AoR 111: Ecosystem Services--Connecting Nature & People, with Lauren Porensky & Jeff Goodwin

A new report published by the Society for Range Management, Connecting Nature and People, outlines five key ecosystem services provided by rangelands and their benefits to society. Agricultural Research Service scientist Lauren Porensky and Texas A&M Center for Grazinglands and Ranch Management director Jeff Goodwin discuss the report’s origins, framework, and upcoming plans for the project.


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>> Welcome to the Art of Range, a podcast focused on rangelands and the people who manage them. I'm your host, Tip Hudson, range and livestock specialist with Washington State University Extension. The goal of this podcast is education and conservation through conversation. Find us online at

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Welcome back to the Art of Range. My guests today are Jeff Goodwin and Lauren Porensky. Lauren, you'll have to correct me if I mispronounced your name, but they're the co-lead authors on a brand-new report from the Society for Range Management, a Rangeland Ecosystem Services, Connecting Nature and People. I love the title, and I love the topic. Jeff and Lauren, welcome.

>> Thanks, Jeff.

>> Thank you.

>> Why don't we -- Jeff, you've been on once before, but let's go ahead and do a bit of introduction for each of you. What is -- what is your role and how did you end up being part of this project?

>> My name is Jeff Goodwin, and I'm the director of the Center for Grazing Lands and Ranch Management at Texas A&M within the Range, Wildlife, and Fisheries Department, and I also serve as a research assistant professor of agrilife research. I guess in a service role, I'm the second vice president for the Society for Range Management, and I've been working within the ecosystem service, mostly soil carbon grazing lands space for a while, and this opportunity came up and it was -- I thought it was a great fit.

>> My name is Lauren Porensky, and I'm a rangeland ecologist working for the USDA Agricultural Research Service out of Fort Collins. I work in the Rangeland Resources and Systems Research Unit, and we focus on balancing livestock production and conservation issues, mainly in the northern Great Plains. And I was invited to be a part of this by the SRM board and have been happy to work with Jeff on this.

>> Great. I'm glad you did. I'm really impressed with the report. To frame the conversation, I want to read the opening lines of the report. You say rangelands support a myriad of ecosystem services and associated benefits for human society, including food and fiber production, wildlife habitat, pollination, water infiltration and much more. Over the past 15 years, the ecosystem services framework has spurred countless scholarly efforts and policy initiatives and has also been criticized. Despite its faults, the ecosystem services framework continues to provide a shared language about the flow of benefits from nature to people. That's a good introduction. What -- what was the impetus for this effort and the eventual report?

>> Lauren, you want me to jump in on that one right quick?

>> Sure.

>> Yeah. So over the past several years, you know, there's been a number of opportunities for -- or interest, rather, in the production, the quantification, and the provision of ecosystem services, and not just in the scientific sort of sector but also from producers, from industry, from a number of different angles, and I've never seen in my career this many eyes on rangelands and, you know, the ecosystem services that they provide. And so the leadership of, at the time of SRM, which was President Poncho Ortega and First Vice President Barry Perryman, were interested in SRM being a -- having a leading role in and a voice in this space. And so they asked Lauren and I to lead an effort to really dive in from the rangeland perspective on defining rangeland ecosystem services, what they mean to us, and really put it in a framework where a scientist or a producer could read the report and take something away from it. Lauren, do you have -- would you like to add something?

>> Yeah, I think SRM sort of realized that they didn't have a lot of information from the society and its membership on sort of how we wanted to approach this topic. It's getting, as Jeff said, there's a lot of attention on rangelands and on potential services coming out of them right now. And so SRM really wanted to gather together expertise, you know, from all aspects of the society, whether that's scientific expertise or producer expertise, and figure out, you know, what is our role in this conversation and what can the society be doing to push this conversation forward.

>> Yeah, I appreciate that. There -- there -- I would say I feel like there's a lot of talk about ecosystem goods and services, and maybe that's a good question. You mentioned in that -- those opening lines, an ecosystem services framework that has been evolving for 15 years. We talk a lot about this, and I think the report has done a good job of articulating it and describing it and putting some -- some meat behind this idea. But what -- what is the ecosystem services framework and maybe what framework did it replace? Did it replace an ecosystem goods framework or -- and maybe I know the Society for Range Management has been criticized for in the past focusing on ecosystem goods that had economic significance. And of course, livestock grazing is a pretty visible and sometimes controversial use of rangelands. And I feel like part of this effort is to communicate the idea that there's more there than just livestock, but livestock are also important. What is that ecosystem services framework?

