AoR 131: Society for Range Mgmt Plenary 2 "Change on the Range", with Experienced Professionals

It's been said there is wisdom in a multitude of counselors. But in the same way that not all practice makes perfect, only good practice, it's important to listen to people with a proven record of range management success. This panel of experienced range professionals discusses principles that have helped them adapt well personally and professionally to change. Join my discussion with John Ruhs, Annie Overland, James Stewart, and Liz Munn recorded during the 2024 SRM plenary session. 


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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 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 facilities 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. Welcome to the Art of Range podcast. I said yesterday that I'm optimistic about the future of Rangelands because we have some competent young people getting into the mix. But I'm also optimistic because we have folks with experience, also still in the mix, because you don't really retire from caring. I'm going to butcher yesterday's plant community metaphor a little bit further here. You all are not seedlings. You're from the middle of the age class distribution. Somebody pointed out yesterday to me that probably looks more like an hourglass than a pyramid and like my figure. But you seem to have good figure. You've got good rooting, depth, leaf spread, active photosynthetic tissue. You're not old, not decadent. All right, we can give it up now.

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Haven't turned to dust yet. Back to my optimism. We live in a culture that glorifies youth. And I'm thankful to be in a subculture in which youth value older people. And you all are, I suspect, are willing to be influenced by younger people. And I think you're probably representative of the rest of this crowd. And I think that's a helpful and distinctive characteristic of this tribe. But I want to start by asking, how did you get into range work? This is a big field, at least in terms of subject matter possibilities, but maybe not big in numbers of people. This is a road less traveled and most of us, like Paige reported yesterday, didn't come here in a straight line. And good journeys usually go that way. So anyone can jump in. How did you get into doing range work?

>> I grew up on my -- my address growing up was 34 14 Neigh and Bray Drive. It was not paved. The neighbor wanted to call it Jackass Lane, but the county wouldn't let him. So I grew up in a rural area. My first memories are horseback. At the age of nine, I started working for the neighbors and I started learning lessons as nature, as I listened to nature, as I experienced nature, whether sitting by [inaudible] Creek, digging post holes, hundreds of post holes. I learned those soil horizons without knowing that they were soil horizons. I learned about mule and deer migration to the miles of fence and twisted wires and broken wires that I fixed on the ranch and the farm. I learned about economics at nine years old. I got my first check for $83 and I remember being mad that the government got 13 of that. I learned the value of listening to nature as I watched water flow, as I irrigated fields. So nature has always been, since my earliest memories, a place to learn and grow. Wasn't the smartest kid, but I was strong and the farmers and ranchers took advantage of that as in my youth, I learned the value relationships as a 15-year-old when one of my best friends died. His name was Christian, who my son is named after. So there's been a lot of lessons in range management that I've learned. I learned about mentorship as a young father and a range professional who is probably in this audience. He saw more value and opportunity in myself than I did when he said, you need to go to school, go to Utah State, [inaudible] and go study range. So I'm grateful for all these lessons of people, of money, and ecology that I really learned through the years, growing up from a young age. And there's a whole lot more history than that, but hopefully we'll touch on that in a bit.

>> What'd you do after college then?

>> I went to Montana and managed the Sun Ranch. And that's where I learned about predators. And as a good friend of mine, Bryce Andrews, wrote in his book he -- I learned the realities of the brutality and beauty of nature. And I was in charge of keeping cattle healthy and growing, which made it difficult with a pack of wolves and grizzly bears. And so that part of ecology and trying to learn tools of balance, and it was a hard lesson learned, necessarily. We couldn't eliminate the loss of life on either side, but we had to learn the balance and there was going to be death. But if we could minimize it with our actions and hard work, we found a little bit of a success here and there. From there, I went to the 91 Ranch in Wyoming. Spent five years there, and so 10 years later [inaudible] went to school. I went to the King Ranch Institute in South Texas. And great learning experience that -- my kids are teenagers at this point -- and there we learned more principles of economics, of production and ecology. And great mentors all through that process, and I'm grateful for that. New Mexico was a stop for five years, and now we're in Nevada. So the kids don't quite know where to say where home is. It's where we have been, and those relationships are priceless as we've learned from different ecosystem types across the nation.

>> Thank you. Annie?

