AoR 130: Society for Range Management Plenary "Change on the Range" with Young Professionals

It's been said that the only thing that is certain is change. These young rangeland professionals engage in interview discussion around what "Change on the Range" means to them. Last year, the 2023 annual meeting plenaries addressed the synthetic nature of rangeland science and the necessity of working across disciplinary and geographic and social boundaries to be effective. Effective change may require all of that. Join Katherine Haile, Paige Stanley, Kaelie Pena, Josh Tashiro, and Melissa Lackore in our 2024 conversation about rangelands and productive change.


[ Music ]

>> 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 is online at

[ Music ]

This episode is a live recording of the plenary sessions at the 2024 Society for Range Management annual meeting. We were recording what came through the facility's sound system and in a few places the sound dropped out due to technical complications. We think the meaning was not lost in what little audio is missing. So please listen through and forgive the error.

>> Yeah, thanks, Barry. And I think this is where I say welcome back to the Art of Range podcast. We talked last year at the annual meeting about the synthetic nature of rangeland science and the necessity of working across disciplinary and geographic and social boundaries to be effective. And effective change probably requires all of that. And this is in some ways a continuation of that conversation. This group of young professionals has been charged with thinking about change on the range and what that means to them. And I'm thrilled to be joining the conversation. Dorothy Sayers, who was one of the first women to have a degree conferred by Oxford once they changed rules in 1920 and was a great novelist of the 20th century, said in a 1941 book, our minds are not infinite, and as the volume of the world's knowledge increases, we tend more and more to confine ourselves each to his special sphere of interest and the specialized metaphor belonging to it. The analytic bias in the last three centuries has immensely encouraged this tendency, but the attempt must be made to move toward a synthesis of experience. And she was Speaking of the need for the artist and the scientist to speak one another's language, to share metaphors in order for society, little s, to work well. And we're 80 years away from that complaint about silos. But this remains a great challenge. I also think if this could happen anywhere, it can happen here. We, the Society for Range Management, talk about art and science together all the time. So I've said many times that I actually think range folk do this better than other scientific fields in other societies. And the fact that you are all sitting up here willing, at least allegedly, to do some unscripted talking, including responding to what others are saying, probably including reacting to and participating in ideas that you couldn't have anticipated, says something about you and about the society and about the annual meeting committee. And as evidence, I think of this inclination toward inclusion and breadth in what we do and how we think. So you are people that are willing to change and to be changed through interaction with others. I want to say just as we're getting rolling here that I'm, I am more optimistic today than I've been any time in the last 20 years about the future of the rangeland profession and the people that are involved in this. Largely because we have people like you that are headed out there to do, as Barry says, keeping the world stitched together. So the question, what has change on the range mean to you is broad enough to encompass a lot. And I've already said enough to bias the conversation, so I'm not going to ask any more specific questions. We're just going jump in, and we'll start visiting. Melissa, I think we'll start with you. What does change on the range mean to you?

>> So what I thought of change on the range is I first thought what is going to impact us most as young professionals just starting in our careers. And I really thought about how society really, from my experience, doesn't have a lot of understanding of what rangelands are. You know, it's all too common for when I go out and tell people what I got a degree in, which is rangeland ecology and management, they really don't understand or they have a very limited understanding. And so I think it's really important to try to bring other people into our world. Because there's so much for, room for growth and room for opportunity for people to get involved and just people to be knowledgeable about rangelands.

>> Yeah, sounds like we'll pass the mic around. We'll just keep moving. Kaylee, how about you?

>> Yeah. So to piggyback off of that, when thinking about the question of change on the range, the first thing that came to mind for me is people. Again, I think when you think back at what rangeland management was and who was associated with rangelands in the past kind of when our professions were really taking hold and coming in, that demographic has vastly changed. And thinking about change on the range, for me personally, it's thinking about how we can interact and bring those people in and how those people view those newer demographics to rangelands. How they're viewing and understanding what's going on out there and what they are interested in. There's so many new interests and what people want to do and utilize rangelands for than what they have been used in the past. And that was my first thought when thinking about change on the range.

>> I think that definitely has happened. In fact, numerous people have observed just in the first day of this meeting that it seemed like we have had quite a lot more or a higher percentage of young people here than we have had in the past. I don't know if that's an artifact of you and our having a big range club and making a good show. But it does seem like the age class distribution of at least the annual meeting attendance is looking a little bit more healthy, You know, in a plant community, it's not a healthy plant community, I'm not saying you all don't look healthy. I'm saying just like a plant community, if we don't have any seedling recruitment. eventually, the old plants give it up. So we do need some at least even age class distribution if it's not a proper pyramid. And I think we're getting a little bit closer to that. Josh, what does change on the range mean to you?

>> So the first thing I thought about was a lot of the technology and just the development and advancement of the science and bringing in other tools. And so it's a little safeguarded. I don't want that to be a crutch for our, not in understanding the foundationals. But also it opens up the range community to so much more communities, other communities, other aspects of other avenues.

>> Yeah, Catherine, what do you think?

>> So for me, my first thought when I thought of change on the range was how range science has been developed, evolved and then refined over the past 100, 150 years. So it's a relatively new science as far as other sciences go. But it's been around, natural aspect of range has been around for thousands of years of people using the landscape with grazing animals and making a living off of the landscape. So once we began to realize that there were a lot we could do better and understand better about the rangeland, we started to do more science, understand various better, talk to each other a little bit more and understand what was working better for other places and how to apply it in different areas. So not all rangeland is the same. You can't apply a certain principle in one area and expect it to work in other areas as well. There's a lot of different areas of the country, different past management practices. One of the things that makes range management so challenging for me I feel like is, it's not the same anywhere. So it's based on different ecological site descriptions, different topography, different infrastructure within the ranch. The past 100, 200 years of management on that specific ranch in that pasture have a lot to do with what you can do today and how you're going to continue to move forward. And I think there's a lot that we've learned in the past 100 years for sure, last 20-30 years. Then as we keep moving forward, there's a lot of things that are changing. As we, yeah, a lot of things we keep coming up with and refining and modifying. When I did my masters, I was studying the effects of patch burning on grazing distribution and forge quality. And with that we were putting cows in there as we were burning and right after the burn. Which is kind of a different concept, especially if you're looking at federally managed land where you have to come off of a lot the allotment benefit burns for a couple, three years. So it's a little bit different. Ecosystems, different ideas of management. I think as we keep moving forward, there's going to be a lot of things that maybe have been accepted in the past that are maybe new ideas to change, change those, as well as things we know today to keep refining and understanding.