>> Yeah. So our report really tried to take a holistic approach to that topic. There's been so much work recently on ecosystem services and, you know, our membership really wanted to broaden, as you said, to broaden the categories of things we think of as getting from rangelands, especially beyond -- I mean, food and fiber are really important. We get you know, we get beef, we get wool from rangelands, but there's a whole bunch of other things that rangelands provide to both local communities and the broader public. And so this report really tries to focus on a range of those items. We didn't sort of categorize things the same way as some of like the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment or some of the other frameworks that have been put forward in the past. And that was just because, you know, the group of experts that we gathered together really wanted to focus on just a few key topics that they thought would be most interesting to the public and to the society membership in terms of -- of things that rangelands provide. And so we focused on five areas of goods and services and then also thought about human dimensions as sort of a cross-cutting topic across all those five topic areas.

>> Yeah, I think those five topics are -- I'm acting as if I'm speaking with any authority here, but I like the topic areas, and I think that they're appropriate, and they're good buckets to capture the really broad variety of things, you know, human, cultural, scientific, the whole -- the whole nine yards. Did those -- did those -- did you go in with those in mind, or did they sort of emerge as you were going through the process of -- of trying to say how do we -- how do we -- how do we handle this gigantic topic?

>> I might just kind of add that when we -- when we started to sort of pull some of these concepts together, as Lauren mentioned, we wanted to kind of move away from the sort of the categorical provisioning, regulating cultural and supporting ecosystem services nomenclature, just because from a -- from a -- from a practical perspective, sometimes those are very confusing to people. So we really wanted to focus on -- on what you can measure, what we can try to quantify as a service, meaning ecosystem services being those benefits that people obtain from ecosystems. And so that's why we focused on food and fiber and water and carbon sequestration, and security, so on and so forth. And so, yeah, I mean, I think -- I think that's important to note that we really wanted to focus in on -- on those tangible items that we thought made the most interest, that were the most interesting, and that people were interested in and SRM can certainly have a voice in. And so -- so that's where once we started to pull our team together and discuss sort of those -- those frameworks that are here and now, you know, like the Millennial Assessment Framework or -- and move forward. We really decided to go with some of those other approaches and focus on those five sort of core topic areas. And to Dr. Porensky's point, that human dimension piece cross-cuts everything.

>> I'll just -- I'll just add to that. I think those topic areas did kind of emerge as we reviewed the literature and realized that so many people have done so much good work on this topic, even within the rangeland sphere. I mean, there's lots of syntheses and documents out there that we were drawing from, and we thought, okay, let's not try and do everything and reinvent all these wheels. Let's really focus it down on some topics that we think the society really cares about and the membership cares about and things that are really critical that rangelands provide.

>> Now, you mentioned the social dimensions of this. The project itself is a pretty significant social project. How did you -- there's a wide variety of topics here, and each one of them itself has a gigantic amount of information. I mean, at this point a person could read scientifically all the new stuff for 40 hours a week and never even come close to taking in everything that's out there. So you're clearly relying on a lot of other people that have specific expertise in some of these areas. How in the world did you begin to assemble a team to put together something with this kind of a topic scope?

>> Well, we knew that we wanted a diverse team, right. We wanted scientists., We wanted producers to be involved. We wanted folks that -- that represent federal agencies versus private organizations, NGOs. We wanted to -- we wanted to really have a diverse -- a lot of diversity in the -- in the selection of our team. But then also, certainly, we needed the expertise, people that knew the literature, people that could sort of pull out those aspects that are interesting and tell a compelling story. So it took a little while to pull the team together, and then even longer to keep, you know, keep the ball rolling and lots of meetings. ER's -- I think it took -- it took a lot of effort to pull this group together. But once they -- once they -- once we got the team together, they worked very -- they worked seamlessly. I'm super proud of this team, and I think they came away with a solid product [inaudible].

>> Yeah I would agree with that. As has been mentioned a couple of times, we're approaching the International Year of Rangelands and Pastoralists, and I think the timing of this is good in terms of helping to communicate, you know, to the world of people, the various publics that are not familiar with the benefits associated with rangelands. So I want to ask about, you know, if somebody asked you in the elevator in New York City, and they weren't all there for the same conference you were, you know, why are rangelands important? There's been some criticism of just saying, well, they're important because they're vast. Yeah, there's a lot of land there that's occupied by a vegetation type that we would call rangelands. But I feel like some of the value of the report is to articulate some of those values. How would you answer that question if somebody said, you know, why? Why are rangelands important? And the people that occupy them?

