AoR 29: Sam Fuhlendorf Part 2, Conserving Pattern & Process Through Creative Grazing

"Six patches make you six times less likely to be entirely wrong". Diversity and variability drive rangeland health. Healthy rangelands provide an array of ecological and social goods and services. Resiliency describes the robustness of natural mechanisms that allow land to continue providing those EGS over time with and through disturbance. Disturbances are necessary processes to create botanical diversity, but also changing diversity, across space and time. Human-caused disturbances should avoid pushing ecosystems over thresholds, tipping points, into new degraded stable states. Dr. Fuhlendorf says scientists and managers should "embrace ecological humility" and assume we know less than we think we do. 


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

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We're going to post a two-part interview with Dr. Sam Fuhlendorf about heterogeneity. The first part will include some principles and managing for biodiversity. And the second part will focus more on what the implications are for grazing management. If we're managing landscapes for heterogeneity. Welcome back to part two of my interview with Dr. Sam Fuhlendorf. Maybe just to shift a little bit towards some of the benefits for ranchers to manage toward heterogeneity. And you give an example in the paper on Pattern and Process, of smaller pasture sizes. And that decreasing animal's abilities to exercise what should be instinctual behavior, to deal with their own needs. Can you talk about that a little bit?

>> Yeah, and, you know, a lot of that is -- well, some of it is rooted in our research. But some of it is also with colleagues. And a co-author of the book chapter on heterogeneity that we wrote, is Richard Fynn. And he's done a really good job of highlighting in Africa. And I think the same would be true here. Although, in some cases, it's difficult. At how animals need different plant communities at different times of the year. And that they -- the way they deal with stress, is they move. And so, that's really the take home. The way an animal deals with stress. So, the old saying is they can adapt, move or die. And really, the only one that's suitable to a rancher is move. And so, the problem is, if we manage everything to look the same. Or we have real small fences. There's not just a whole big area they can move to. So, we sort of limited their own ability to cope with stress.

>> Right. Nutritional, thermal stress.

>> Right, exactly.

>> Minerals, whatever.

>> Yeah. And, you know, in some cases, we've done that with say breeds of livestock. Where we've sort of created homogenous conditions there as well. And but that's sort of a longer-term perspective. But when you think of small landscapes and -- or small pastures, even and restricted movement. Then, you know, you have lots of management related issues that come up from more tightly held livestock. But probably the bigger impact is just their ability to deal with stress. But some of that, admittedly, I mean, you guys on your podcast have done a great job of talking about how everything is sort of contextual. And so, the context that I'm seeing that from, is that, you know, I don't find it an attractive idea, personally. To have to move livestock every day or less than a day. But some people do. So -- but I do think there's a danger in that. And when you look at how animals use landscapes. Obviously, at some point, really large landscapes that don't have much water distribution, become not very useful to certain kinds of herbivores. But the same can be said with going the other direction.

>> Yeah. I think the context is relevant, also to your -- I mean, your physical context there in Oklahoma. Is that you're surrounded by typically smaller management unit sizes. Then probably significantly more homogenous pastures. Then what we would see if you go just a little bit further West from you.

>> That's definitely true. And, you know, and it's curious that even regions that have pastures that are smaller on average than 100 acres. The primary grazing conservation that's done there is cross fencing and water development. Even though that's sort of not a critical issue. But -- and, you know, I have worked in larger landscapes. And in more arid systems. And there's definitely a difference. And it's sort of like -- it's interesting to find the similarities and the differences that occur across different regions. Because they're both real. And in a lot of ways, more informative from a broader picture.

>> Yeah. In some respect, it feels like we're going back to the future a little bit. In the effort toward letting animals exercise some of that instinctual wisdom. I work with a rancher here on a -- well, not a very big grazing lease. But about a 5,000-acre area. And, you know, he's old school, from New Mexico. And this is a place that used to be a WSU Research Station, Field Station. And back in the 70s and 80s, they had lots of grad students there all summer doing research. And some of that was done during the peak of the cross fencing frenzy. And he's constantly telling me that he found another fence somewhere, that used to be there. And he's constantly cursing those WSU people, he calls them. WSU researchers wanting to fence the whole world. He's constantly wanting to take fences out, in order -- because he prefers to herd the animals. And let them go where they want to go. And then, you know, place them periodically. So, that they can best meet their own needs. And just moving away from extensive cross fencing.

>> Yeah. And, you know, I...

>> And it's entirely instinctual, on his part. Not academic.