>> I think one of the things that I've appreciated about the people of the society, at least the ones that come to the meetings, is that nearly everybody here is a life long learner. And as you mentioned, we don't ever arrive. We just stay on the journey and keep learning because new places and new discoveries, there really, truly is no end to it. Somebody asked me a while back if we would ever, you know, when are you going to run out of content for a podcast? And I said I could interview somebody different on a different topic every other Thursday for the rest of my life, and we would not even come close to exhausting the possibilities of things to talk about on range line ecology and the people that work on them. Paige, what does change on the range mean to you?

>> Yeah, I tend to think about the type of change that I measure in my work. So I'm a rangeland soil biogeochemistry. I study soil carbon sequestration. So change in the range, immediately my gut reaction is soil carbon change. And I think recognizing how important of an opportunity that we have to sequester soil carbon on rangelands is so important. And there's all these technical issues that we can try to solve, you know, to keep me as a researcher busy with work for the rest of my life trying to answer that question. Similar to you, Tip. But I think at the end of the day, as interesting as that is, it comes down to the people. And it sounds like that's been resonated through all of us. But we can't expect to see that type of soil carbon change that we know has all these co-benefits, climate change adaptation, mitigation, productivity, water holding capacity, all the things without the producers on the landscape. So we can know all of these things about how we can increase soil carbon, but we can't actually make it happen without producers. And so when I think of change in the range I think of how can we work with producers and shift the types of incentive structures and decision making processes to help us better value that soil carbon sequestration on rangelands so that we are able to capitalize on all of those benefits?

>> Yeah, that's a good observation. You know, we are a science society, but we're also an applied science society. And to do applied science, you have to apply some science. I think that was circular. So I think maybe the next question I want to ask is what are some ways that you think you have been changed? It's maybe easier for me to say that now that I'm solidly midway upon the journey of my life. I feel like I'm still 23 on the inside, but I'm six foot tall on the inside too. So in general, you know, professionally or personally, and not specifically necessarily by SRM annual meetings, but what are some ways that you feel like you have been changed. And maybe we'll go in reverse order and pass the mic back this way.

>> I think studying rangelands has changed me. I think, you know, science gets a bit of a rep of like we want to know all the things and, like you mentioned, Tip, like this is more about acknowledging that we're going to be learning forever and ever and ever because there's no way to know all the things that there is to know about rangelands. So I think recognizing how big of a scope and an opportunity but being humbled by being outside and knowing that there are things that I myself and others will never discover about these landscapes. I don't know, that feels, that feels humbling in a big way. So I feel like that's changed me as a person.

>> Catherine.

>> Yeah, I think that's a really good point and kind of what I was going to say as well. Just there's a lot of different things that we don't understand now. It's hard to fill in every cell in an Excel spreadsheet when you're calculating stocking rate. There's too many numbers, too many variables out there to know that. So it goes back to more of our range being an art, not necessarily science all the way. There's a lot of scientific studies you can do and a lot of things you can learn for sure from science. But it's also, like I said earlier, since there's so many variables, we can't apply a scientific article to every single question you're trying to answer on your specific ranch. So you have to know a lot of background, a lot of different studies, a lot of different knowledge of what people have done, what researchers have done, what people before you have done to help make your best management decisions. So for me that's kind of taught me to take in other areas, other scopes, to know what is the best management practices for right now, what I'm doing specifically.

>> Before we move on, Josh, this reminded me of a question my daughter, whose name is Catherine, is trying to convince some of her friends at college that we're not going to save the world by eating soybean burgers. And it occurred to me, Paige, that you might have an answer for that. I'm not putting you on the spot right now, but we might talk about that before the week is out. Can we save the world by eating soybean burgers? But not yet. Josh, go ahead.

>> Well, I would echo definitely what Paige and Catherine said. But through my short development so far, working for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, you know, I was kind of a shy individual in high school, played sports, but shy. What the agency and the range has done for me is just to get to know people, get to know different operations. And that communication, just learning their stories and then I become that person that echoes their story to somebody else so they can learn. And that's just changed me so much to where I love talking with people, visiting with people, looking at that.

>> Yeah, I think you're going to hear a common theme here this morning about people. And anybody that knows me knows that I am a people person, and that's kind of my point here, you know. Coming into range and kind of finding a community where there's all these people that have these very similar, you know, loves and interests and things like that. And it seems like you get up here in front of all these people and it seems like there's a lot of you out there, but we're a pretty small group compared to a lot of other professional societies and things like that. And I think that's something that made coming into range really special for me that you get to have those really close connections and you get to interact with a lot of people and really learn from them. And so kind of how I've been changed a little bit is, I mean, I've always been a people person. I've always been, you know, talking to people. I really enjoy that. But I think the making of the connections and kind of finding a path for me for a career and something that I enjoy. That's kind of how I changed. I think if it was anything else other than range, I feel like I might have floated around a little bit and not quite felt as on such a steady path. So people for sure and connections and community. .> Yeah, I'll react to that just quickly to what both of you said. I'm not an extrovert. I don't mind being on a microphone. I don't like being on a camera. And at the bar, I'm the person who stands on the wall and just listens to everybody. And to Josh's point, I think having content to talk about, you know, creates conversation and allows me to participate in people, in conversation where it looks like I'm not shy, even though I probably am. And this has been a good group for that. Allysa.

>> You know, just like everyone else said, I think community has been a huge part of it for me. I never really felt like I found a community until I got involved in the range program at UNR. But I also feel like one of the things that I have really gained is just the ability to see things with a very open mind and realize that there's many different ways to find an answer to your problem. Or you may never find an answer to the question that you're asking. But that's not a bad thing. And just the pursuit of knowledge and the pursuit of bettering my ability to learn from others, I think is one of the greatest skills I've gotten from my time at UNR and just my time in the range world really.

