by relying on local knowledge and cocreating solutions with communities. In this way, we can build innovative capacity and actively buffer against the impact of crises while supporting deliberate transformation toward sustainability and regeneration to further enhance resilience.
... Supplementary feeding can be costlier than exploitation of distant pastures (Fernández-Giménez and Ritten 2020), whilst sedentary or ranching types of husbandry may even reduce the output of meat per unit area, as heterogeneous fodder resources can no longer be exploited (Boone and Hobbs 2004). Even in industrialised countries, livestock owners in arid and risky environments are finding ways to maintain mobile forms of livestock production for these reasons (Behnke 2021, Huntsinger et al. 2010, McAllister et al. 2006. ...
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Against the global trend towards sedentary, specialised and feed-intensive cattle farming, we explore current patterns of production in Kazakhstan’s traditionally nomadic livestock sector. Experts see considerable potential for output expansion, and the government hopes to promote the sector as an alternative to revenues from hydrocarbons. Which production systems emerge will determine the use of the country’s vast pastoral resources, patterns of economic contribution from livestock and future greenhouse gas emissions. We focus on the beef sector, using original survey data and interviews from south-eastern Kazakhstan to compare rural households and farms by production strategy, generated using cluster analysis from data on livestock holdings, fodder provision and grazing. We examine in particular the relationships between farm size and the characteristics identified. We find that, rather than being specialised and intensive, larger farms tend to be highly diversified in terms of stock species, are more mobile and provide fewer supplements per head than smaller farms. Winter pastures appear to be a key resource associated with larger operations. Many large farms provide fodder mainly as low-quality roughage, although a subset with better access to cropland provide higher quality rations and fatten cattle before sale. Medium-sized farms lack either winter pasture bases or cropland for growing supplements, but proximity to markets enables some to compensate through fodder purchases. Inability to access government support, available only to large farms, hampers their expansion. Farmers’ professional background, distance from markets and environmental conditions are all associated with the production systems observed. In terms of policy, high transaction costs associated with leaseholds and lack of transferability between farmers impede access to land. Current pasture access mechanisms and institutions almost entirely exclude small farms and households. Changes in these systems, combined with infrastructure development, may bring economic, social and environmental benefits for the livestock sector and rural communities.
... The intensification of the nineteenth-century open-land sheep and cattle ranching also affected higher elevations as evident from severe grazing damage on the Colorado Plateau by high populations of these introduced herbivores (Cole et al. 1997), while seasonal migrations to and pressure on alpine grazing lands remained much less significant compared to Old World mountain regions (Bock et al. 1995). The commercial livestock industry declined at the turn of the century, mainly due to overstocked ranges, droughts, and brutal winters (Huntsinger et al. 2010). As early as 1864, increasing concerns about depleted forests, polluted waterways and degraded rangelands resulted in the designation of California's Yosemite Valley and nearby Mariposa Grove as a nature reserve for conservation and recreation (Beesley 2004). ...
This review summarizes current understanding of drivers for change and of the impact of accelerating global changes on mountains, encompassing effects of climate change and globalization. Mountain regions with complex human–environment systems are known to exhibit a distinct vulnerability to the current fundamental shift in the Earth System driven by human activities. We examine indicators of the mountain cryosphere and hydrosphere, of mountain biodiversity, and of land use and land cover patterns, and show that mountain environments in the Anthropocene are changing on all continents at an unprecedented rate. Rates of climate warming in the world’s mountains substantially exceed the global mean, with dramatic effects on cryosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere. Current climatic changes result in significantly declining snow-covered areas, widespread decreases in area, length, and volume of glaciers and related hydrological changes, and widespread permafrost degradation. Complex adaptations of mountain biota to novel constellations of bioclimatic and other site conditions are reflected in upslope migration and range shifts, treeline dynamics, invasion of non-native species, phenological shifts, and changes in primary production. Changes in mountain biodiversity are associated with modified structure, species composition, and functioning of alpine ecosystems, and compromise ecosystem services. Human systems have been negatively impacted by recent environmental changes, with both inhabitants of mountain regions as well as people living in surrounding lowlands being affected. Simultaneously, accelerating processes of economic globalization cause adaptation strategies in mountain communities as expressed clearly in changing land use systems and mobility patterns, and in increasing marginalization of peripheral mountains and highlands. The current state of the world’s mountains clearly indicates that global efforts to date have been insufficient to make significant progress towards implementing the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations member states.