>> Right, right. I encounter a lot of people that are headed in that direction. But, you know, a lot of the grazing management controversy. So, for example, a lot of people are aware of the paper that I'm an author on with David Briske, that sort of challenged rotational grazing. And one of the -- you know, it was a paper authored by a lot of people. And so, you have to discuss what the perspective ought to be. Well, the perspective that I came to that from, was much different than paper ended up looking like. My perspective was that I knew of really large ranches. In fact, I knew of one specifically that was very large, with very few pastures. That had an invasive plant on it. That they went to the NRCS to see if they could get some cost share. And they basically had this large landscape with very few fences that they grazed really lightly. And it was really a well-managed ranch. But they had different objectives than some ranchers. And the only way they could get cost share money was to cross fence.

>> Right.

>> And so, my perspective of that discussion was not so much, should a rancher rotationally graze around. Because I think ranching is like the title of your podcast, "The Art of Range." There's more to it than just what the data says. But my take home on it was that agencies should not be telling people that they have to do that. And I felt like we had gotten into a culture where that was the solution to everything. And the cost share money supports that on private lands.

>> Yeah.

>> So, it's sort of like...

>> Yeah, that's become the tool.

>> Right.

>> The only hammer in the box.

>> Right, exactly. And so, I think it's a great tool. But it's just one of a bunch. And there's probably a lot of ways to use it.

>> Yeah, I think that's an interesting perspective. I have felt, since those papers originally came out, that to some extent you've got people kind of talking past each other. And I'm not so sure that the perspectives are mutual exclusive or irreconcilable. You know, the idea that we're trying to mimic historic grazing patterns and wild ungulates, is a good one. And I think in terms of trying to apply localized intensity, that's one of the things that you would argue is pretty important.

>> Right, exactly.

>> It's the idea that we can apply that with perfect evenness across the landscape, is where it doesn't work.

>> Exactly. And I have, in the last 20 years or so, met a lot of people that use rotational grazing systems in different ways. And by far, the vast majority of them are sort of shooting for this principle of uniformity. But there are some that are trying to promote heterogeneity. And there are some pretty innovate ways of doing that.

>> Yeah. And I think in the West, on rangeland systems I work with. I would say that a lot of the guys -- a lot of the ranchers that I've worked with who have done, you know, some of kind of, whatever you want to call it, holistic management training. Have much more open and robust decision-making processes. They've got, I guess, a wider array of mental models to work from, than people that don't. And what that looks like looks like, in actual management on the ground, is that, you know, their version of rotational grazing is allowing long regrowth periods. So, that everything that should be in the landscape, has time to be expressed. They're not -- so, I guess that the frequency of regrowth or the frequency of grazing then, is the critical factor. You know, if you're -- if you graze for a day and then come back in a week, that's a whole different thing. Then if you graze for two weeks and don't come back for a year, you know?

>> Right, exactly.

>> I mean, there's a wide range of variability in the term rotational grazing. And those tend to be beneficial.

>> They sure can be. And you're right. I mean, if you read some of the really management intensive stuff. It's really focused on holding the vegetation at a sort of constant height, in the uniformity sort of thing. But there's a lot of different ways that it can be done. And there are examples out there, for sure.

>> One of the ideas that really stuck with me from my reading and interview with Fred Provenza. Is that nature fills voids with individuals, not populations. There was somebody from California, who was talking about mineral consumption. That they were doing some research on. I think on some forest service land in the mountains of California. And they had a way -- they had a way to weigh the amount of mineral that individual cows were consuming. And found gigantic variation. Variation in amount. Variation in frequency. Variation in timing. You know, some cows would come and gulp down three pounds of minerals at one time.

>> Right.

>> And then not come back for a couple of weeks. Other cows would show up, you know, every day or every other day. And just take a couple of licks. But in thinking through, you know, how do we manage for this? It seems like -- one of your arguments is that if we give animals the freedom to meet their needs, kind of on their own terms. That that likely is good for the animal. And good for the rancher's bottom line. Instead of assuming that we know what they need to eat and when and where.

>> Right, yeah. And, you know, rooted in some of this, there's a lot of, as you know, there's a lot of foundational work from long ago. And I find it really interesting that -- and this relates back to some to the Dykster [assumed spelling] house discussion. When you look -- and in this part of the world, you know, there are -- the big four grasses are really important. At least in tall grass prairie. And that's big bluestem, Indiangrass, switchgrass and little bluestem. Well, everyone thought those were good. Cattle loved those. And so, they really forced the systems to be more uniformly dominated by those plants. Well, what happened is it ended up that they had to come up with special livestock management approaches. Because those plants are really high-quality forage and really good. But only from about middle of April to the middle of July.