>> So I grew up on 17th and Jayjay, so similar kind of ecosystem on a ranch out in eastern Colorado, about 50 miles from the Kansas border. My first memories are irrigating. I was in charge of my own little section of ground irrigating, and that was, it was very formative for me. And then, family time on a ranch, you learn a lot about range. My parents were very involved in starting different programs in Colorado for ranchers, as is my great uncle was the -- he was on the Compact Colorado, Kansas water compact. And so I was always around people who were very involved in managing ranch. So, I didn't start out in range. I started out on a ranch, that's -- I had a kind of a different path to get there. I went and worked on the Navajo reservation as a botanist, and that was really influential for me because I was able to work with the sheep herders. And I remember Arnold Clifford, who's a botanist, he wrote the Four Corners Flora -- I'm also a botanist -- and Arnold was explaining to me about how he knew it was time to move his sheep, when they started eating this one astragalus. And I just filed that information back in my brain for a while and I kind of moved on. And then I thought, I want to be in range. And that's when I met Tamzen Stringham, who was very influential for me -- I was in her graduate program -- and that's really what started my career in range. And so here I am now, but I definitely went away from ranching. I went away from range. I went into academia, and then I came back to working in range, and now I'm back on the family farm and ranch.

>> Thank you. Liz?

>> This is where it gets interesting [chuckle]. It's so fun to be up here. And I come from something totally different. I grew up on the corners of Haight and Ashbury in a town called San Francisco. I'm not kidding. I actually grew up on Clayton and Haight just one block down from Haight and Ashbury with another family. My family and this other family had a set of flats in the city. So we lived on the top flat and they lived on the bottom flat. And it was a really wonderful way to grow up. Very different -- different group of people that I saw out of my front doorstep. And, through the course of several, just all kinds of experiences, but a couple that come to mind -- I found myself here in Nevada and really passionate about the work that I do on range with other people. And the first experience that kind of blew my mind open, other than -- you know, my family camped, every summer we would go back to Pennsylvania where my mom grew up and go to where my grandparents lived, which was on a creek -- and I could still picture that creek, spent hours and hours there the way, I'm sure you guys did in your own backyards. So I had an appreciation, but when I was in high school, I had the opportunity to study forestry intensively for about six weeks in my senior year in high school. And this was during the timber wars in California. And we had an opportunity to go, we were going to go up to Scotia, which is a mining town where some of the last old growth redwoods were under contention about whether or not they were going to be harvested. And there was a young woman who had been sitting in a tree named Julia Butterfly, who had been sitting in a tree for a year and a half, and trying to protect that tree. We were going to go visit her. And I didn't know what to think. But I had my idealistic version of who was right and who was wrong in this whole situation. And I remember sitting -- there was a gentleman, whose name I can't remember right now, who was working with her to write her autobiography. And we sat in his little hallway, in his little house in the woods, a whole class of us, and called her on a speaker phone when she was -- she had an old Motorola cell phone, right? And one of the first things she said was have you talked to the loggers? Have you talked to them? Have you asked them about their families? Have you asked them what closing this mill will do to them and do to this town? And here's my idealistic hate-Ashbury-liberal-self going wait, what? And I was blown away that, she had been sitting in a tree, which is something that I personally would not do for that long. And she had the presence of mind to recognize that she was part of a system that was much bigger, and it was much more complicated. And I carried that message with me through college and at the end of college, I had the opportunity to join a custom harvest operation in eastern Washington harvesting grains, mostly winter wheat and barley. And you know, here I am walking out of a liberal arts school with a degree in geology, and -- to admit it, theater which is the family business by the way; I am the black sheep. I jumped into the seat of an international harvester, custom combine, with a 30-inch shredder, and learned to drive in circles slowly. And learned the power of the people whose education had not been like mine, but had in fact been on the land. And when it was too damp to cut wheat, all the weeds that were out there, how to manage these landscapes, how to manage these machines -- which gave me a run for my money -- that's beer conversation. And I just I learned this incredible appreciation -- some of those people are still my friends, who worked in that space, and then I circled out again. And finally found my way when I realized I wanted to have a big kid job, and not live out of my pickup truck for the rest of my life. I realized that what I really wanted to do was be a part of the kinds of groups of people that made these places, like Scotia, find solutions that worked for both the communities and the environment. And so I went to the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and got a master's degree in environmental policy and planning, but really studied the collaborative forest landscape restoration program. And how groups of people around the United States were working together to find ways to manage forests that would meet the rising challenge of fire and habitat, and our fiber needs. And was looking for a way to apply those skills and everything that I'd learned, talking to people who participated in collaboratives all around the United States, and Longleaf Pine and in the West. And got an opportunity to come to Nevada, thanks to Marcy Todd at the BLM, and help run a situation assessment for what was going on for like the natural resource issues in Nevada in 2014, which were hot. And so I got to come here and listen for a year to hundreds of people about the natural resource issues here. And the rest is history, then I just didn't leave. And so that's my circuitous route from perhaps farther afield. But it's found me here.