>> Yeah, that's one part of this report that I'm really proud of. I mean, we really ended up centering rural communities and rangeland stewards in the report as active participants in the creation of all these things that rangelands provide. And as you said, rangelands are vast, but they're actively stewarded by humans in most cases, whether that's federal agencies or private producers or, you know, private conservation stewards or other people. And so one thing we really wanted to point out in the report is that these people are doing activities that create systems, that provide things like clean water, things like pollinator services, things like just repositories of vast genetic diversity of native plants and animals, wildlife that we all rely on, carbon that's stored in these landscapes, in addition to, you know, things like food and fiber. And so the report, I think one thing I'm really proud of is sort of the activities that these people do to support those resilient rangelands and ecosystem services. We really drew from work by Sanderson and others to pull out three key activities that these rangeland stewards do, and those include avoiding conversion. So keeping rangelands, rangelands, keeping them from getting plowed up or putting into subdivisions because none of the services really can survive that kind of dramatic shift in land use. A and then also restoring degraded systems and then doing adaptive management on rangelands. And that includes doing things that respond to changes. So being adaptive, being context specific. So recognizing that not all rangelands operate the same way and not all rangelands might respond to disturbance the same way, and then being inclusive. So recognizing the importance of different knowledges and rangelands and then being outcome based. So emphasizing the importance of managing with desired outcomes in mind. So we really, I think, that's what we focused on in this report is, you know, rangelands provide all these important services and people are out there making that happen.

>> Mm-hmm. Jeff, how would you answer the question?

>> You know, I think -- I think Lauren did a great job of sort of synthesizing. And you -- you --

>> Yeah.

>> You mentioned the vastness, right, of -- of -- and the rangeland, you know, 50% of the Earth's land service -- surface -- rangelands occur on six out of the seven continents. I will note that even though we -- rangelands occur across the planet, our team was largely sort of U.S. or North America focused. We didn't necessarily intend for it to be a North America-focused document. We want to speak to rangelands and the importance of those everywhere, but just contextually sort of that's -- that's the -- that's the focus we ended up moving forward with. But, you know, when you talk about how important rangelands are, I think just the complexity of the ecosystems that function, you know, when you talk about the primary ecosystem processes that drive rangelands and ecosystems, I, you know, and then all of those services that are provided, just that level of complexity is important. And I don't think most people understand the level of complexity that goes into rangelands from a wildlife habitat provision perspective to producing food and fiber to water quality, and certainly one of the newer interests is their ability to potentially mitigate climate -- a change in climate. So super important landscape on the planet. And that's why I think it's important.

>> No, I like that answer. I've mentioned, and you've mentioned that this is a report that was commissioned by and published by the Society for Range Management, and we probably have quite a number of listeners that are not associated with and don't know about the Society for Range Management. What would -- what would you say about the society? What is the -- what is the mission of that organization?

>> Oh, great question. Thanks for bringing that up. The Society for Range Management's got a long history of working to provide leadership for the stewardship of rangelands based on sound ecological principles. That's our mission. We are made up of a host of very diverse members. We have scientists, we have students, we have producers, we have bankers, lawyers, federal employees. It's a very diverse makeup of our membership, and the one thing that I like to point out is that though we have a diversity of our makeup, we all have one thing in common, and that's that we truly care about rangeland landscapes. We care about the management of those landscapes, and we truly appreciate the stewards that manage them every day. And so -- so that's what SRM is about. We are a professional society, and you know, it's a member volunteer organization of people that love rangeland systems and want to make sure that they're there for the next 10 or 20 or 100 generations that follow us.

>> Yeah, thank you, Lauren, you want to add anything to that?

>> I think Jeff did a great job.

>> Yeah, I think that ties back to the structure of the report, which was the next thing I want to ask about. You mentioned that for each of the five topic areas, the report describes the relevant ecosystem services and benefits, including interconnections among services, current threats to those services, the ways human management and stewardship can help to enhance, sustain or erode those services and opportunities for producers and managers to obtain material benefits from supporting the services. I'd like to hear the breadth of that description of how to handle each topic, or it's not just sort of a sterile recounting and, you know, it's not just a synthesis paper on what do we think we know about carbon sequestration. I think that's a good approach. What would you say was driving the structure of the report and what would people be looking for and in reading through this?