>> Thank you. I think I want to ask a question about physical or biological changes. We had a special issue of rangelands in June 2022 on invasives and wildfire. The title was Changing with the Range. And you know, one theme of that was that successional changes in species composition are oftentimes not reversible. We may be able to guide a plant community on a pathway toward greater complexity, more perennials, higher resilience, but it's not likely to match whatever we might think was there in 1450. And you'll hear, again, as the saying goes, you never stand in the same river twice. What kinds of, I guess, macro level plant community changes have you seen or experienced in the places where you where you work in?

>> I haven't been working very long, but I have grown up in Nevada. And you know, living in Nevada, one of the biggest issues is the wild horse and burro population. And I feel like it's just very evident when you go out on the range limbs to see what's happening out there. And I don't, I don't know if there's a right answer or wrong answer, but I think that really learning how to move forward, because we're never going to get, like you said, back to what it was. And so it's really important to learn how to adapt and try to create something stronger while still building things that everyone is going to. And not everyone's going to be okay with every decision that's made on rangelands, but there needs to be some sort of middle ground somewhere.

>> Thank you. Kaylee.

>> Yeah, back to your point about the fire and things. So that has been my biggest, the thing that I've seen change the most out there. And so where I'm at right now in Idaho on the eastern side of Idaho, just a couple years ago, we had the moose fire. It was, I can't think of it off the top of my head right now, but it was it was fairly large. Did some real, real devastating work on our section of the forest. And then just I actually grew up just over the border in California here in Susanville. And a handful of years ago, they had the Dixie fire come through. And I believe, don't quote me on this, but I believe it's the largest fire in California State history. Very, very devastating. And so seeing these landscapes, you know, especially like that, seeing these landscapes that I have explored my entire life, and I know what they look like. [Inaudible] who have worked them. My dad was a logger. You know, I grew up knowing lots of ranchers who use those areas and things like that. So those kind of social and economic changes as well, stemming from some of the [inaudible] this has been really evident to me. And similar to you, I don't know the right or wrong answer. I don't think, you know, there's never really one answer that's going to fit everything. And you know, the whole, I know everybody here that is taking any sort of range class and thinking about whatever, it depends. And it just depends. And so the, you know, I don't, I don't know how to go about tackling some of those big changes like that. I know we can do little by little, but sometimes those, it's too hard sometimes to wrap your head around how big of a scale some of these changes are happening at. A lot of smart people here in this building, you know, and coming together. And my experience and your experience and your experience, maybe we can start to wrap our head around some of these changes.

>> Go back to Dorothy Sayers' synthesis of experience. None of us solve any of those things on our own. For anybody who's a little bit behind on keeping up with the podcast feed I interviewed Jay Smith and Joel Yelich about that moose fire just this last week. Ironically, these things kind of come in waves. I also interviewed Dave Daly, and that episode hasn't come out yet. But you know, they had, they had, both were severe fires. Both of them had very different experiences. Dave lost nearly 400 mother cows burned alive in the fire. That has changed their family, you know, forever. And the forest, you know, a cathedral of trees that's gone is, which has been their family's experience for 100 years. That changes them. The forest is different. You know, on the J Lazy S, they didn't, they didn't really lose any animals. And you know, it's a success story in that they were able to use virtual fencing to keep grazing the allotment, even though about a third of it burned and there were no fences, you know, physical fences to keep animals out of the burn area. But then we make these connections and then learn to manage together. I lost track of which way we're going. Who hasn't answered yet? Okay.

>> So for me, it's definitely been the woody encroachment growing up around the Colorado, the Central Rockies there. Woody encroachment from the eastern plains as well as a lot of the mining history, you know, taking a lot of that lumber out and we dealing with what was left. Not only the woody encroachment but also the erosion effects and how that has changed how people manage that land and then have to manage it into the future. And so it's a lot of unknowns for sure. But then I take a step back. I'm always looking at old imagery. I find it fascinating what it used to look like, what it could look like now. And then I also look at it from, like, well, it's not that long ago. You know, 100 years ago, not that long ago in the grand schemes of things of what we try to manage. And so it's everything is possible. It reminds me things are possible that we can take small steps and make changes, significant changes.

>> Yeah, that also reminds me of the importance of documenting some of those changes. You know, to your point, I can't tell you how many ranchers have said to me, you know, we're standing in a spot, and they'll say you should have seen what this looked like 20 years ago. And they almost always mean that it looks better than it looked 20 years ago, either because they went from, you know, a 77 day grazing period to a seven day grazing period or whatever the change might have been. But inevitably, you know, their perception is that it has changed. And they're probably right. But they can't quantify it, and they may not be able to describe what specific plant community attributes changed. And oftentimes, they don't have any evidence. And so you get somebody who's a brand new, you know, range con just landed two months ago, and they have this arbitrary environmental quality scale in their head. And in their minds, it's a six, and I want to be a nine. The rancher thinks it was a two, and his opinion is now a seven. I'm just making up numbers, but you know, he has seen real improvement that he can't prove and can't quantify. And the person who's new to that specific location isn't aware of the changes and also doesn't have any evidence. And there's some, it takes a while to build enough trust that, you know, a person could believe somebody else's opinion. Catherine.

>> So I grew up in Central Texas about an hour north of San Antonio, where 50 years ago there wasn't many people out there. But with everybody deciding that's a wonderful place to live and want to be close to San Antonio and Austin and in the Hill Country, which my dad said is too pretty, everybody wants to live there. There's a lot of ranchettes is what they're calling them now, just smaller tracts of land that people have subdivided off of the larger ranches that used to be there. Built small acreages and sometimes run cattle, sometimes not. But even still it's a much smaller scale there than it used to be, you know, 50 years ago or less.

>> Paige, what are your thoughts about how you've been changed or what physical changes you have seen?