>> What was the name of the gal in the tree again?

>> Julia Butterfly.

>> That's what I thought. Do you know whether or not that biography ever got published?

>> Yes. And I can't remember what it's called, but it'll come back to me.

>> That'd be interesting. That's a good story. John?

>> So I guess for myself, I was born in Iowa. And I had the opportunity to learn to plant corn and soybeans, and spend a little time with pigs. [Chuckle] And I really figured that would be my life. But there was some economic things that happened in the 70s and before you knew it, I was in the Marine Corps. And I spent a few years in the Marine Corps. When I got out of the Marine Corps, I knew I wasn't going back to Iowa. That wasn't my home, that's not where I belonged. So I found myself working on ranches in southern Idaho, and shoot some horses during that time period, and really enjoyed what I was doing. Economic situations came along in a little while, and before you knew it, I found myself using my GI Bill so I could go to school. And I had no intention ever of having to go to school because I was smarter than anybody else, young and strong. And I knew exactly what I needed to do, but I wasn't getting ahead very far. So I ended up, I went to Treasure Valley Community College in Ontario, Oregon, and went there for an agricultural degree and really enjoyed what I was doing. Had an opportunity then to go to University of Idaho. I'm a Vandal, and very proud of being a Vandal. I went there and got an animal science degree, range of livestock. And really that's where I thought my life was going to continue to be is I just, I've always been around livestock, and that's, again, where my heart is. But while I was going to school, obviously you need to make some money. So I fell into a job with BLM as a range rider in Southeast Oregon. And over time, I just developed between school and my working for BLM, as a range rider , I just fell in love with the rangelands. I really got my eyes opened up through school on the diversity of vegetation, the complexity of the rangeland systems, and just kinda hooked me in. So that's where I ended up and I was fortunate enough to be able to get a permanent job with BLM. So that's kinda how I got into the range.

>> That's a good story too. We like to talk about progress, but not all progress is good progress. Some ideas ought to be conserved because they weren't and aren't wrong. The laws of nature don't change, but our grasp of them changes. Maybe here's the next question. What are some good ideas that you've, I guess, held, or seen others hold for a long time that don't need to change about land management, livestock management, range management.

>> Well, one of the changes that I have seen is that we do a lot of -- we're on our phones all the time. And so one of the things that I think doesn't need to change is time on the landscape. And the reason why I say that is because you can learn things about the landscape that you don't have a vocabulary for yet when you spend time on it. I gave that example of working on the Navajo reservation with Arnold Clifford because he was describing the sequence of grazing with his, and I was like hey, what'd you think of the site? And he was like I can't explain it. It didn't feel right. That's not like a really scientific term, right? He does remote sensing [chuckle]. But I was like how do we describe what's happening here? You can't replace that from a computer. So that time on the landscape observing is essential. So that's one thing that I think should not change.

>> Can I jump in real quick? Because I think something that, in my mind, is very important. And we talk a lot about relationships and we talk about relationships with people. But I think in range management, for those of us that know the ground, we need to have a relationship with the natural resources, with the piece of ground that we're on at the time. And I think when you develop those relationships in that way, you have such a strong understanding of what is possible on the range. I think that's something we don't want to change, we don't want to lose, and we want to make sure that everybody, young and old, hang onto that. We need to be able to be attached to the land.

>> I definitely agree with that love for the land. And to attach on to that, I think embracing change. I had a mentor once tell me that the worst thing he ever did was he was successful on a ranch. And those principles didn't necessarily apply to the next one. And so I think as we embrace this change that happens in nature, in policies and people, and situations, by being humble and trying to keep that open mind to continually learn from the situation and that's a constant.