>> Yeah.

>> So, then they, you know, then -- so, the best system is just stock your cattle really -- stock your cattle really intense during that period. So, it's -- and that doesn't even consider that individual -- the individual variation that you might have. But the idea of sort of just really narrowing in on the dominant most productive plants. Has led to nutritional simplification, both in time and throughout time. That is really difficult to deal with, from a management standpoint. So, I guess the point I would make, related to that, is that's, in part because we actually -- the range profession, sort of incorrectly pointed everyone to the wrong target.

>> Right.

>> And not to say, in fact, the management systems that are focused on those four dominant grasses have adapted really well. And they're very productive. They're just very limited in their options. And so, I do think that there's -- if you start thinking of the world as heterogenous, then the Provenza comment starts to make more sense, as well. And all of a sudden you start to see variability at a lot of different scales and different kinds of variability. And, of course, you know, the extreme example would be that you need a whole bunch of different herbivores out there. But those -- some of those things are extremely impractical, from a production standpoint. And so, it's sort of like you have to pick and choose. But sort of just moving everything to sort of the agronomic perspective, doesn't seem to be very productive.

>> Right. One approach would be the attempt to engineer that heterogeneity.

>> Right.

>> And you're saying that's probably not -- that's probably still too much arrogance in that as well.

>> Well, I'm not smart enough to do it. So, maybe someone else is.

>> Yeah. I feel like -- I still want to try to get down to what might be some principles for managing your -- you know, tweaking a person's grazing management. If they feel like they've been stuck on those four big propers. You know, so, that's -- this is the million-dollar question. If I'm giving someone an elevator speech on what I do. You know, you meet someone in the grocery store that you haven't met before. And you tell them you work for extension as a range and livestock specialist. Those words have almost no meaning. So, you know, I tell somebody that as a culture, it's evaluable for us to be able to grow food and fiber for human use. On naturally occurring plant communities. And this really is almost a case where you can have your cake and eat it too. Where we can still -- if we maintain landscape scale ecological patterns and processes, we can generate some of these products. I guess we can use that term, for human need. In the same space that we're producing wildlife habitat, plain water, open space, you know, the whole list. And I feel like that's a pretty big thing, culturally. And that if we can do that, well, we should pursue that. And try to understand it better, you know? And then what -- how do we make decisions about what specifically to do? You know, when a rancher gets up in the morning, he actually has to make -- he can't work in the abstract.

>> Right.

>> He's got to do something. You know, a grazing plan is, where the animals are going to be, when and where? And I would say why? In that my own efforts, as dictation ranch specialists, have been to help ranchers answer those practical questions. Of where the animal is going to be and when and why? And how do I decide that? And I guess my starting point philosophically, is that if you -- I guess to back up. A rancher tends to come at it from the animal's perspective. You know, what do I do that takes care of the animals?

>> Right.

>> And I've tried to get ranchers to back that up a step. And say that if you take care of the plant community, long-term. That that will take care of your livestock. And therefore, your bottom line. And ranches that are healthy, tend to be ones that have a fairly healthy plant community. So, where do we -- where do we start with planning grazing? And making actual decisions about where animals go when, from that perspective? And from my, you know, from my own context, my contextual perspective is that, at least in much of the Pacific Northwest and a lot of the West. People have access to larger landscapes. And they're not necessarily having to deal with, you know, a 50-acre chunk to apply this. You know, maybe working with many thousands of acres from, you know, a 1,000-acre lease, to 25, 50,000-acre landscapes. How do you begin to make some decisions about that?