>> Yeah. Well, I'm going to hop on this bandwagon and say woody plant encroachment. I think that's certainly been the most pervasive observation that I've made, but also the thing that I've most commonly heard from producers that I work with. And I think agencies like US Forest Service or BLM even state grazing leases, their knee jerk response to changing range line conditions like woody plant encroachments has often been to reduce AUMs. And I think ecologically speaking, we know that that's not often the right thing to do to get plant communities back to wherever we want. Whether that be for production or some kind of biodiversity goal. But I think we need, what the issues that we have with woody plant encroachment tells me is that we're having issues communicating with one another. And while some of us recognize the ecological benefits that we can have with grazing management, it seems like a lot of the decision makers don't yet understand that.

>> No, that's good. You guys are really good and I actually had no idea that you're really good. This is totally unscripted, but my next question prompt was that I just finished reading Dan Dagget's book, Gardeners of Eden. And this woody encroachment is one of the illustrations that he gives in there. And one of his points is that even in rehabilitation efforts, our goal has to be to restore relationships, not just things. You know, so to this point, you can't just take out the woody plants and then whatever is left is good. We have to restore ecological relationships and processes that make things work, make things work. He was speaking ecologically, but I think it's as applicable socially. We've gotten at that a bit. But here's another question. You know what kinds of, what kinds of social activities or ways of thinking or patterns of behavior or modes of conversation have you experienced that have been effective in building or rebuilding relationships, you know, either establishing them or rebuilding relationships that have been broken or maintaining healthy relationships. If anybody's got a thought, we'll just move the mic instead of forcing everyone to cough up an answer.

>> Definitely, just, we're doing a lot of ranch tours and little workshops. And that has brought that community aspect back to some of the folks, especially with new folks coming in. It's given them not that agency person to go to but that neighbor to go to when they're not from there and somebody else to talk to and pose questions and serve as a mentor for the newer folks coming in. Or, and it's kind of really funny to watch some of the families that have been there. The older generation takes some folks under their wing and actually give back that way, because they love it. They, you know they, their kids maybe moved away, but there's somebody new coming in and they have that person to mentor and work with.

>> Yeah, thinking about, you know, we can do this work on the ground to fix these things. But if, it's the people around that are utilizing those areas or working them or what have you, those relationships are broken or there's a knowledge gap there or something like that. Again it comes back to people like you were saying. How do we do that? And I think that there are some really good examples of that currently happening. And since we talked about fire recent, just a minute ago too, one thing that came to mind with this question now is, on the north side, I'm a Humboldt State alumni and on North Coast of California there are some really cool burning programs happening with prescribed burn associations as well as tribal groups. And so you know, historically, tribal groups, they burned and they managed landscapes the entire time they were here, since time immemorial. And allowing working on repairing those relationships and sharing knowledge and tools across those relationships and giving people back the power and the tools to things the way they need to be done I think is really, really important. And I'm seeing a lot of that happen nowadays. I know that there are prescribed burn associations popping up all over on the North Coast of California and as well as some other areas within the state. I know they're fairly popular kind of in other areas of the country, but it's kind of a new thing, you know, over there. But getting those tools, getting the knowledge back to the people that need it. That use it, that are going to implement it rather than just fixing the ground stuff I think is really important. Anybody else have an idea? Catherine?

>> Just to kind of bounce off that a little bit. I specifically haven't worked too much with a more of an extension position, but I've talked to people who have. And they say the biggest thing with them coming into a new position, talking to people and building those relationships, and then just kind of come into the operation and understand what's going on currently. Not necessarily offering a bunch of ideas which I know that is important for sure at some point. But to make people more receptive to what you have to say, you have to first understand where they're coming from, their ideas, their viewpoints, and build a relationship first with that individual and person in order to bring up your ideas. Like hey, this has been working for you so far, but I think if we did this instead, it could work a little bit better. But first, building that relationship in order to offer that suggestion.

>> I might just add, showing up where people tends to work a lot for me. When I got to California, I was first starting my PhD and didn't know a single rancher there. And I wound up building a really incredible network of producers there just by going to their ranch field days, meeting them at the farmers markets. And then once you start to build that trust in those relationships, you know, they'll call you to, you know, come to a state grazing lease and be at the hearing because they might lose their grazing. It just feels like showing up for people, even though you might not agree on everything that's going on or every decision that's made, builds a repertoire and a level of trust that I feel like really, really catapults you into trusting one another to exchange information that might not have gone that way otherwise. So it feels like in range lands, it's particularly important. You know, we have a very diverse group of people. We bring a lot of different thoughts and backgrounds. And having that baseline of trust by showing up for one another feels like a really important way to go.

>> Yeah, I'll make a comment while anybody else who wants to speak, we can pass the mic around. I was going to mention that I've also found that meeting and talking on an actual landscape is really valuable. I can't count the number of times I've been in a meeting room and, you know, people are talking back and forth about what's good, what's bad, you know, what changes we expect to see with this or that grazing plan. And a lot of those arguments get settled if you're looking at an actual plant community where we can talk about what is here and where did it come from and what do we think the current influences are, moving it toward that it, it settles a lot of things that would otherwise be arguments.

>> Yeah, my mind went to kind of the same thing, building rapport with people. So I just spent some time on a family's ranch in California, and when I was talking to them, telling them about my degree path what I'd like to do, their interest hackles raised up a little bit first. And he was like, well, you know, I'm antigovernment. I don't, I don't believe in, you know, the California Government what they're doing. And then I kind of talked to him about like, you know, my perspective and I've, you know, just graduating college, plenty of my friends work for the government. Like they're trying to do plenty of good. And then we just talked about, you know, I asked him, okay, well, what, what kind of plant communities do you have here? Like, what is this grass that's growing? And they really didn't know. They knew a lot about it, but they didn't know the specifics. And so we talked a lot about, you know, if you bring people in that can maybe identify these types of plants and maybe help you with some of your invasive species, all that can do really is help you when you just gain more knowledge. And so his mind kind of went more from, oh well, the government is, you know, against me. And you know, I'm fighting against it as a rancher to maybe a little more perspective of okay, I can still work with these people and maybe gain knowledge, even if I don't agree with everything that they're saying or doing to my operation.

>> We've talked a lot about what has changed, what kinds of things are effective in changing other people. One of the things I'm curious about is what, what do you hope will have changed. I think Dave actually asked this question in one of the pre-meetings. You know, what do you hope will have changed or what do you think will have changed 50 years from now? People, rang lands, science. You name it.