>> Yeah, I think there's this really interesting tension and I was thinking about it when I was preparing such as you can for this conversation -- you know, how do we, how do we build these projects? The projects that I see that are successful are the projects that are long term, right? Got a project I've been working on for just about 10 years, and it's like just getting good, right? And it's the essentially the same group of people that I've been working on it for the last 10 years. And that is -- I feel like that's really hard to come by. And how do we do that while also -- like you said, embrace change. There's this sort of natural tension of okay, we got to stick out a project. This is the range lands, it takes forever. Keep some level of focus on a project without getting distracted by the shiny objects of priorities changing, but also embrace the change that comes along with that project. To me I was trying to come up with something articulate to say about that, but all I can come up with is that there's this sort of inherent tension between those two. But I think I echo this idea that we have to stay focused on a piece of ground and watch it for it to, for us to even know anything. So I really appreciated the keynote this morning or the introduction to this session because he was talking about the long-term research sites that [inaudible] has. And it's amazing to have a research that's been happening for 80 years to see how land changes over time. And it's -- particularly in the west -- things change very slowly. So it's really been beneficial for our program at CSU to be able to observe those changes on the Great Plains and in the Great Basin too, to have that long-term research is really useful.

>> This attachment to place is an interesting idea. This is actually a question I had on page two; we tend to separate things out. Maybe we call them ecological assets. We separate land from people and we try to deal with all these things separately, but as everybody would agree with, likely, the whole is more than the sum of the parts, but it's difficult to deal with wholes. But to this point of attachment to place, people are more mobile than ever. And I think that has been a negative change in a variety of ways. A lot of range professionals don't stay in one place for long enough to get to know either the place or the people, and develop the trust that's necessary to make anything happen on these long-term projects where you just start learning something after 10 years. And that's the beginning of things. That problem is obviously much bigger than the range profession. But, and of course, this question has a value judgment implicit in it, how do we cultivate greater attachment to place? I don't have a good answer. And you didn't know, I was going to ask it, so you may not either, but do you have any thoughts on that?

>> For me on these ranches? It's never been a job. Almost toward a detriment. It's full life. And I can think back of the many situations that, as I pull into a place with a stock trailer with all of our stuff, and dogs, kids, know that the excitement for this new adventure. And then I think of the sacrifice, blood, sweat, and tears that's put into that place. And as we leave, you know, I can think of many times as a family, we, as we left, it was not easy to leave. As, generally, we praise a family and thank God for those experiences that we had because we grew in those places. And there were benefits to moving and growing like we did in different places; I wouldn't trade those. But I think as we become part of the land, as we spend that time that was shared, and give our all, when we're at work -- we need to be at work and giving it to our all, whether it's reading the land, what it needs, or reading our coworkers what they need. I think that's -- balance is a, I don't know that balance really exists when we're at work. We need to be at work, when we're at home, we need to be at home. And give it our all and give it our best. And I think that's how we find that commitment and devotion within ourselves as we do our best at everything we do, and stop trying to balance.

>> So I think having had the opportunity to move around a lot, worked in a lot of different places, and I think one of the things that I learned didn't matter to me where I was at. I still had the passion for the land. I still had the passion for the resource. You had to learn to make sure that you had the same value system as that other people that were there on the land with you that used the land, that understood the land. And if you allowed yourself to harmonize with the other people that were there, the users, the people you were working with, you soon developed that same understanding, the same relationship with the land. Even though it was a new chunk of ground. You could still find yourself in that same place. And I think James is right. The commitment to the job, to whatever it was you were focused on helps you achieve that. And I don't think that it matters where you're at. You can move from one chunk of ground to another chunk of ground, and you can still have that passion, that same love for the resource. I think it's just part of it, it's in you. And I think if you love the land, it isn't going to matter.

>> Yeah, that's an interesting observation. I grew up in northern Arkansas. And my family's still there. And my children have only been there -- the older ones have only been there three or four times, but somehow, they have an attachment to that place, to this 600 acre patch of woods and pasture. Probably because they sense that I have an attachment, and there's a longevity there that resonates with them. But they have an attachment even though they've never actually lived there.

>> One of the things that I do, I have the benefit of growing up in a place where my family's been there a very long time. But I did come to Nevada and I work a lot in Nevada. One of the things that I heard along the way was this concept from [inaudible] and he talks about blood memory. And so when you talk about you know, your kids going to Arkansas, I think that there is something in our blood memory that is part of our connection to land. One of the things that I do, because I do work on so many different pieces of land, and you're going to think this is like kind of hippie dippy, but this is one thing that I have learned is I pray on every single piece of land that I work on. And I think that connects me to that piece of ground to do my absolute best with everyone that I'm collaborating with on that piece of ground because it is sacred. But I think for me, it's important for me to have that grounding on that piece of ground.

>> I really think that stewardship is having that responsibility upon your shoulders and filling that weight. And that stewardship is what ties us to that land and those resources, and that community and a purpose, that mission.