>> Well, I -- you know, I think the greatest challenge is in the matching up of actual land management objectives. With specific targets to achieve those objectives. And I realize this is almost back behind actually what would the principles be. But I find the biggest challenge, when I talk to people that are trying to manage land. Is actually getting them to actually say what their real true objectives are. And, yeah, what do they actually want? And in fact, often it will be, well, I want to manage the land for the future or something to that effect. Which is really good. But it's sort of like, well, okay, but you want to get livestock production. But okay, you also -- there's also all of these other ecosystem services and [inaudible]. And so, it seems to me like the first real big issue is a solid set of objectives that are attached to targets that would achieve those objectives. So, sort of like the example I gave earlier of the refuge manager who had good -- had well defined objectives. But the target didn't match the objectives. And some of that is the challenge that often we may not know what that target is. But... in fact, this "Conservation of Pattern and Process." That paper developed from me being asked to participate in a symposium. Where I was supposed to talk about how different would the range land profession be, if the origins of it had been, let's just do conservation on range lands. Without a focus on livestock production. And there's a lot wrong with that assumption. But that was the -- that is what I was asked to talk about. And so, it kind of grew into this interesting discussion. But then I tried to relate back to modern range management. But I think the assumption had always sort of been, a good range management is good wildlife management and good water management. And all of that can be true. But it is so dependent upon linking the objective to the target. And sort of the feedback loops in there, as well. But also, then ultimately, honestly recognizing the tradeoffs. Because most, you know, if you were going to manage the Great Plains for conservation of biodiversity. You would have to have the entire Great Plains. And nobody has that. So, you have to just rationally recognize that some things are going to be harder to do, at the same time as some other things. Because you don't have a large enough piece of property. But to me, that's the first hurdle. Then beyond that, to actually come up with principles. And in fact, at the end of the paper, I sort of thought we had those four propers. So, maybe I would try and come up with my own versions of those. And they're not very satisfying [brief laughter]. Because they aren't very concrete. But I hope that the public will recognize that the -- that I'm suggesting that they shouldn't be very concrete. So, large landscapes, that's the most important thing to be able to do a lot of different things. I still think stocking rate is very important and so forth. I obviously, heavily overstock landscape. It sort of limits the amount that you can do with that, from a lot of perspectives. But similarly, maybe an understocked landscape. But the general principles would be sort of nothing -- no single condition is right everywhere. Management should be flexible. And I think that's one of the challenges, is that the National Resource Management Pathology doesn't allow that to happen. And, you know, land owners are -- hands -- or land managers hands are often tied. And, you know, on the one hand, a piece of land may look bad because it's overgrazed. And on the other hand, they might be promoting prairie dogs on another piece. That would have similar land forms. So, it's sort of like this top down confusion. Not to mention that more flexibility would be a strong -- I found it to be really interesting, as I've gotten to get along in my career a little bit. I've been invited to talk in a lot of different environments. And I -- my education is rooted in range. But I've gotten engaged in the, you know, in conservation biology and organizations like that. And it's really interesting how much lack of understanding there is between disciplines. And I think that that's something I really try to do a better job of. Is to try and write papers that might be common sense to the range community. But maybe it's more addressed to the conservation community. And then do the same thing in the other direction. Because I do feel like, your earlier statement, that these large landscapes that are where we want to do -- have goods and services, including livestock production. They're a way to have our cake and eat it too, is exactly right. But I don't think that's widely appreciated outside of the range land community. And I do think that conservation biology can teach the range land community stuff, as well. But...

>> And there's some legitimate tradeoffs there. I mean, as you mentioned, if I'm a rancher say on a 25,000-acre landscape. And I'm managing with a fairly light stocking rate. The rancher recognizes that he has the same fixed cost, whether he's got 200 pairs there or 400 pairs there. And he senses intuitively that because he's been managing pretty conservatively, he could very likely bump his numbers to 300 head. Without -- probably without much loss of ecosystem functionality, at least not in most years.

>> Right.

>> And so, there's benefit to him, in terms of profit, of bumping his numbers and likely could. But there probably is some loss of other ecosystem goods, if you do that, in terms of habitat.

>> You know, there's a real desire to be extremely idealistic in the conservation community. And, you know, I get it. But the reality is, everything has tradeoffs. And I think until we can actually have a discussion about those tradeoffs and acknowledge that. I mean, even if you're just wanting to do conservation. I, quite a few years ago, got invited to Wyoming to work -- to interact with sort of at the interface between conservation people and ranchers. And the ranchers were in a horrible situation. Where they had, you know, I don't know, six or seven candidate species to be listed. And they all had very different habitat requirements. And everyone was sort of yelling at each other about what the land ought to look like. And, you know, if you're the species X biologist, then you think everywhere in the world ought to look what species X requires. And if you're species Y, that's not good. And it just can seem almost, you know, impossible to overcome. And, you know, the challenge is, well, can we come up with some principles? And, you know, and I think we could. But I honestly think I need help doing that. And I actually need a lot of help from people that are more familiar with how to manage land. And I have seen examples of it. And I've written some academic work. But I think there are probably a lot of people out there that could do a better job at coming up with innovative ways of doing that.