>> Something that I really hope will start shifting is, I mean, we live in an age where you have access to information, all information any time, anything you want to know, you can find out. And so I really hope that, you know, earlier the first question about what I see and change on the range. I talked about people and the demographics of people, the people interested in rangelands is changing. The people that want to be associated and working with their utilizing rangelands, that's changing. And so I really hope that we can start to see a shift in kind of that, the education aspect of that. There's so much information out there. So how do we, how do we get the correct information to those individuals who are now starting to become interested in rangelands? You know, we have, from a forest service perspective, you know, we have all of these uses on the landscape. And as a range specialists, I run into some issues with other user groups, you know, recreationalists or whatever, UTVs, hiker, bicyclists. And so how do, how do we educate those other users about the importance of rangelands, the importance of grazing, or even if it's just, even if there's no animals grazing, it's just, you know, an open landscape. How do we explain the importance of staying on the roads with your UTV? How do we, how do we educate those users who have every right to be out there utilizing their public lands. But how do we get them some information to say hey, we don't just, it's not that we don't want you out there. We just want to make sure you're protecting this resource so that way future generations can also utilize it and enjoy it. And so I think, I hope to start seeing a shift in some, some of the outreach and education for those individuals. And hopefully, you know, you're never going to change everybody's mind or, you know, whatever. But hopefully we can start to see a shift in perspective of how important rangelands are and why it's important, you know, to maintain them.

>> Yeah. And we have some, an increasing number of tools for lack of a better word, to begin to communicate some of that. As many people, hopefully you're aware, the Society for Range Management published a kind of a landmark ecosystem services report in the last year. And it's tremendously valuable information for people who think that rangelands are just places where cattle range. There's a pretty large number of things that are beneficial to everybody and are being taken care of by people who manage rangelands. Josh.

>> I guess I'll take it a little different direction. But back to the community, even more so family, you know. We're not, a lot of agricultural families aren't as big as they used to be. But I don't want to say that hopefully in the future it's not just people consider what their blood is, but you know, all the other different members and the partnerships that that's your family. And hopefully that will help also cure this mental health crisis that we have in the agricultural industry.

>> A lot of people, like most said earlier, when you tell them you have a degree in range science, like well, what's that? What does that mean? And so you have to explain a little bit more which just kind of shows that everybody in the room knows exactly what we're talking about. But you walk outside 200 yards away from this building, ask somebody what range is, they have no idea what you're talking about. So it's maybe a matter of getting the information out to say the general public. But people maybe are unfamiliar with rangeland, public land, the whole concept of what the area that people think oh, there's nothing out there when you're driving through it. But really, there's a lot actually going on out there. And just keeping people in the loop and actually educating on what that is. And even though there's all that, all the information you could possibly want at your fingertips with the internet now, there's still a huge notch gap with people about what rangelands are and how they can impact them. Maybe indirectly of SARS regulations that may come up for voting or just the pure knowledge of knowing what's out there and knowing what people on the land are doing out there.

>> Yeah, I tend to be a hopeless optimist. Maybe that's an oxymoron. I'm a hopeful optimist, but I'm always an optimist. And I feel like there's actually growing attention and interest from people that otherwise have no connection to rangelands to rangelands. A friend of mine who's a rancher in Ellensburg has an attorney who has a house near his southern border. And when the attorney is in that house, because it's not his only residence, he asked the rancher if he can put the cows in there because he likes seeing the cows. And I think that's probably not an isolated incident. I think also too, I'm prone to think in terms of words. It sounds like I can think on my feet, but I actually write to find out what I'm thinking and don't really like having to think on my feet. But we are a word based culture. And we actually had a conversation in a committee meeting yesterday. I was pointing out that in neither the SRM glossary or in the British Grassland Society terminology for forages and grazing lands, is there a definition of pastoralists. So we're coming up to the International Year of Rangelands and Pastoralists. There's probably some people that have never seen that word before and are wondering what it is. And we don't have a definition. And Lawrence Fake our health lead pointed out that we probably would not be able to get range scientists to agree on a definition of what a pastoralist is. Which is a thing that limits putting a definition out there and that we might be better served by publishing photographs and videos and things that illustrate pastoralism instead of attempting to nail it down with words. But back to the point about how to communicate with people. I think telling stories is a good way of doing that. I think I mentioned this last episode with Jay Smith and Joel Yelich that we're working with the Idaho Rangeland Resources Commission to tell rancher stories in the next year on the podcast and shift a little bit away from just science communication. Which tends to be, I want to deliver, you know. A range of ecology 501. But what people need to hear, especially if we're trying to communicate with the non-agricultural audiences, is they need to see stories about people that are doing amazing, beautiful things, managing landscapes and animals and storing soil carbon. And I mean it's a good story to tell. And I think, I think there's a great future in getting that word out because we don't have anything to be afraid of, I don't think.

>> Yeah, I was thinking about what kind of change do I want to see. And I think, I'd like to see more collaboration and less competition. It feels like a lot of the reason that we don't know all the things that we could know about range and soil carbon, rangeland health restoration, is because scientists like myself, though not me, I'm still young, not my fault, have been working in their disciplinary silos, right. And so but because rangelands are, their social, ecological systems are really complex. We really don't start to answer those questions until we get people working together. So that's soil biogeochemistry, plant physiologists, ruminant nutritionists, rangeland ecologists, like these are the types of people that need to be working together to answer these really complicated questions that we have. But not only that, I want to see those collaborative groups of scientists working with ranchers. I think we're starting to recognize that the types of questions we can answer based on these tiny replicated grazing plots at universities are pretty limited. And we need to start understanding how those answers change when we apply our scientific questions to the types of scales and scopes where grazing is actually taking place. So I'm thankful to work on a project where we're doing that now. But it's the first time I've had that kind of light bulb go off like oh, we need to be working together. And the producers have this entirely different way of knowing but have much more place based knowledge about what's going on in their operation than we will ever have. And so it doesn't feel like it makes much sense to try and answer these questions without all of those people working together. I'd like to see that.