>> This might be dangerous, but what are some bad ideas that we have changed. We've moved on from one that comes to mind for me, I'm just thinking about this because I interviewed Jim Garish actually last week, and we'll run that episode here in a little while. But we were talking about rules of thumb that people that moved to the west, brought to the west with them that didn't work. And you know it sometimes with people that are -- well, I'm not going to try to characterize the people, but you sometimes sense among some people an attitude toward ranchers that these dumb ranchers just don't know what they're doing and they're trying to take everything. Well, some of those some of those rules of thumb that didn't work here are historical and cultural and not, it's not a scientific failure, and it's not somebody who's necessarily being greedy. So part of this discussion was that, you know [inaudible], a lot of ranchers would repeat the old adage that a grass plant's goal in life is to produce a seed head. And that the cattleman's goal is to prevent it from doing that. And of course that was a rule of thumb that worked pretty well on the muggy East Coast and the sultry South. And they brought that with them from [inaudible] parts of Europe that had different kinds of plant communities physiologically. So then those people that had a half a millennium or more of success using this rule of thumb move to the west where you've got maybe a 90-day growing period. Because we don't often have moisture that lines up with soil temperatures conducive to plant growth. And so that frequent defoliation during the act of growing period, that worked really well to stimulate secondary vegetative growth and more tillering. That's just the way you do things. But you bring that to jointed bunch grasses that depend on seed production for reproduction, and now we've got a problem. But those habits die hard. And, of course, even here, a lot of people have irrigated pasture that does function that way. Then you can't use the same rules of thumb. Any thoughts on other bad ideas that we have or need to move away from?

>> I think what generally gets us in trouble is when we're trying to follow a recipe. And we're not looking at principles, all the principles, and how they apply to that piece of land that we're on.

>> Yeah, and there's probably somebody here who knows the answer to this, but there was a -- I remember hearing about a study, it was in Montana State, where they were looking at, what are the most telling factors in ranches that had high quality riparian areas? And as I recall, the answer was that if you have a manager who's paying attention, that makes way more difference than following some rigid rule of thumb that's supposed to work. And maybe it did work over there in Nebraska, but it didn't work here. And the most important thing is to have somebody who cares and is observing, and is responding to what they see by changing management.

>> Oh, uh, go ahead, John.

>> I guess somebody's got to say it. So I think things that are problems or things that shouldn't have been set up like they were [inaudible]. We mentioned a little bit about grazing and permits, and I think the rigid rules, the policies associated with permits is always difficult because it takes away the flexibility. And the actual, if you understand the resource, that you need to have flexibility, and you need to be able to make some adjustments in a standard permit with parameters on it, is going to be difficult to follow. I think a couple other examples of mistakes that we've made, and maybe they're more society mistakes, but here we are in Nevada, and you have to talk about the wild horses, so that's a mistake. While I love horses and I love wild horses, the management of wild horses has definitely been a mistake. I believe that it could have been done correctly but, again, society didn't allow us to manage the way we needed to manage them, and the way the resource requires us to manage. Another example is our wildfire situation. Talk about fires and invasives. And that's the problem that we have across the Great Basin. Again, management of fire and how we got ourselves into the situation is different, but it's, again, it's mistakes that were made. So I don't have the answers or the solutions, but those are problems and mistakes that we made a few years back.

>> I mentioned yesterday that I've talked to a lot of ranchers who have observed changes in the landscape, but would have a difficult time being able to quantify that or proving it. What are some landscape changes, plant community changes that you have seen that have been either good or bad in the places that you've worked in?

>> I think there are a couple examples. In New Mexico, with the lack of fire, there's been a lot of [inaudible] encroachment and it's taken a lot of efforts in management to change that state. And the other side here in Nevada, fire has completely, as we know changed a lot of our perennials, natives into annuals. One system we were trying to purposely start fires, and this one here in Nevada, I think we're scared to death of one starting. Those are some changes and vegetation changes with our fire regime change too.

>> I think you can add onto that list, forest management practices across the west and the changes in how we managed our forest resources and where we found ourselves. I mean, I have examples of time that I spent in Colorado where the entire public land component of the resource we were managing was nothing but dead timbers and beetle kill. And that went back to the fact that we quit managing it. We quit going in and doing early cuts and keeping it thin and healthy. And that's [inaudible] than just that one area.