... Looking at examples of yayla in the world, it was discovered by various studies that these activities were seen to be carried out in many places. Yayla is, in general, widely seen in South and Central Europe (Toroğlu and Kılınç, 2008), North Africa, Middle East, Central Asia (Kunze, 1987), West Africa and Southern USA (Huntsinger et al. 2010a). When examining the regions in the world where yayla is widely carried out in details, yayla is seen to be widespread in regions such as It is necessary to divide the purposes of yayla into two as its purposes in the past and those of the present. ...
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The Eastern Mediterranean region provide significant information on glaciations and climates of the Quaternary. The aim of the study is to determine the distribution of glaciations, its cosmogenic surface exposure ages of glacial deposits exposed on Akdağ (Southwestern Turkey). I also analyzed the present human activities in the region. Akdağ (36.54⁰N, 29.57⁰E, 3016 m) is located at the southwest corner of Turkey, very close to the Mediterranean. During the field trips to the study area, 41 rock samples were collected from the moraine deposits in order to calculate the cosmogenic Cl-36 ages of the moraines in three glacier valleys. The samples were made prepared at Kozmo-Lab located at the Fatih University, Istanbul, Turkey and their isotopic ratios was measured at CNRS-ASTER Accelerator Mass Spectrometer in France. Results showed that the glaciers in Akdağ reached the maximum length of 6 km from their cirques during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM, about 21 ka: thousand years ago). The moraines from where the samples were collected were at the altitudes between 2000-2200 meters above the sea level. The ages of moraines are in between 23.3±0.7 ka and 20.4±0.8 ka. Furthermore, pre-LGM glaciers were also determined for the first time in Turkish mountains. Their age results gave about 37.9 ka. Late Glacial moraine deposits were found to be 17.2 ka in the field of study. Dating results show consistency with the mountains in Turkey as well as in other parts of Europe. Transhumance activities in Akdağ were also analyzed with survey and interview methods. The surveys and interviews were carried out in thirty one families at four different plateau settlements (yayla). According to the results, the transhumant people migrate to the yayla settlement during summer months for the purposes of livestock, beekeeping and relaxation. This study attempted to find out the problems of the people at Akdağ and tried to propose solutions to the problems prevalent in the region.
Technical Report
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For this survey, interviews were conducted with twenty-three ranchers in California’s Central Sierra Nevada foothills. Each used Tahoe, Stanislaus, or El Dorado National Forest lands for summer grazing. The goal was to better understand their motivations for ranching, the viability of their current operations, and how they might respond if Forest Service lands in the Sierra became unavailable. For comparison, fourteen ranchers with similar herd sizes, but who do not use Forest Service grazing land, were also interviewed.
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[first two paragraphs] Most of us are well aware of the importance of understanding cultural norms and values when working with pastoralists abroad, but we neglect cultural nuances of ranching in the United States. As the predominant users of our rangelands, ranchers enjoy a rich and diverse cultural heritage that affects everything from the way they dress to their handling of stock. Unfortunately, the public and perhaps even public lands agencies tend to treat ranching as a monolithic, economics- driven industry that for all intents and purposes is homogenous across the West. Cattle-tending ranch workers in particular, cowboys or ranch hands, preserve patterns of behavior that harken to the beginnings of open-range cattle ranching. Since a time when nearly all European voices in the settled West carried a Spanish lilt, tenders of western livestock in the 18th and 19th century were not cowboys but vaqueros. We better know them today as buckaroos. A cultural curtain- -porous but real-should be draped between different ranch hand styles. The resulting divide might be dubbed the cowboy-buckaroo line (Fig. 1).
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Using survey data collected as part of a comprehensive reevaluation of the Vale Rangeland Rehabilitation Project in eastern Oregon, this exploratory study examined variation in attitudes of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) employees toward rangeland environmental conditions. Almost one-half of the BLM employees surveyed believed the loss of streamside vegetation (48%) and streambank erosion (42%) were widespread problems on Vale rangelands. Approximately a quarter of the respondents believed rangeland soil loss (24%) and overgrazing (26%) were problems, while only a tenth believed water pollution (10%) was a problem on many or most areas. A composite scale of these attitudes toward environmental conditions on rangelands was developed and assessed. The composite scale was regressed on respondents' regional affiliation, length of service, and ideological attitudes towards government role in natural resource management. In contrast to findings from studies for USFS employees, attitudes toward range environmental conditions were not determined by regional affiliation or length of service (P>0.05). Rather, BLM employee attitudes toward range environmental conditions were found to vary by the interaction of length of service in the agency and attitude toward government's role in regulating water quality (P<0.05) and managing livestock grazing (P<0.01). As length of service increases, core beliefs, professional norms, or client constituencies may not polarize employee attitudes but rather moderate them over time. The accumulation of environmental knowledge may also tend to influence environmental attitudes so that ideological attitudes may have a weaker effect as time passes and expertise expands.