>> Yeah, I can take this one. We -- as Jeff mentioned, we had a really broad team assembled to work on this, and it was a really interdisciplinary team. And I think that really strengthened the report because different team members were really interested in different things. I mean we had people who wanted to just sort of explain what these services are on our team. We had people who wanted to know, you know, what are the markets that producers can access for different ecosystem services. And so, we really tried to meet all those diverse sort of goals in this report. Everything from just explaining to someone, hey, what is this service? What does it encompass? You know, why might it be under threat in rangeland systems or what are the pressures on continuing provisioning of that service? And then, like more practically, you know, what are people doing to support that service, and are they getting, you know, compensated either monetarily or nonmonetarily for what they're doing out there to support these services. And it -- what are ways in which, you know, they could access more feedbacks? Because one of the parts of the framework that I didn't talk about is sort of this idea that, you know, humans are out there in rangelands trying to help keep rangelands rangelands and manage them in good ways to support all these services, but often, a lot of the benefits that they provide go to the broader public and don't sort of filter back to local communities. So we sort of wanted to highlight that externalities issue and think really practically about, you know, what are our opportunities for folks out there in rangelands to generate like more benefits from the services that they're providing. So, yeah, broad sort of set of objectives here.

>> I suspect we'll end up doing an interview with various folks on each of the five key rangeland service topic areas you identify in the report, but I'd like to have you describe each one of these briefly here by way of introduction. The most obvious one that I think most people would think of, at least people that are outside of the world of rangeland science, is food and fiber. Say more about that.

>> I don't think that most people look at food and fiber as an ecosystem service. We wanted to ensure that, you know, the public or the reader understood that, you know, when you look at the definition of an ecosystem service it benefits the people that are obtaining from ecosystems and the production of food and/or the production of fiber, whether it be wool or leather or whatever it is, those are ecosystem services, and I thought our team did a good job of really sort of laying that out in a productive way and then understanding sort of what are the effects of rangeland stewardship on that services. So as we apply management, as we look at threats or even opportunities for restoration, how does that impact our ability to continue to provide food and fiber as an ecosystem service or a growing public.

>> No, that's a good description. I like the nuance there. The second one is water as an ecosystem driver, and of course, we tend to define rangelands as those places that are lacking water, which is why they don't look like something else. But also, like describing rangelands positively rather than negatively, you know, if you -- we've said a number of times here that if you picked up, you know, whatever the 1975 Stoddart, Smith, and Box textbook, it would have -- it might have said that rangelands were everything that was left over after you excluded things that we think of as having more value, like forests and cropland and urban areas or things that are almost like, well, to a land lover, nothing, open and ice fields. But we're describing rangelands as places where really important things are happening, not as the leftovers of colonization. How do you describe this section about water as an ecosystem driver in some other way than scarcity?

>> Yeah, I can speak to this one. I think the section on water is really focusing on the idea that in dryland systems, water is really important, right. A lot of people like to live in dryland systems, whether or not, you know, they're in urban areas, and in those systems, having intact rangelands really helps store water. You know, if we took away all the rangelands and replaced it with pavement or even with plowed fields, we would not have as much water storage on the landscape, and we also wouldn't have as good water quality on the landscape. So, I think the fact that rangelands occur in drier areas, a lot of them, makes water even more important to treat carefully. And then, this group, the subgroup of our report that focused on water, also wanted to highlight that some rangelands do occur I wetter or cooler regions. And so, you know, rangelands aren't all arid. We've got, you know, rangelands in tropic regions as well, and across all those areas, I think, keeping rangelands rangelands, so avoid conversion is one of the most important things for keeping our water quality and quantity intact in those regions.

>> That's an interesting point. You have places with higher precip -- annual precipitation levels that don't turn into forest, and there's been a little bit said and written recently about the importance of not attempting to do afforestation all over the place where trees could live, because there's other disturbance regimes that sometimes maintain nonforest and ecosystems, and even there, you know, we're borrowing forests as the thing that defines it. What are some examples of places that have precipitation levels that could support -- presumably could support trees but would not naturally be a forested environmental in our rangelands?

>> I let jeff go as well, but what comes to mind for me having worked in East Africa is Savannah systems, which are kept in sort of tree grass state by disturbance, by you know, fire and grazing disturbances, and in those systems, you know, you may have a little more precip -- maybe not a lot more, but certainly a little more water available, but we still get rangeland-type services out of the system.