>> Do you think it's reasonable socially, to incentivize say, incentivize monetarily live stocking rates? In order to optimize the production of ecological goods and services?

>> Oh, gosh. That's an interesting idea. And, you know, I mean, they are -- they do that. There are some cases, even just on private land, where with a lesser prairie chicken initiative here. Which is -- had some similarities to the sage grass initiative. Of trying to get people to reduce their stocking rate, at least on certain portions of their property. But I've actually struggled with them to -- I've argued, well, that's really not what needs to happen for the chicken. Or for the ranch or for the grassland. Or -- but in reality, what you need is somewhere on the landscape for there to be nesting cover. And somewhere for there to be lacking over. And somewhere for there to be brood-rearing cover. And then all of that needs to fit in a way to meaningfully manage a ranch. And which I do think we...

>> [inaudible] pattern.

>> Yeah. And I do think we've come up with some specific ways to do that. But I imagine there's a lot of different ways that that could be done. And it would be fun to lock a bunch of people in a room and make them come up with ten different ways to do something like that.

>> Yeah. No, I agree with you that one of the more productive spaces that we occupy as, you know, range professionals. Is this area between the world of conservation biology and the world of the rancher. Those are two groups that tend to be fairly antagonistic towards each other, at least in private. But actually, have remarkably similar goals, in terms of what needs to be on the land. And it seems like there's some low hanging fruit there. You know, what Rick Knight calls the "radical center."

>> Yeah. Yeah. And, you know, there is a lot of room for cooperation and collaboration there. It is important though, to rationally sort of say, yeah, but some of these things do have tradeoffs.

>> Right.

>> You know, the prairie dog example is one. That I know my grandmother homesteaded Northeastern Colorado. And in her later years, she would often say there were a lot of things they did wrong. But the one thing she wasn't willing to wobble on, was that she did not like prairie dogs [brief laughter]. And so, you know, there are some things like that, that I think we have to recognize that whether they're cultural or they're truly ecological. But that there's no win, win sort of solution. Or that it's a lot more difficult.

>> Yeah. At least not on her place.

>> Right, exactly [brief laughter]. But I do think that -- and, you know, occasionally you see some indications that the world is moving away from the simplified cows, versus no cows. Or cows good, cows bad.

>> Right.

>> And but also, occasionally, you see it slip back into that discussion, so.

>> Well, I can think of several benefits. Or what I think are likely benefits to ranches of grazing for heterogeneity. And I'd like to conclude our conversation with some of that. And you can tell me whether any of this has some support in scientific literature. It seems like, as a general principle, animal health is supported by biodiversity. You know, that when animals have access to a wide array of plants, at various stages of growth, at different times of the year. That they're going to select, you know, whether they're wild animals or domestic animals. They're going to select individual plants and plant parts that meet their needs. And that has a definite tangible benefit to a ranches bottom line. Do you feel like that's born out in reality? Or is that pie in the sky philosophy?

>> I -- a little of both. But not totally pie in the sky. Just that I think some of that, there's -- some of it is a good hypothesis. Some of it has been tested. But there are some other aspects of animal heath that have come out. We did some studies here. And, of course, this is also connected with the whole pyric-herbivory. So, it's not just generic heterogeneity. It may have a connection to fire, as well. But where... tick numbers and horn fly numbers were managed by providing this patch structure. These animals grazing very heavily on local spots that had been burned. They ended up with much lower pests. So, that has -- that's another aspect. The diet thing -- and I heard -- and I'm intrigued by that. And I, you know, the stuff that Fred Provenza talked about on your podcast, is very intriguing. That, you know, the connection between diversity to animal health and many even to human health.

>> Yeah.

>> Is very fascinating. And I think it's -- so, when I said it was pie in the sky. I don't mean that it's not true. I just mean that some of that -- it's sort of varying levels. There are some indications that that might be the case. And some of Fred's things about self-medicating livestock. You know, that self-medicate from diet, that's a great example of that. So, I do think there's quite a bit of indication that there's some value in that.

>> Another idea that seems for sure possible and maybe supported. Is that you've got more stable forage production, if you have botanical diversity. Because you've got different plant species that will respond differently. Both positively and negatively. Whatever negative might mean, to different kinds of disturbances. And so, if you've got -- if you're managing for heterogeneity, you should have more stable forage production. Because you're -- if you don't have all your eggs in one basket, does that work out?