>> This is where the opportunity for remote sensing is really exciting. Because I often wonder if, you know these incredible research programs that we have, if those, if that data and if those recommendations are being expressed on the landscape. So it's really exciting to see the -- just the concept of mapping states is very exciting to me. We've mentioned dead timber in California, conifer encroachment increase in chi grass where we are on the Great Plains definitely a lack of diversity of [inaudible] and cold season grasses. But I'm really interested to see actually, if my observations are correct because I'm sure 30 years ago they were very different than they were 15 years ago than they are now. So pretty excited for those kids that hang out at the computer, programming [chuckle] working in R.

>> I'll pick up on that one too. The team that I work with does a lot of landscape scale planning. And as part of that we do some pretty fine scale remote sensing work that's, it's kind of custom work. And we've had the opportunity to do some change detection in some of the places where projects are take -- have taken place and aren't taking place. And I think that's some of the most interesting work is not just of the observations. Well, let me put it this way. I don't work on a single piece of land and have the opportunity to wake up and look out at a particular ranch every morning. So from my perspective, seeing some of those restoration projects start to take and start to show up in the remote sensing and also see that not just at the scale that you might see in your backyard, but at the 800,000 acre landscape scale, I think is really exciting. And it's really hopeful when we can start to quote unquote, see those changes and how they affect the whole function of a landscape. And I think there's some really cool projects that are out there that are starting to look at this now. I know it's not -- we don't have all the kinks worked out. But I think we are starting to see the value of those investments in restoration in some of these places, and that's really exciting.

>> Now that you're warmed up, what changes do you see in these government agencies and non-government agencies and academia in terms of the organizational culture over time. John's retired so he can't get fired.

>> It's risky, man.

>> You heard it here first. I've had the pleasure to work with some great range con [assumed spelling] specialist. And so here in the last 10 years, definitely the age has been cut by probably in half, at least. And I've noticed today, we definitely have a lot of overwhelmed young range cons that really have more on their plate than they can handle to do the job that they want to do. And I think that's something to address. And I know that there's lots of recruiters here with BLM and Forest Service and different organizations. That's a big one. How do we get the workload spread out? So when we all collectively have a great group or a great plan to improve the resource.

>> It's hard for the young range cons to have anybody to go through that understand what their needs are, what the issues are, and how to solve those issues. There's definitely been a shift in understanding of the laws and policies of which, well, the organic act for that agency. I think it's the same in some of the other agencies? I can't speak to the same level, but BLM has definitely seen a big shift.

>> Other perspectives from the inside or the outside?

>> I'm going to speak for what I see from the NGO space a little bit. I think there's -- and maybe, in part my own organization, I think the growing urgency or the sort of growing commitment to the urgency of climate change has brought a lot of non NGOs into, sort of asked us to get into focus about how we're going to work together, how we're going to work at a broader scale, and how we're going to leverage the resources we have to the highest and best use. And I think, to me, my perception is that's been really positive. It's been, it's quite exciting because it means that our -- the alignment of what people are working on within all these little organizations. And with all within, you know, if there are multiple layers within organizations, I think more and more we're seeing how all the pieces fit together, and how we can use, for example, how do we use the nature conservancies, working landscapes as part of, as demonstration projects, or places to understand management techniques and ideas that we think could really help move us forward. How do we share that information across the west more elegantly and more streamlined. How do we step into our role as NGOs and really think about how we complement both the private and the public managers? I think I would say, and maybe this is just my own maturity [chuckle], but I think that has come into focus more. And I think, I hope it's exciting. And I hope that it puts those three units, the sort of public agencies, private individuals and companies, and then this NGO space in each their value-add place. And we can complement each other. We're finding new ways to do that, and I think that's exciting.

>> I think I have a real unique perspective with this question because we, first of all, have leases with the state land board. And then I'm a consultant in the state of Nevada. So I'm working with the BLM and the Forest Service as a consultant. And then with my job, with extension in Colorado, I've then a very different relationship with agencies. There's a hierarchy depending on where you are on your project. If you're a consultant, you have to bend to the agencies. If you're a rancher, you're going to have to bend to whoever your permit's with. And so it's a very different relationship depending on where you are in the relationship. One thing that I think is really, really amazing -- and this is a really amazing change on the range -- I started that story with Allan Savory and Jayne Belnap because 20 years ago, there would not have been a collaboration between a rancher and the USGS. It was not, you would not, I was not proud to come from a ranching family at that time. Now, seeing collaborations between all the agencies, between the ranchers, between NGOs is so incredibly exciting to me, and that, I believe, is what is going to make the difference because there are so many different, amazing perspectives coming together. But I think it's really important for us to recognize checking our ego when you're in that situation, for me, as a consultant, for me as a permitee for a BLM person or for a service person. The ego has got to be checked at the door because that is what is going to make the difference. So I just wanted to offer that up, but I'm seeing some just incredible collaborations because we're getting better at communicating as human beings.