>> I think the same could be said for the Great Plains, how we look at the two sort of processes that develop our prairie ecosystems were fire and herbivory. And so as we -- as we manipulate or remove herbivory and/or the suppression of fire, we tend to see species like Eastern Red Cedar and other species encroach from a woody perspective. And so, you know, I think that's certainly -- I'm not sure that that's necessarily a water issue more than a management issue.

>> Now, that's interesting. That's maybe a good segue to your third category, which is carbon sequestration and security, and don't let me forget to ask about what you mean by security. But I wanted to make the point here that, you know, we often -- people who are not in the range science world may be having some associations with fighting climate change and greenhouse gas increase with planting trees because, you know, trees more visibly accumulate carbon compounds than a grassland. But I've seen some stuff recently indicating that maybe trees are more vulnerable than forests may be more vulnerable than grasslands to losing previously sequestered carbon and may not be very stable as a sink for carbon because they're vulnerable to being burned. Where in a grassland, you've got most of the carbon below ground. Yeah, respond to that, then I want to find out what you mean by carbon security.

>> Yeah, certainly there's interest in our ability to sequester atmospheric carbon, specifically on -- in a number of different rangeland systems, but I'll speak to let's just say a prairie ecosystem like the Great Plains where we have the ability to sequester carbon out of the atmosphere to photosynthesis and encycle that carbon through plant roots into various pools of carbon in the soil. And that locks it -- you know, I say lock. It accumulates carbon through the accumulation of organic matter in a number of different forms. And so, there's opportunity there certainly in grassland systems to sequester carbon. Context is a big -- is a big key here because the amount of accumulation that you might see in say in a northern Great Plains state versus, you know, in a tall grass, very cool environment, cooler environment versus a high dessert short grass prairie is very different, right. And so context matters and our ability to pull that carbon out of the air. And so, to your point, grasses typically have about 80%, 80 to 85% of their carbon pool underground in the root systems, right, versus a woody system where a larger proportion of their carbon is above ground. So it's much more vulnerable to harvest, whether that's timber cutting or fire. And so in the carbon section, we really wanted to just provide a basic understanding and some scientific sites, some literature that, again, has already been done that makes the case for why carbon sequestration and why particularly rangelands play a key role in our ability to mitigate climate issues. And so, you know, we go through some opportunities for restoration of rangelands, how do we manage those rangelands adaptively to most appropriately steward those, what are some of the threats including fire? Fire can be an issue for us, but also, there's opportunities to use the application for stratifier to provide positive ecological benefits. From a security perspective, I think it's important to note, and I go back to this idea that there are certain environments, and I keep speaking to the U.S., but there's certain rangeland environments in the U.S. that have a higher propensity to sequester carbon at greater rates versus a more arid climate where we have less energy turnover. And so, in those environments, in western landscapes, it's not that we aren't sequestering carbon, because they are sequestering carbon. It's just at a much smaller rate, and so it's as -- it's as important, maybe even more important, to keep what we have, right. So to secure the carbon that has already been sequestered in those sites and apply our management in ways that we don't -- we do the best job that we can as managers to not turn that site into a source. Now, there's things that we can't control. We can't control depth of bedrock, soil texture, climate, precipitation. Drought is a big part of our life as rangeland managers, and we can't control any of those factors, but we can certainly control land cover and we can control management. And so, as we pull those two levers, I think there's opportunities for us to continue to sequester carbon more in certain instances than others, but certainly we can still sequester carbon, but certainly provide security for what has already been built in the soil.

>> Yeah, I would just add that -- and the point Jeff is making about avoiding the loss of rangelands, conversion to something else, especially to irrigated agriculture or even dryland ag or especially subdivisions. I mean protecting what we have is really important when it comes to the carbon that we have in these vast rangelands.

>> Right. Is that what you mean by security? You know, retaining that carbon or leaving it in a stable location depends a lot more on not converting that rangeland to a different land use more than it does applying the right kinds of grazing regime, is that what you mean?

>> I think it's a combination of all of it. It's, again, avoiding the conversion of losing rangeland acres in a perennial grassland system to an annual crop. It's restoring degraded rangelands into a more productive, highly diverse system, and it's using those adaptive management practices to provide sort of a management framework that promotes ecosystem function.

>> Got it. And those things both secure existing carbon stalks as well as enhance the capacity of, you know, additionality or sinking more carbon.

>> Right.

>> Now, are you hoping that this will inform carbon markets? I don't know as much about that as I would like, but it seems like it's kind of the wild, wild west right now.