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Results of a 1985 survey of California hardwood rangeland landowners were used to develop a multi-agency research and extension program known as the Integrated Hardwood Range Management Program. In 1992, the same properties were re-surveyed. Although the results cannot prove the program is the sole or direct agent of change, program-sponsored education and research aimed at encouraging oak rangeland owners to change oak management practices is reflected in changes in key landowner behaviors. Program-sponsored research showed that intermediate levels of oak canopy cover did not significantly reduce forage production. Concurrently, landowners have significantly reduced the clearing of oaks for forage production. Other significant changes are reduction of cutting of living oaks for any reason, reduced cutting of oaks for fuelwood, increased use of oak promoting practices, and a growing awareness of the need to be concerned about the status of oaks. Landowners who were aware of the resource benefits of having oaks, or who believed oaks were threatened, or who had been in contact with a natural resource advisory service were significantly more likely to carry out oak-promoting practices. Between 1985 and 1992, many properties changed hands: 24% of parcels were sold but remained intact, while an additional 11% were subdivided. As was found in 1985, owners of smaller properties manage for different and more diverse goals than those of larger properties. The changing pattern of hardwood rangeland land ownership will have an impact on education and conservation programs.
Tales of deforestation and desertification in North Africa have been told from the Roman period to the present. Such stories of environmental decline in the Maghreb are still recounted by experts and are widely accepted without question today. International organizations such as the United Nations frequently invoke these inaccurate stories to justify environmental conservation and development projects in the arid and semiarid lands in North Africa and around the Mediterranean basin. Recent research in arid lands ecology and new paleoecological evidence, however, do not support many claims of deforestation, overgrazing, and desertification in this region. Diana K. Davis's pioneering analysis reveals the critical influence of French scientists and administrators who established much of the purported scientific basis of these stories during the colonial period in Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia, illustrating the key role of environmental narratives in imperial expansion. The processes set in place by the use of this narrative not only systematically disadvantaged the majority of North Africans but also led to profound changes in the landscape, some of which produced the land degradation that continues to plague the Maghreb today. Resurrecting the Granary of Rome exposes many of the political, economic, and ideological goals of the French colonial project in these arid lands and the resulting definition of desertification that continues to inform global environmental and development projects. The first book on the environmental history of the Maghreb, this volume reframes much conventional thinking about the North African environment. Davis's book is essential reading for those interested in global environmental history.
African pastoral ecosystems have been studied with the assumptions that these ecosystems are potentially stable (equilibrial) systems which become destabilized by overstocking and overgrazing. Development policy in these regions has focused on internal alterations of system structure, with the goals of restoring equilibrium and increasing productivity. Nine years of ecosystem-level research in northern Kenya presents a view of pastoral ecosystems that are non-equilibrial but persistent, with system dynamics affected more by abiotic than biotic controls. Development practices that fail to recognize these dynamics may result in increased deprivation and failure. Pastoral ecosystems may be better supported by development policies that build on and facilitate the traditional pastoral strategies rather than constrain them.
The objectives of this Colorado study were to assess primary reasons ranchers choose to stay or sell the ranch, compare the motivations for ranching between a traditional agriculturally based county and a rapidly developing county, and assess whether factors such as length of tenure, fiscal dependency on ranching, and dependency on public lands play roles in decisions to sell. Personal interviews were conducted with 37 ranchers. While land use conversion occurs for a wide variety of reasons, lack of heirs and detrimental public policy were important reasons given for selling ranches. Responses showed Routt County (a rapidly developing county) ranchers were more likely to sell due to land use conversion related issues than Moffat County ranchers (p = 0.056). Ranchers with a longer legacy on their land reported that profitability, having likely heirs, and continuing tradition enhanced their reasons to stay. Groups more "at risk" of selling were non-homesteading ranchers close to retirement, larger ranches, and ranchers dependent on ranching for income with declining profits. Large ranch owners experiencing land use conflicts with non-ranchers and ranchers modestly dependent on public forage experiencing changes in public policy regulations and land use conflicts also indicated a higher proclivity to sell. Noting how groups of ranchers are impacted by different changes can help refine community efforts related to land use conversion and create more thoughtful policy measures.