AoR 7: Ken Tate, Challenges in Public Lands Grazing

Dr. Ken Tate is the Russell L. Rustici Endowed Rangeland Watershed Science Specialist in Cooperative Extension at University of California-Davis. Tate’s research and outreach focuses on the diverse managed ecosystems that make up California’s grazinglands, promoting management that supports the many benefits society receives from these working landscapes, including clean water, biodiversity and agricultural productivity. He and Tip discuss ecological and social challenges to public lands grazing, including water quality, public opinion, and bad reporting. They also discuss surveys conducted by UC-Davis to better understand ranchers' opinions on how regulations and land management policies affect them. 


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>> Welcome to The Art of Range a podcast focused on range lands 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 My guest today is Ken Tate, the Russell Rustici endowed rangeland watershed science specialist in cooperative extension at the University of California at Davis. Ken, Washington State receives enough Californians that we have a bit of a jaundiced view of them, but I won't hold that against you. Ken, welcome to the show.

>> Thank you, Tip. I'm happy to be here.

>> Ken and I met a few years ago working together on a small outreach grant to promote grazing practices that maintain riparian function and water quality. He came to Washington and talked to a couple of packed houses of both regulators and ranchers so I'm aware of Ken's ability to communicate well to bridge science and application with all kinds of people. And I would say that in water quality public lands management, private lands grazing and some other disciplinary spheres we have really similar issues across the West but especially in geographic regions where ranchers use irrigated pasture mountain range forest and range rangeland with lots of annual grass a lot of similar issues. And an endowed rangeland watershed scientist position is fairly unique. Ken, what is the history of that position? Who was Russell Rustici?

>> Sure. So Russ Rustici was a really interesting guy. He was a self-made man. He made his money actually as a produce broker back in the 50s and 60s but his lifelong dream had always-- his lifelong dream had always been to be actively managing a ranch. So, starting about the late 60s he purchased and operated a ranch in Lake County. Russ was really active with the California cattlemen's Association with UC cooperative extension. He was just inherently a very proactive fellow and so he was largely involved with a lot of our programs and kind of surprised a lot of us when as he got along in years and started to decide what to do with his estate he established a series of rangeland related endowments within California. He endowed three endowed chairs one of which I hold. Is another one at UC Davis and there's another one at UC Berkeley and basically those endowed chairs allow whichever faculty member is fortunate enough to hold it it gives us annual resources to do things that need to be done within rangeland research and education that we wouldn't be able to do otherwise. Russ additionally establish a competitive research call a funding system where annually we fund about $300,000-$400,000 worth of research on rangeland issues and livestock cattle production issues in California as a result of this endowment.

>> Am I right that Lynn Hunsinger is the other position over at Berkeley?

>> That's correct. So Prof. Lynn Hunsinger holds the endowed rangeland management position at Berkeley and my colleague Dr. Randy Dahlgren who is a biogeochemist he studies basically nutrient flows and nutrient water quality issues across California. He holds the other endowment here at Davis.

>> How did you end up in this field studying range lands and watersheds?

>> Yeah. So it's interesting. So I you know I grew up in the range lands of Central Oklahoma and I've always had an affinity for you know the rangeland ecosystems. I've always had an affinity for the rural communities that depend upon-- you know at home it was cattle production, wheat production, and oil and gas. And so that was-- those are mainstays and still are in supporting those rural economies. And so as I decided I wanted to go into science and be a scientist I want to have my research be helpful to communities to families and agriculture working on range lands. And so that's kind of what path I got onto to get here. The watershed side of it you know I just always had a huge interest in how water flows through water environments and as I got into getting a better understanding of the issues facing livestock producers particular water quality was clearly something that was coming on the horizon so I just kind of naturally gravitated that way.

>> What sort of research problem or outreach efforts are you guys working on right now?

>> We have got quite a few going on. My program in particular I was hired at UC Davis you know 20 some years ago specifically to work on water resource issues at the interface of rangeland livestock production. And those issues while we have made big strides in addressing them and adding science to solve those issues, it continues to be a major concern was in California. So I do a lot of work on rangeland livestock production systems and microbial water quality. Things like E. coli [inaudible] we are doing quite a bit of work still on reoccurring grazing issues so trying to identify and extend more information about what we call sustainable reoccurring grazing. And then in you know with the drought we've had here in California which hopefully we are certainly coming out of, but there's clear signals that you know reduced precipitation is in our long-term future. We've spent quite a lot of time in the last several years working on drought sustainability for working rangeland.

>> You've talked a bit around it, but what is uniquely interesting about the job to you? I've said before I think on the podcast that I'm intrigued by rangeland-based livestock production and motivated to do the job 120% because I think that food and fiber production systems that rely on naturally occurring plant communities that are managed with few what I would call crop inputs is a good idea. In other words, I think it's important for human flourishing generally that it respects natural ecosystems and looks to build on them is to take them apart. What gets you up in the morning besides supporting your family?