>> Yeah, we wanted to be a little more informative in terms of, you know, just the foundational understanding of soil carbon on rangelands, particularly for this ecosystem service. We do have some sections in each of these that really sort of provide opportunities for producers, current projective opportunities for managers, on-the-ground managers. We talked a little bit about sort of understanding the ecosystem service from a market perspective, but we try to sort of stay somewhat agnostic to promoting any sort of -- you know, any specific market. We wanted to be careful of that.

>> Sure. And for people what are in the world of range, it feels like plant and insect diversity is an obvious one, but this is a major feature of rangelands that I think is a sleeper issue, meaning that the diversity of plants and insects on vast rangelands is vastly underappreciated. You know, we tend to think of -- I say we -- I think people often tend to think of rangelands/desserts as being places where not as much stuff is living, but oftentimes, rangelands would have higher species diversity, you know, just in terms of species richness, the number of different individual species that are present for sure with plant communities than what we would often find in a forest. And, of course, we've got -- there's also nested spatial scales here. You've got the diversity of plant species. You've got a diversity of plant community types. You've got the diversity of plant community types that are at different stages of succession, and then, of course, all the insects that are associated with those different ones. Sam Fuhlendorf said one time that six patches makes you six times less likely to be entirely wrong, and I like that concept, and I think people don't quite realize when they look out and see, you know, at least in our neck of the woods, oceans of sagebrush, that's there's as much diversity out there as there really is, and I think it's something that's really important. We had a talk a few years ago at a pesticide recertification workshop by the guy that runs WSU's apiary program, and we may be able to get him on the podcast to talk about insects [inaudible], but their researching colony collapsed, and one of the suspected causes for that is narrow nutrition for commercial bees. And he said they've documented down in California on these almond orchards, they've documented bees flying three, four, five miles over literally oceans of almond blossoms to get to a single dandelion flower, because they need something -- there's diversity also in the different kinds of nectar provided by all these different flowering plants, and that's important to insects. In Washington state, we have a lot of bee keepers that have contracts with rangeland owners who have, you know, 30, 40, 50 annual and perennial [inaudible] types out on privately owned rangelands that are incredibly beneficial to commercial bees, not to speak of all of the native pollinators that a lot people don't even know about. I've said a whole lot of words, but what were you hoping to communicate about plant and insect diversity with this report?

>> Well, you set me up really nicely for this one. Plant diversity and insect diversity are near and dear to my heart as a plant ecologist, and I do think they're sort of underappreciated in rangelands. I mean we have such diverse systems. The plants may be short, but that doesn't mean they're uninteresting. They've got incredible, incredible diversity. And as you mentioned, diversity is important. You know, we all want diversity in our diets and so do insects and so do other wildlife, you know, in terms of providing food and shelter, having a diverse set of species out there is really important. And rangelands are just a precious resource in terms of just keeping that diversity on the landscape, you know, with minimal human impact. And we might need those plants someday for creating new medicines. We might also need them for supporting, you know, species of conservation concern that we care about, whether that's insects or other wildlife, and then just, you know, feeding our livestock, for example, having a diverse set of plants out there is really good for diet quality. And, you know, we just love seeing our wildflowers out there on the landscape. So there's intrinsic value there too. And as you said, you know, pollination is increasingly recognized as really, really important. We've had dramatic declines in insects. Insect abundances and insect diversity, and I think the ability of rangelands to sort of serve as a repository for all of those species is pretty underappreciated. We have our national parks, but you know, these working landscapes are doing their part to support our native plants and animals as well.

>> Well, I'll second the motion that short stature is not evidence for insignificance. Some of us are only tall on the inside. Your last category is wildlife habitat provision. This maybe is one of those that is seemingly more obvious to observers of rangelands in that -- and this is what I like about, you know, as a food production sector, rangelands-based livestock production, if we do it well, again, is one of the only ways of producing food and fiber that doesn't -- that maintains, I think, if we do it well, all of these ecosystem services in space where we're also producing something of economic value. The trick is to do it right, but certainly, wildlife habitat is one of those things that we intend to provide, and oftentimes this is the obvious thing to people looking in from the outside, that is present in wide-open spaces, and oftentimes people don't even realize that there is some, you know, some form of natural resource extraction, I guess we used to say, in places that look like wildlife habitat, and I think that's a socially valuable thing and one that we should talk about. What -- yeah, but I think this is probably a more diverse topic than just that. What else would you say about the provision of wildlife habitat on rangelands?