>> Yeah, your comment about not being proud to have come from a ranching family is interesting. I hope that's something that has been changing. Somebody in the, I think it was in the metrics monitoring and management session yesterday, one of the economists said that ranchers self-reported satisfaction with life was high, even though they were low on some of the metrics of economic resiliency. I think his comment was, they're not rich, but they're happy. And I think part of that comes from the satisfaction of knowing that their fruits of their labor are worth more than their pay like the old Alabama song says. And I think that's encouraging. I think, I sense, at least in the ranching community, a growing appreciation of their own value to, as they say, keep this country turning around. We have to eat something and I like what I do and I think it's important, but I don't grow things that we eat. Somebody's got to do that.

>> Almost 20 years ago when I left the ranch to go to school. I'll never forget it, a good friend of mine, and it was my boss quite a bit older than me. And as I was leaving, he said, you make sure that that degree doesn't make you think that more than me. And that's always stuck in my head. He had a life of experience and had mastered many parts of the art of range management. And he warned me, he says, don't let that piece of paper make your head get too big. And that's, I think that's an important lesson.

>> I think the other thing that has changed that made me think of is I know my organization, I know myself, I am coming to appreciate more the knowledge of the people that have been here much longer than us, much longer than white people. And I think those lessons of stewardship and those lessons that -- and we're learning to bring those perspectives in more, and learn from those perspectives and recognize that traditional knowledge -- same thing, right, that traditional knowledge has so much to offer, how we think about these landscapes. And bringing that even more into the forefront over the next, over the last 10 years, I think has been really, really valuable and will continue to be really important.

>> Since we're talking about government organizations, I'm curious whether you think that there has been some positive change in government programs. I never thought I'd say that out loud. At one point some time ago, we paid people to plow in places where it was never going to be sustainable in the sense of, maintaining annual crops and still holding soil together. So then when that became a problem, then we paid them not to farm it. Those programs are probably nearly played out how they get away from peas here. So now we're trying to incentivize good stewardship. I think which is something, whether or not the government should spend money in that way is a different kind of question. But do you think my characterization is accurate? Are those changes in government programs good? Or is it just a bad band-aid to a bad problem?

>> I hate to tell you this, but we actually did pay ranchers on native range to plow up and plant wheat last year in eastern Colorado. Probably Kansas, Nebraska too.

>> I'll act like I didn't hear that.

[ Chuckle ]

I think that we -- I can't really say on the land, again, this is a great example for remote sensing. I don't know if those programs, if they're getting better, if we can really see that change on the ground. And I think it's really important for us to spend that time on the ground, and remote sensing to see if those programs are helping out. And I'm sorry to have to -- we had some issues after the Ukraine war in terms of wheat production, and --

>> Yeah, one obvious downside is that in some places where CRP is coming out, it's going back into wheat or whatever.

>> I grew up on the fringes of the Palouse Prairie and there's a lot of CRP ground in that valley that I grew up in. And at the time, coming out of World War One, and at the time, that was a very valuable program, I believe, to get that land back out of production and establish some base to the soil and some protection. And, again, now that we've been in this program for however many years -- 50, 60 years, we're kind of stuck in that rut. And I definitely, I grew up pulling Dyer's wode out in those CRP tracks with a big, long tap root. And seeing the consequences of non disturbance, or lack of disturbance, on those landscapes and seeing a plant [inaudible] vigor decrease and weeds coming in. And so, again, we need to embrace that change. Okay, it served its purpose, what's the next opportunity? And at Utah State, I participated in an internship program -- I think it's long gone -- but it was called the Hobby. And it put a bunch of students from all different parts of the country -- Megan, wherever you are -- Megan and I were both in this program. And there was a gal there and I don't remember where she was from. She had dreadlocks, and came into this two week camp of cows are bad. And that's really easy for me to get my hackles up and say, well, wait a second. And she spent the summer out, I think in Ely or here in Nevada monitoring, doing rangeland monitoring. And she came back that fall and reported it's the wild horses, it's not the cows. And it was just cool for her to be able to -- and we never had heated discussions. We always had respectful discussions, but to see how much we could grow as an odd, I don't want to say odd couple, but odd pair and have discussions of rangeland management. But it was because we let down our own passion and started understanding each other's world and paradigms of compassion, replace passion with compassion.