>> We're also prone and I think to focus on the ways in which we're different. And Anna Claire, on the zoom, pointed out in a podcast episode a while back that, you know, we even have statistical methods that are designed to identify the differences. Then we should probably spend some effort both socially and scientifically identifying things that are common. You know, one of those is that a lot of people that we may have very different ideas from and might be considered enemies in terms of how we think lands should be managed actually have quite a lot of overlap in what we think should be out there on the ground. The example, I think I mentioned last year that I had an example of where there was a major sociological barrier that was bridged by an experience that I had. I had done several grazing debates on the campus of Central Washington University with a pretty well known and colorful anti-grazing activist who was actually fairly involved with the Western Watersheds Project. And you know, we'd go at it hammer and tongs for three hours and actually have a good time. But he wouldn't be convinced. I think I convinced students. But I was out with my family on a fall afternoon on a river where the salmon were spawning. And we're out there on the rocks playing around. I've got a bunch of little kids in the water, and I hear somebody yelling at me from over farther toward the shore. And I had no idea what was going on. Well, it was this, this guy was a salmon proponent, and he was saying this is an off limits area. You're not, nobody is supposed to be out there. Well, I walked over and the two of us recognized each other, and it totally changed the nature of our relationship by the fact that I was investing time taking my family out to go see the salmon spawning and just play in the river on a Saturday afternoon. And, you know, we realized in conversation that we have probably 99% overlap in in what we think the plant community should be. We just have different ideas about the means to get there. And he very much softened in his opinion of livestock grazing by some of the demonstration projects that we were doing through extension. Trying to show places where grazing could be done in a way that would maintain and maybe even improve the native plant community in a semi-arid eight inch precipitation zone. It was a major, it was a major sociological experience for me for sure because I'm not prone to move toward people that I consider to be enemies, you know, that not in a capital E kind of way. But those are powerful experiences that shape how we do things for the rest of our lives. Did we get through everybody on what you hope to see in 50 years?

>> Tip it's interesting you brought that up because that's actually the exact way that I was kind of going with this. Thinking about how in this day and age, everyone really has a solidified opinion about a lot of things. And whether that's educated or not, I see it all the time. You know, I see a lot of things online. The wild horse and burro issue is really big. You see a lot of people that are very, very opinionated one way or the other, and they'll just sit and argue in the comments sections on Facebook pages. And none of it is constructive. But so what I would really like to see moving forward is maybe more, and this is quite optimistic of me, but to see just people maybe softening a little and more willing to hear out what other people have to say and just really, you know, even though I saw this video that seemed so compelling, you know, maybe it was, maybe it was propaganda. Or maybe it was correct and I am really firm in my belief here. That's kind of what I would like to see is more, more not changing of the sides, but just hearing other people out.

>> Yeah, welcome to the club. Kaylee, go ahead.

>> Yeah so I mean, earlier I mentioned that I'm a people person. I love to talk. I love to talk. I'll talk to anybody. Come talk to me. But I've heard somewhere, read somewhere fairly recently that talking is mostly listening. And I really resonated with that because as much as I love to talk, and I will talk, and that's probably why Dave asked me to be up here to talk, I really enjoy listening to other people. And I think if we can get to that point where people are more accepting to listening to other people instead of just talking, we could, this is big. We could solve a lot of problems.

>> Yeah, like we said, it's not wishful thinking. It's optimistic thinking. And whether that's going to happen or not, you know, it's just what we would like to see moving forward. That's kind of I think a big thing.

>> Yeah, I almost think the proliferation of information on the internet has pushed us back toward face to face conversation. I actually don't read much news. And toward the beginning of COVID, during the years that must not be named, I started trying to find out what was going on in the rest of the world. And I gave up pretty quick because I felt like I couldn't trust anything I read anywhere. So I quit reading the news, and I had actually caused us to, you know, get to know next door neighbors in a way that we hadn't before because we're all working remotely, you know, sitting on the front lawn on a computer trying to get something done. And you get to know your neighbor. But I see, I almost see some of that going on in professional societies as well, whether it's, I think, more of an emphasis, a healthy emphasis, on individual communication and not just, not just trying to share facts. Somebody mentioned a little bit ago that we need to get facts out there. I agree, and I'm prone to gravitate toward that, but we don't, we don't usually influence people by just communicating facts. You know, we think that we're scientifically minded, so we assume that if we give somebody else the same facts we've got, they'll have the same opinion and make the same decisions with the same facts that we would make. But it doesn't actually work that way.

>> Right. A lot of the times the facts are out there, but it's really up to people if they want to, to see them or read them, or even acknowledge that they want to do that.

>> Right then we have competing facts. I mean we can, going back to these grazing debates on campus, you know, you can, so say prove anything you want by selectively citing 100 different articles, You know, there's so much out there that you can demonstrate anything you want. The real test is to try to pull it all together. And you have to form, you know, scientifically informed but socially informed opinions that affect people in real places with real landscapes.

>> You know, that's something I want to just echo on is like facts and working with different operations and everything else. And also growing up parallel to the agricultural community and being involved in different things. I thought I had a pretty good understanding and this last couple of years of starting my own operation and really having that financials stake into things. For as much as I know, I disproved everything else I thought I knew just because I had to learn that lesson firsthand. And it was like oh, I learned so much more by failing at something. Even though I knew the facts and knew how it should have been done and how it should have worked. It's taught me a lot more, and it's maybe go back to my one mentor's question is just always asking why. And I come back to that. Well, why didn't that work? Why? Why did I do it that way? It goes back to those decision models, always trying to make sure I know why and what can go into it.

>> I might come back around Paige and see if you have any thoughts about soybean burgers. You don't have to.

>> How much time do we have? We could make a whole session about this.

>> Yeah,

>> Okay. I hear we have plenty of time.