>> I might say a few words, and Lauren, feel free to jump in here. But I think to your point, wildlife habitat is sort of the no-brainer ecosystem service. I mean it's the one most of us think about when we think about rangelands, the whole idea and the points that Lauren was making on diversity certainly they apply to wildlife habitat and wildlife species. You know, I think there's some, there's a lot of sort of intrinsic value to producers and the public on ensuring that wildlife habitat exists. I mean we have federal laws promoting those. But when you look at the -- sort of the ecologic value, there's certainly a number of those, but there's also significant economic values for the public by ensuring that we have functioning, healthy wildlife habitats. You know, we looked at the most recent national survey on fishing, hunting, and wildlife-associated recreation, I mean this is a $157 billion industry. And interestingly, most of it's not in hunting and fishing. Fishing was about 46 billion, hunting was about 26 billion, but wildlife watching -- so those sort of ecosystem services provided by wildlife watching was a $76 billion industry. And so, a lot of people like to see wildlife, and those wildlifes need those unique habitat components that allowed them to be fruitful. And so, it's one of the most important ecosystem services that rangelands provide globally. So, Lauren, do you have anything to add?

>> Yeah, I guess I'll just add there's a lot of work going on right now on how to manage for different types of wildlife, and we're increasingly realizing we need, you know, not every bird responds the same to every type of grazing or fire management, and we need really complex management regimes on the ground to support all these different species that we care about. You know, different ungulates rely on different plant species, and different birds rely on different structure. So I would say that complexity is of increasing interest to managers on the ground, and they're trying to do complicated things to support wildlife habitat. So I would just, you know, recognize that interest on the part of managers on the ground and people like Audubon are starting to recognize, you know, certain management practices that are good for bird-friendly bee for whatever, and that's just one example. I'm not, you know, advocating that one above any others. But I would just say, there's a lot of complex management going on out there for wildlife.

>> Yeah. I really appreciate seeing the trend toward managing for heterogeneity as opposed to, I don't know, for example, grazing with enough intensity to maximize cover by a handful of perennial grasses that are important as forage, but recognizing the importance also for -- you know, even if a person's primary interest in managing rangelands is to profit from livestock, there are significant economic benefits to be had from having a diversity of plants that have secondary, plant secondary compounds that have benefits to the animals. I think there's a lot of benefit there. Yeah, it's interesting, I feel like wildlife is kind of the gateway drug for nonrangeland users, and even as a rangeland lover, I've recently discovered the Merlin Bird ID app, and I think it's produced by Cornell maybe. I don't think you have to pay for it, but this is -- it's really impressive. You can -- my favorite feature, and the thing that I'm using all the time is that when you hear a bird, you can record the bird sound in it with a lot of accuracy can tell you what the bird is. So I'm constantly turning on my microphone on the Merlin app to find out what that bird is, and there's a lot of stuff out there. And I think it's a way of people engaging with the environment around them in a way that maybe they haven't before and paying attention to what's there and why. And I actually think it's really important, especially for people that wouldn't otherwise appreciate rangelands. Now, the two of you have put a lot of time and effort into this. What are -- and I assume, you know, you would like to see that effort have some effect in the real world. What is your hope for the social and scientific reach of this report?

>> Before we go there, I'd like to speak a little bit about the sixth category in the report, which is human well-being and human dimensions of ecosystem services, if that's all right.

>> Yeah, please do.

>> Yeah. So this is nonincluded as sort of in the first five, but that's not because we didn't consider it really important, and we sort of wanted to emphasize that human dimensions cross cut all the other categories in that, you know, even food and fiber, we have lots of cultural meaning surrounding, you know, being a beef producer, for example, or being part of western rangelands. And so, there's a really good section in this report on social dimensions of rangelands and not just sort of the classic like cultural services but also just the idea that culture and how we think of ourselves and identities is woven into all these service categories. And then, you know, we talk about wildlife and that has to do with recreation and hunting, as we said, but also just aesthetic values. We talk about e-quest values in here and then just sort of cultural and spiritual values as well. And we also have a section in here, some perspective on rangelands from both an indigenous perspective and producer perspective. So I would encourage folks to take a look at those as well in terms of what people on the ground sort of how their identities are interwoven with rangeland services.

>> Yeah, that is a really good section of the report, and I think it's important to identify that as a particular kind of diversity as well. I think that the differences between somebody who is an agency range scientist and a person who is part of an indigenous people that has lived on the land for millennia and the person who makes a living raising livestock on the land, you know, those are pretty different perspectives and I think have a lot to say to each other.

>> Yeah, thanks Tip.