>> I love that you were able to do that take a class with Fred Provenza. That must have been great. So this year, one of the workshops that we put on was on conflict resolution and as it was with lots of different agencies, NGOs, NRCS, BLM, [inaudible] ranchers. And we brought in someone who gave us really specific activities that we learned how to work through a big issue together, and it made me realize how I haven't learned those skills very well. There are learned skills. So I think it's something that we could do more in this space of learning how to listen first of all, and learning how to collaborate. So that word collaboration. Yeah, it's a big buzz term, but how do you do it? There are certain exercises like I learned about the polyvagal system, this nerve that goes from the back of your head down to your spine. And how your whole disposition changes when you're stressed. And so learning about how to check in with yourself just from a body standpoint was very interesting to me. I think that this is a space that we can do a lot of work and it's an encouraging space.

>> And a lot of that starts from within. And in grad school, we had to do a lot of leadership training. And the amount -- we had peer reviews, and then we had to do personal assessments, and we learned what our natural characteristics, certain traits are, and then we learned what our opposite is. And so we spent a lot of time trying to -- I had to learn for -- I'm not a director. I'm an opposite of a director. I'm more of a supporter and mentor, so I can really drive that director crazy in how I communicate. And so I had to learn from within. If I want to communicate successfully with a director, I have to change how I communicate, and that relationship's just going to get better if the director says, well, James is not a director. He's a supporter. He doesn't want to be yelled at. And so we start learning how to communicate with each other. And that starts from within. I have to give to say, I need to communicate precisely and well planned for this director. And there's lots of those relationships. And again, that starts with me. Those relationships will improve if I start.

>> That's good. A good friend of mine has done some teaching about communication. And he always makes the point that communication only happens if the receiver correctly interprets what you think you're sending that way. That requires us to adapt what we're saying to the receiver.

>> I lived in Mexico for a couple years and did some of my research work in Mexico. And if I want to speak to fellow ranchers in Mexico, I had to learn Spanish. And I think even though we're from different parts of the country, or different paradigms, and it's still English, we still need to learn how to communicate so it can be heard and understood.

>> We've got a few more minutes. We've covered a wide range of topics. And I'm thinking there might be a few burning questions in the audience that people might have for the excellent group of panelists up here, people that all share Dr. Perriman's double recessive gene variant.

>> I really appreciate what we're hearing this morning, but I would like to suggest that rather than being hellbent on change, maybe we add to what we're doing. You know, we consistently have these kind of conversations with ourselves, don't we? And when we go home, we're going to have these same conversations with ourselves. Are we communicating with the urban voting population. So I'd like to turn, have a question to the panel there to suggest how the international year might help us do a better job of that.

>> It's a great question. I think that's still a good challenge. In fact, one of the questions that I hadn't asked here is how do we begin to shape the perceptions of the various publics that don't live in rangelands about rangelands, and the people that use them?

>> Paul Harvey's commercial during Super Bowl several years ago just came into mind and telling that story. The ranchers that have been here in this meeting talking about their successes of collaboration and projects. We need more of that story being told where -- I loved where it was a government official and a rancher in yesterday's symposium. I think that shows and tells the story of how our efforts are improving resources, and building economies, and feeding a nation. And there just needs to be more focus on that and get more interaction between those two worlds of art and science and connect those. And that's our very own definition as a society is the art and science of range management. How do we share that, and how do we get more ranchers telling that story of successful workings with federal government and state government programs.

>> My parents used to be on a ranch called Chico Basin Ranch. And there was an open door policy on the ranch for urban, the urban community to come to the ranch. And I think that that was a really great opportunity to have collaboration between both groups of people. We would see thousands of kids come to the ranch every year. As difficult as it is to do a corral tour, three days a week, we saw that it was an important part of bridging that gap.

>> Synergy between people and animals and land is a little bit unique, maybe a lot unique, and it's a good story to tell. And again, I'm proud to be part of this tribe. And I'm really thankful for the ways that you guys have been excellent representatives of the range profession, doing, applying good science in a way that is artful and makes me optimistic about the future.

>> 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 range land managers. Please take a moment to fill out a brief survey at This podcast is produced by Connor's 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. ?

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

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