>> Yeah. And in fact, I can think of two examples that I've worked on. So, you had Brady Allred on. And when Brady was here, he actually did a study where we looked at numbers of patches in a tall grass prairie. From one -- which isn't really a patch, to eight. And we looked at livestock production over, I think, it was six or eight years. I don't remember exactly. But it basically -- so, what happens is if you manage everything uniformly for the most productive system. Then you get -- when it rains a lot, and the conditions are right, you do get more production. But the rest of the time, you actually get -- it becomes strongly dependent upon rainfall, mostly.

>> Right.

>> And when you manage for patches, you actually get a much more stable. In fact, you break the relationship with rainfall. There wasn't -- there was not even a significant relationship. So, that case is right. And then the other one that I did -- and my PhD, I looked at long-term vegetation change, associated with different grazing in semi-arid lands in West Texas. And one of the things that we did is look at the relation -- which month had the strongest relationship with each of the dominant plants. When you get to -- when you look at like the 20 dominant plants, some of them even had a lag. But they just spread out over the calendar. Meaning that, if you had a mixture of species. Then you can actually, more likely, be able to capture resources that are available at different times of the year. So, that's sort of a different scale. Because that could all be in one patch. But it's the same idea, that diversity matters.

>> Right. And one other, I guess, ramification of that, is that if we maintain a variety of grazing use pattern. Grazing is one process, interacting with other processes in a landscape. So, that you've got a mosaic of plant species. A mosaic overlaid on that. With degree of grazing intensity and utilization. That will one -- one; that will promote continued plant diversity. But a lot of the research on the relationship between grazing and fire, has shown that yes, you have some reduction in fuel. But more importantly, you have some breaks in the continuity of fuel. And so, that affects the spatial extent of fire. And the severity of fire. And therefore, you know, how many perineal plants get killed by a fire. And so, maintaining this diverse pattern of grazing use, helps avoid catastrophic fire. So, you would say we shouldn't be afraid of fire. We just don't want five counties to burn all at once.

>> Right. And in fact, I would say -- and we've done some of this. But I think there's plenty of room for a lot more. About how to use fire and grazing to make a system or landscape that actually absorbs fire. Instead of, is destroyed by fire. And a lot of that is perspective. But I think using grazing and fire, can make it where when -- fires will still occur. But when they do, they won't be quite as devastating. And we have a recent paper -- I had a PhD student, Heath Starns. That looked at when we coupled grazing and fire and created this spatial pattern. How much longer do we have of reduced fuel? Compared to say, just using fire alone? Or you could look at just using grazing alone. And the idea is that the space -- really, you need the spatial pattern. And you need the two interacting together. Part of the challenge -- and some of this is local to this region. But in terms of fire, a fire here, you have -- if you don't graze it, then you have enough fuel. In terms of just fuel loads, in six months, to have an uncontrollable wildfire. So -- if you don't graze it. So, you know, that would be very different in different landscapes. But the idea that fire could be used to help absorb fire. Or fire and grazing could be used. Is some -- and I've worked on a little bit, in other environments than here, some in Montana. And I know colleagues that are thinking about that. Including, you know, the guys that burn and others. But I do think that mosaic of different conditions, would make absorbing fire in a landscape a much -- the evidence just shows that it will. So, and we've done that with field research, as well as modeling and other ways.

>> I know we may have gone a little bit long here. But I'm not sure that we got through the six new principles for conservation of pattern process. And I'm not quite sure where we left off. I know for sure that you said that having large continuous tracts of range lands, whatever you want to call them, large chunks of land. Is really important, in order for these different patterns and processes to exist and interact with each other. I think you mentioned that stocking rate is still a primary factor. You know, if you've got -- if you've got ten acres, you can't have 1,000 head of cattle on there. It doesn't matter how intensively you manage.

>> Right.

>> And if you've got 10,000 acres, it probably will support more than one. Then there's some range in the middle, where you likely are able to maintain natural patterns and processes.

>> Right. And the optimum probably changes year to year. Well, it does change year to year, so.

>> Right. Which is related to principle number three. That trying to achieve uniform distribution of animals is probably not possible. And wouldn't even be desirable.

>> Right. Which originally, you know, I was probably a bit brazen to put that one in there [brief laughter]. But I really wanted to say that. Because I sort of felt like what you said earlier is correct. And that is, that it mostly can't be done. But then that begs the question, well then why is that two of our four proper principles? That, you know -- and I think the real rub there, is that the propers say proper distribution and proper in space and proper distribution in time. But really, no one ever really questioned what proper was.