>> So the question is about can we. can we save the environment by swapping from beef burgers to soybean burgers? And I think that's probably cropping out of headlines that have been around for, I don't know, some seven, eight years now about the greenhouse gas footprint of cattle. I think it's no secret that I mean, humans emit greenhouse gas emissions. Agriculture is a big piece of our greenhouse gas footprint on Earth. And there are different ways of thinking about that footprint, right. One is on a greenhouse gas unit per unit of product. So in beef, we tend to think of it as CO2, kilograms of CO2 per kilogram of beef. So how many greenhouse gas emissions are we emitting per pound of whatever it is that we're eating? And cattle tend to get a really bad rap because they produce something called methane, we all know, and that is a direct byproduct of enteric fermentation. And so, you know, over the past 10 years, we've seen all of this science emerge to try and understand ways that we can mitigate the greenhouse gas footprint of cattle, some of which are uniquely targeted toward enteric fermentation, things like seaweed additives, higher energy diets. But I think what we're kind of failing to realize in that is there's a reason why enteric fermentation is taking place. There's a reason why that method of metabolism evolved on grass and rangelands. And that's so that we can turn inedible cellulosic fibrous materials like grass into things like meat, milk, and fiber. That's something that cattle evolved to do, and that comes at the cost of enteric methane. And so unless we want to rid the planet of all grazing herbivores, we won't be rid of that form of greenhouse gas emissions. And so we're going to have to find a way to contend with it. But it's one of those emissions that doesn't have to be zero in order for us to be making progress. And so, you know, I think there are things that we can do as far as. Improving management, the quality of feed, to help get us at a lower greenhouse gas footprint with our grazing remnants. But I also. Think it requires having conversations with folks to get them to understand that this is an ecological question that you can't answer by talking only about greenhouse gas emissions. So if we value greenhouse gas emissions, for example, and not things like ecological health of our grass and rangelands, that's going to tend to make us favor something like a soybean burger, and then the grazing is going to come at too high of a greenhouse gas cost, and we're going to rip all of that land up and turn it into row cropping operations. So our soybean burger might be less greenhouse gas intensive, but it also comes at a higher land use cost. And I think recognizing some of these other things that tie this whole question together is important, especially when we're talking about the ecological footprint. Not only in terms of greenhouse gases but ecological health. Soil carbon, plant communities, maintaining rangelands as working landscape. Those are all things that we can't quantify on a greenhouse gas basis.

>> Yeah, I'm fond of saying that where we plant a soybean, you've got to get rid of everything else that was there before there was a soybean field. And the soybean field is not producing the variety of ecosystem goods and services that are described in this excellent ecosystem services report. And it neither is it a stable sink for carbon. And I think that, you know, depending on what spatial and temporal scale you look at these things in, you get different answers. And that seems to be what gets lost in the in the equation.

>> Yeah, and I often get questions like that from folks who are of the mind that we need to keep agricultural landscapes really intensive and everything else wild. And that is the dichotomy with which I think many of those folks see the world. And I think that it, it's lost on them, the middle ground that rangelands play. These are working landscapes, but they're also wild for a lot of intents and purposes. It would look very different to intensify those landscapes in order to produce things like corn and soybeans, and that might not come with the types of benefits I think that they're thinking of. So maybe on a greenhouse gas basis that might come out somewhere in the middle. But on an ecological health, planetary global health, that's not going to get us where we need to go.

>> Yeah, I have an idea here, Dave. I'm out of questions, and we weren't going to do Q&A because we were afraid it would turn into a comment session instead of questions. But I think we have time maybe for a few questions. And I think that could actually be productive. We're sitting here talking about productive conversation. And we've got, we can keep one mic up here and stick one out there.

>> I might try two actually, but my first one is for Paige. Reno, Nevada is a long way from Georgia College.

>> Oh my gosh.

>> And I'm interested your bio, and I'm really interested in knowing what or who led you to your life in range, in range science. And the second question is it woody encroachment or fire suppression, since we think about the importance of woody, of words. The next question for everybody.

>> Yeah, I'll answer the first one, then I'll pass it around for the second. I grew up in an ag community. I grew up in rural Georgia, but I didn't grow up on a farm or ranch. And during undergrad I was at a, you know, I went to school at a liberal arts university. I was, I was always science minded but didn't quite know what I wanted to do with that. And as a part of a liberal arts education, you've got to take classes outside of your discipline to meet your degree requirements. One of those classes I took was called food ethics, and it was taught by a vegan philosophy professor. And we wound up spending an entire week on the greenhouse gas footprint of livestock. And that just, light bulbs started firing off. And so I became like a manic reader. All the books I could get my hands. Joel Salatin, Omnivore's Dilemma, you know, the classic things that get people started. That's where I got started. And at the same time, I wound up making my first B as an undergraduate in a class, and I being the brat that I was, went to complain to the department chair of my department. And he was like, yeah, yeah, yeah, the B, but have you thought about doing research? And I was like well, no, not really. So it was like these two things that happened kind of in perfect unison. One was this issue that I became really interested in. Second was an opportunity to ask questions in a research setting, but I could design the questions. And so given that opportunity, I knew I was interested in the environmental footprint of livestock, things that we could do. So I got started on research and then wound up at Michigan State University. I did my master's in animal science with Jason Roundtree. But I still was on that environmental health question. Like, what can we do to reduce these greenhouse gas emissions? And that's how I found soil carbon. So soil carbon sequestration turns out to be a really important opportunity to do that. And that's the long and short of it. But I think I like to tell people I came to carbon by way of cows. And that is the truth.

>> Yeah. So about the woody plant, woody, plant encroachment versus fire suppression. It depends a lot on your ecosystem, I think. So there's some areas with shorter fire return frequencies, some with longer. It just depends on the climatic factors over the last several thousand years in that area which have led to different plant communities which can either sustain more fire or fire resistance. So a lot of my experience has been in the central part of the United States. A lot of the Great Plains region woody fire, or woody plant encroachment is a major issue because of fire suppression. And so we have a lot of woody plants coming in where the fire frequency, and there should be about two to five years in that area where it's primarily grasses. Grasses are less susceptible to fire. But if you come out to this area, more sagebrush step area, sagebrush is not fire resistant at all. If you run a hot fire through there, you're going to kill a lot of the sagebrush. It's going to take a long time for that to grow back. If it can get established relatively quickly. So it depends a lot on the ecosystem as if you're wanting more fire suppression necessarily or if you're wanting more fire on the ground. And the Great Plains, there's not enough fire on the ground. Then if you come out here, there's too much fire on the ground.