>> Yeah. What are you hoping for in terms of the results of this this getting out to the world?

>> So, first and foremost, you know, this is a report for the Society for Range Management to spur -- sort of spur engagement with the society on how it could position itself as, you know, having a significant role in the conversation around ecosystem services. I certainly think SRM can have an opportunity to promote the report to not only its members but folks that are interested in SRM and might be interested in ecosystem services but really don't know what will rangelands, the SRM plays in that, and certainly, also, you know, with various politicians, staffers, you know, providing information on the important and the value of diversity, our diverse ecosystem services that rangelands provide, any time that we can provide a sort of synthesized information to help policymakers, I think, is a win on both sides. But I mean really from SRM's perspective, you know, I think we can use this to promote discovery, you know, ensuring, encouraging our members to -- and the society itself, to support sort of development of maybe even better measurement, reporting, and verification tools for assessing ecosystem services, sharing information, engaging in the conversation, being an advocated for ecosystem services on rangelands, and lastly, serving as a sort of a trusted liaison, being a point of contact in what people think of ecosystem services on rangelands, we want them to think about SRM.

>> That's a good list. Lauren, what would you add?

>> I would add just this idea of sort of what are some of the top-level service that rangelands provide, getting that information out as broadly as we can with a little bit of information about what those are and especially like the actions that can be taken by, you know, either the general public or rural producers, rural stewards to safeguard or enhance those services. I think that's -- communicating that message is really critical for our taskforce.

>> That's a good list. Has the report been released on the innerwebs yet?

>> I believe the report is set to be released on the website in August, which is three days away. I think there is a -- there is a plan to release the report in August and then a followup push in September. So it should be up and accessible, citable here in the next three weeks or so.

>> Okay. Well, then we'll go ahead and put that link in the show notes then at the time that we release this episode. Anything else that I didn't ask that you wanted to communicate about this, what I believe to be an important report?

>> Well, I'll just thank all of the contributors to this report and the vast amount of literature that went into this report, and there's more that we didn't even get to, you know. There's just a lot of information out there, and one goal of this report is to point people toward some of that information, so we have some links at the end with, you know, links to different resources that people can explore. This certainly isn't meant to be comprehensive. This is just sort of the beginning -- the top level of the iceberg, I guess, when it comes to this topic. So I want to recognized everyone who helped with this.

>> Likewise. The team that spent over a year working on this project, including, you know, the designers that helped design the document and just the whole team that put in lots of hours to work on it, that you can just -- you can tell they care about the resource. They care about rangelands, and if we can use this document to help someone better understand how the role that rangelands play with ecosystem services and maybe even an informed policy, I think it's going to be a win-win for all of us.

>> Yeah, I would echo that. I feel like this kind of synthesis is really important, and it's not simple, or at least it's not simplistic. As a culture we get excited about and maybe were addicted to the excitement of new research or new discovery. But we've been doing this for a little while now, and I think it's important sometimes to summarize it. I've done a few debates on grazing, and you know, I would say you can prove in scare quotes nearly anything you want by selectively citing research literature. But the challenge for us at this point, I think, is taking what we know as a whole and trying to distill that down into some, you know, broad, important conclusions. And so this kind of -- and that historically is what rangeland science is good at. As Jason Carl said recently, it is a synthetic discipline, and we need -- I think we're at a point where we need to pull some of that together and make some of these, you know, larger-scale conclusions, and I'm pretty excited that you guys have pulled that together and done the work, and I'm looking forward to seeing it released. Thank you, Jeff and Lauren, for your time today. This, I think, has been really valuable, and the report will be valuable, and I actually look forward to continuing this conversation.

>> Thanks Tim.

>> Thanks for the opportunity. Yeah. [music]

>> Thank you for listening to the Art of Range podcast. You can subscribe to and review the show through iTunes or your favorite podcasting app so you never miss an episode. Just search for art of range. If you have questions or comments for us to address in a future episode, send an e-mail to For articles and links to resources mentioned in the podcast, please see the show notes at Listener feedback is important to the success of our mission, empowering rangeland managers. Please take a moment to fill out a brief survey at This podcast is produced by CAHNRS Communications in the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. The project is supported by the University of Arizona and funded by the Western Center for Risk Management Education through the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

>> The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed by guests of this podcast are their own and does not imply Washington State University's endorsement. [music]

Mentioned Resources

The report "Ecosystem Services -- Connecting Nature & People" is available at the SRM's Ecosystem Services page.


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