>> Right.

>> So, those principles can hold up, if you just broaden the way we think of proper. So, if you think proper is uniform, then number three is counter to those two. But if you don't, then the propers still hold.

>> Yeah. And I think you mention in the paper that the idea of distribution partly came out of the combination of applying a moderate, leaning toward heavy stocking rate. Ending up with a pretty heavily used critical areas like riparian zones.

>> Right, right.

>> Which wouldn't be a big deal, if there was some temporal diversity in that.

>> Yeah.

>> But when that happens every year, then it becomes a press disturbance, instead of a pulse disturbance. You could sustain that kind of heavy use in riparian zones, if it happened once every five years. But not annually.

>> Exactly. And that's one of the things that really bothers me about the politics of grazing in the West. Is how much of it is based on photographs, which photographs can be really useful. I'm not -- as your earlier podcast had said. But I think dishonest photographs can also be very useful to the people who are trying to be dishonest.

>> Right.

>> And sometimes it's not willful. But, you know, it -- what you just described happened. And someone was there to take the picture the wrong year. Then, you know, there would be all kinds of challenges. But I think you're exactly right. It's -- and not to sound like I want to be Einstein or anything. But you really can't separate time and space, in this context.

>> Yeah.

>> Because, you know, heavy utilization is not bad, as long as, you know, ideally, it will move in space and time.

>> Yeah. I remember Kendall Johnson saying in a class one time about the history of land use in North America. That he had read some accounts of Lewis and Clark coming across the Great Plains. And they would describe coming through in May, when you've got waist high grass. Butterflies everywhere. The flowers are blooming. The antelope are prancing around through the grass. And then they would come back through in September and October. And it looked like, you know, a seven bottom plow had come through. And the streams were disconnected pools of buffalo urine. Those were his exact words, I think.

>> Yeah.

>> You know, you got a pretty severe impact there. But likely that was not homogenous across the Great Plains. That was a spot that had that kind of impact.

>> Right.

>> And it likely wouldn't occur again for some time.

>> Right, exactly.

>> It would occur again, but it would be the next, you know, the next drainage over.

>> Exactly. And, you know, you had Nathan Sayre on, who was great. And, you know, talked sort of about this -- it's very related to the [inaudible]. Sort of the pathology of conservation or natural resource management. But the idea that, you know, we moved out of this Clementsian world, where disturbance was bad. And we're supposed to be past that now. But it's really interesting to me that we really haven't gotten past that. I mean, we can all talk about it. So, we don't want to say we're not past it. But it does seem like it's really easy to slip back into it. And in some ways, it's admirable. That people actually want, you know, it's nice that people want clean water and, you know, biodiversity. But it's really easy to get into hating disturbance. And then some landscapes where, you know, the pulse versus the press issue has arisen. And it's sort of just within a region, maybe very uniform heavy grazing. Maybe there's some logic into having some regions that had less grazing. But I do feel like appreciating the importance of disturbance is something that the range community has always had.

>> Yeah.

>> But we do still slip into protecting -- well, I mean, the next principle is that fire regimes are critical, too. And that's a really good example. I mean, for much of my life, the principles on public land is that if a fire happens, you have to destock for two years. And sometimes that makes sense. And sometimes that doesn't make any sense. And so, it's sort of a similar sort of view. That we have to protect all of these ecosystems. And in reality, mother nature is not all that caring sometimes. She's kind of mean.

>> Yeah. Yeah, that's related to your principle number four. Which I'm serious about getting through all of them.

>> Okay.

>> That managing for a single condition or state or phase or a successional stage. Probably isn't a good goal, if we're trying to maintain a pattern and process and biodiversity. That the goal should be a shifting mosaic, in order to have ecosystem structure and function.

>> Yeah. And this is related back to something that's been mentioned a couple of times. About, you know, how do you monitor this? And I mentioned targets. And to me, it's a more reasonable description, if you just want to use the vernacular of Dykster house. How much of the land is tolerable to be in poor, fair, good and excellent condition? Would be a more important metric than just everything trying to be excellent.

>> Yeah.

>> And, you know, there are lots of reasons to have poor conditions. And I know that sounds funny, when you say it [brief laughter].

>> Well, sure. Let's go to your number five. Which is that conservation of range lands should consider all species of animals and plants. And you've talked a couple of times about different kinds of wildlife species that require what we would otherwise call early seral conditions. I'm not sure what terminology we use, if we don't use that Clementsian Succession as the basis, but.