>> Anybody else want to respond to that? Next question.

>> In the last 10 minutes, Josh started talking about the mental health crisis in agriculture and natural resources. I don't know if you can expand on that.

>> Yeah. So through my work, I've been able to work with a lot of different people and been working with some of those producers. I've been touched by that suicide from just family members, whether they're directly involved or they are in there. And it's a lot of them were passionate about what they worked on, but they didn't share that externally. They took all that pressure. And you and you can look at a lot of the managers that I've worked with too, that they're just so passionate, and they won't express that and share that. And so that they take it to heart, and it goes back to the whole competition thing. Everybody's in competition with each other, and so they don't want to share their doubts, their hardships of things. You know, making that, barely making that payment or any of those things at all. And so hopefully being able to share those things, you know put that, open up those relationships so, you know, they have other avenues to bring in income, bring in opinions that people can help share that burden, I guess, is where I help with that.

>> Right, we need to be a little bit pushy and pushier than maybe we're comfortable with to get into people's lives so that you're even aware that somebody is struggling.

>> I think a lot of that too, growing up kind of in Nevada cowboy culture, one of the things that's kind of cool is, especially in younger circles, is drinking and drinking excessively. And sometimes I see that that is, you know, cowboys I, you know, drank a bottle of Jack before I got on my horse this morning at 4:00 in the morning. And I think that that can really start snowballing and, you know, it's a lot of these things behind closed doors just like Josh was talking about. I think there's a lot more of it than you expect and has a bigger impact than a lot of people let on.

>> Any more questions, Dave? You got one in the back, in the middle.

>> So the question was asked, how's it going to change in the next 50 years? I was surprised I didn't hear much about technology. How is generative AI going to affect range management in the next 50 years?

>> That's a really good question. << Nothing can go wrong, can go wrong, can go wrong, can't go wrong.

>> As I think there's a reason I didn't touch on that because I, it's, it's almost, I almost don't want to think about it a little bit. I mean the same reason as, you know, Josh is like I think that I'd hate to stray so far from the foundations. And I think that's also where a lot of the misunderstandings and things come from. I'm the type of person that if you tell me this one thing and sure I can take it as fact, but I would really like to know all the backstory and all the things and why it's happening that way or what have you. And so I think that jump to these new technologies is, makes me a little nervous. And so I, and I'm not a tech person. And so I just, it makes me nervous to think about that. And so I don't, I don't think I have an answer, but I think personally that's why I didn't touch on any of that.

>> If we get to the point where much of what's published on the internet has itself been produced by artificial intelligence, now we get into this death spiral where it's just feeding itself and the quality of the, the quality of the output begins to decline rapidly once there's not anything that's real that's feeding it. That's just one prognostication. So I'm hopeful that, that we will be maybe one of the holdouts because we're dealing with real places and not just words on the internet.

>> Definitely, I I'm kind of, I'm. I'm scared of it. Mainly because I'm a builder. I like to build things. I like to know how it works and tear it apart so.

>> I might be a bit more optimistic about technology on range. I think as long as we continue to see technology as a tool, which is what it is, it's a tool in the toolbox, then I don't, I don't think that there's necessarily anything to be afraid of because it's still up to us on how to implement that tool to help us do what we want to do on rangelands. There are, I guess I'm thinking mostly in my own work, there are a lot of things that technology innovations could help us with. Increasing efficiency of measuring soil carbon, increasing the accuracy with which we're able to measure bulk density. These are real technological hurdles that we are facing now that are preventing us from getting to the point where we can rapidly measure soil carbon and use that to help inform on the ground day-to-day decision making. Which is where I'd like for us to be eventually. But it feels like a really applied way that I see technology being able to help us fill, of course, with the stopgap measures that we need to build in. But I think, I remain optimistic about it.

>> Yeah, I am too. I do think the difference between technological tools and artificial intelligence.

>> Yeah, just to kind of bounce off the technological tools like Paige was saying, I think it is a very helpful tool, especially on the massive amounts of rangeland that most of us work with. It's hard to get to every single area, and you sure enough can't do production studies on every single acre of land. So if you can get some good estimates based on technology, that's awesome. I do think it, you do need to take it with a grain of salt and also have some ground truth things, some ground checking like Josh was saying. You can't just totally rely on that strictly. Or my job was [inaudible]. We have a bunch of per renewals coming up. And going through those documents they say, oh, we found these areas on one allotment, and we didn't get to go to the other allotment, but we think it's probably similar there as well. So we're going to be giving you these things to go with. It's like, well, that doesn't even apply. And if you would go out to the [inaudible], you would have seen that too. But just based on the work they did in office, that was the conclusion they came to.

>> Anybody else want to respond? Okay, I see the sheep hook coming from the side of the stage. So I will finish it up here. I consider myself an early adopter, but there's some, I have been resistant to some technologies. One of them is social media. I mentioned yesterday in a committee meeting that I've gotten dragged kicking and screaming into the world of Facebook. So in the interest of trying to get the podcast out to the non-agricultural crowd, the non-range nerd crowd, there is now a Facebook page for the podcast. I think I said that right. And I'm told by the media person that we need people to like the Facebook page, whatever that means. But somehow that's helpful. So there's also a really simple website at, and at the top is a link to the Facebook page. You can also just search for it. Somebody asked us wanting to know about Spotify. We're not on Spotify yet. I haven't sold my soul yet to Spotify, but we're dickering about the price. And but it is available on most of the podcasts aggregators that just use a RSS feed. So Apple Podcast, Stitcher, Podbean, the ones that that are a little bit simpler to use, we've got it. So if you never listen to Art of Range podcast, this will be out probably in a couple months. Go listen and like us on Facebook. I really don't like saying that. So I'm going to invite our intrepid President Barry Perryman back to the stage to finish us out this morning. Thank you all, panelists.

>> 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 email 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 Connors Communications in the College of Agricultural Human and Nashville 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

Society for Range Management 2024 annual meeting and full conference program.


We want your input

Future podcasting funding depends on listener feedback. Please take a minute of your time to respond to this short survey.

Give Feedback

Taking suggestions

Have a question for us to answer on air, or a topic suggestion for a future episode? Email