>> Right. It works still, I think. And even plants, you know, in that paper and when I talk about it, I often point to some of the leaders that people that I looked up to when I was young. And some before that. And that published -- and it was really interesting about developing this conserverva -- what if we were do conservation? And, you know, when I looked at all the old books, they all talk about well, there's some plants that are just not worth managing. And, you know, they'll probably go away, if we manage properly. Well, you know, if you were really interested in conservation, that would be a troubling statement.

>> Right.

>> But they often settle on more than that. So, that's kind of out of context. But I do -- you know, and I was intrigued early on about, you know, Aldo Leopold used to talk about it. We had a compassplant down here. And basically, compassplant, under most traditional management, is really hard to find, if there are livestock in a pasture. And certainly, it's hard to find if there's fairly uniform distribution. And so, you know, how did that plant -- where did that plant live? And was it not abundant? And the argument -- and I think our data had sort of confirmed this. Is that species like that were just -- they were -- they're highly preferred. Very palatable, very nutritional forages. But they can't tolerate being grazed every year all the time. And there's plants like that all through the West.

>> Yeah.

>> So, if you think about those plats, instead of the dominant forage grasses. Then all of a sudden you think, well, we've got to -- we have to have different principles, in order to manage these landscapes. And then you can also think about the animals and wildlife and so forth. But so, I was -- I included that. Because I -- largely, the context of the paper was supposed to be -- or at least the original thought was, what if were focused mostly on conservation. And then -- so, six is -- I mean five, is almost a complete restatement of that. That all plants and animals -- I mean, that's essentially saying that we would be focused on conservation.

>> I think your principle number six is a good -- a good concluding statement for the interview. You've given me a lot of your time. And I'll let you off the hook, here in a second. Number six, you say, disturbance regimes, such as fire and grazing, are as vital to ecosystem structure and function, as climate and soils. They must be viewed as interactive processes, if we are to have any hope of maintaining biodiversity. That's a pretty broad and strong statement.

>> Yeah. And there's probably a lot of my own baggage in that statement. But, you know, I just -- I've seen -- you know, there's obviously a lot of attention now on climate. And I think it's very important. But when I walk in the range community, as well as in the conservation community. I think that the general understanding of how these ecosystems are structured. And also, how they were structured. Is not well understood. And then just that if the climate changes and or even if it doesn't change. But all those other things change, everything's going to change, too. So, it's sort of just to get those all up on the same level field. And in fact, not long ago, I was asked to write a paper about the whole rewilding concept. Which can give you -- can give a lot of people heartburn, and rightfully so. But the thing I tried to argue in that, was more important than what animals you put back. Is -- what really, I said, you have to have the climate that's suited. You have to have the people are really important. And then you have to -- and then you have to have sort of the biophysical realm. Well, most people want to argue about whether we should have cows or bison or Pleistocene megafauna. And in reality, my argument was that the pattern is actually more important. And it doesn't matter which one of those you have. And that ranchers can produce beef and create the same kind of patterns. And that there's not as much difference. Or the other way of looking at that, is that everything has changed so much, that even if you just put bison back out there, it's not going to be like it was in 1491. That was a magical time.

>> Right.

>> So, it's to try and get everyone to think a little more about these processes from a regional conservation standpoint. And recognize that things like grazing and fire are very important.

>> Yeah. And I'm -- I think regardless of what happens with climate. You know, we know for sure that there has been significant climate variation in the past. And regardless of what happens to the climate in the future. Whether variability increases or if it's unidirectional and everything's warmer. The only way to be responsive to that is to maintain maximum heterogeneity and biodiversity. So, that you can respond to whatever happens.

>> I agree entirely. I mean, it's the -- six patches make you six times less likely to be entirely wrong. You know, it's sort of like, well, is fire exclusion a great idea? Probably not. Is grazing exclusion everywhere a great idea? Probably not. And does that mean everything ought to be grazed heavy? Probably not. And so, I agree with you, that the one thing that's true about the future is that it's more uncertain than the past.

>> Yeah.

>> And so, we're -- that's all the more reason to sort of have more heterogenous landscape.

>> That's a great conclusion. Dr. Fuhlendorf, thank you for your time.

>> Thank you, Tip. It's an honor to be a part of your podcast.

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>> 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 CAHNRS Communications in the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. The project is supported by the University of Arizona and funded by the Western Center for Risk Management Education, through the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

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