>> Yeah. So I share your you know I share your beliefs and values about you know the sustainable use of rangeland. I-- there's a couple of things. First and foremost as a cooperative extension specialist working for a land grant university, that's a dream job for me. I want to be able to conduct research on issues that people are interested in right now and need help in solving. I like this job-- I love this job and that I'm able to work directly in a participatory setting with the end users of the research that I'm working on. And so to be able to you know know that the things that I'm doing are going to have impact right now and that I'm a part of solving problems on the landscape that I love and communities that I love is what keeps me going. I think that in terms of sustaining rangeland ecosystems which are a landscape that you know I love as well. I just you know there's nothing that makes me happier than being out on range lands. And I think particularly in California given the pressures for development of these lands into higher value crops such as tree crops, nut crops, vineyards, rural residential, there's a lot of pressures on a lot of our really unique range land ecosystems in California to be transitioned into you know the final crop something that we cannot come back from. And I don't see any way to safeguard and conserve these landscapes without profitable intact ranching communities embedded upon them and within them because otherwise there's no way to sustain the systems. They are going to be converted to some other economic use. And so maintaining sustainable long-term profitable enterprises on this landscape in my mind is essential and it keeps me going it keeps getting me up in the morning to work with these people and make that happen.

>> Yeah. I would agree. We titled this episode challenges in public lands grazing. And I will be visiting with Lynn Hunsinger in an upcoming episode and kind of focus on the paper that she and Mark Brunson did making the case that large-scale or extensive grazing done well may be the conservation solution for the new West. Make a link for us between healthy ranch businesses healthy communities and healthy range lands and watersheds.

>> I see them as completely interdependent. You know we all know with training and rangeland management that this is a sustainable renewable resource. And our management decisions if they are not proper and site-specific can lead to long-term threshold degradation of the system which will cause productivity and potential profitability of that landscape to plummet. And so there is an absolute connectivity between the wise management of range lands via grazing management and other techniques on ranches in the long-term profitability of that ranch. We can't take a short-term view towards profit we've got to take a long-term multigenerational view towards the sustainability of the family based livestock industry and we have to take the same view for sustainable management resource we are dependent upon. So those are mutually beneficial. In terms of watershed function and water quality I find that the same practices that we employ for just wise livestock management for say drought resilience and other benefits from the business perspective moderate stocking rates, rotation, those types of things are the same practices that lead to healthy soil conditions, good vegetative cover, great filtration capacity in the landscape and subsequent clean water.

>> Yeah. You guys have done a lot of work in California on water quality and watershed characteristics that promote water quality. I remember seeing a job announcement oh probably 15 years ago for a range watershed management position that was within the city of Los Angeles. They were going to be hire someone to manage one of their primary watersheds that provided municipal drinking water for the city. And this person would be working with land owners and public agencies to maintain plant communities and implement practices that would minimize soil erosion, you know, minimize wildfire. To what extent are those kinds of concerns on ranchers' minds in California or anywhere else in the West for that matter? It seems that California is certainly on the front end of that kind of thinking by necessity which I think is one of the more useful trends to come out of California.

>> Yeah. So sure.

>> Your thoughts on that?

>> So you know in California you know we are indeed the you know kind of the I would-- forefront is not the right word, but we are right there in front of the bubble if you will of issues that relate to any kind of agriculture production. And water resources and other environmental concerns. And so 80% of the surface water that we use in the state of California for municipal drinking water, for irrigation of freshly consumed crops such as spinach and other leafy greens comes off of rangeland. You know not everybody realizes it but we-- you know, beef cattle production is the fifth largest commodity in our state in a state that has a lot of big agricultural commodities. So these cattle production is a big part of California's economy. Roughly 50% of our state is some type of graze rangeland ecosystem. And so we have a great opportunity we have substantial overlap between the activity of livestock production and the lands that generate drinking water irrigation water that you know 40 million people rely on. And so you know, we have a lot of concerns. We've had consistent concerns about the potential for rangeland beef cattle and sheep production to be a source of [inaudible] pollutants. Fecal born [inaudible] such as E. coli as an example. And you know that's been a consistent concern. It's something that continues. We see in the state as our population continues to grow that irrigation districts that might have developed 100 years ago to develop water to irrigate crops to citrus crops in the South Valley or fresh produce crops in the Salinas Valley as many of those crop acres are replaced with urban dwelling and urban communities, those irrigation [inaudible] have transitioned to start delivering drinking water municipal water is where they are no longer delivering agricultural water due to land use conversion. And so we see a growing number of you know districts that might have not been concerned about drinking water quality may be rather more concerned about quantity of water getting into the processing into the game of better understanding how their watersheds above their reservoir are being managed [inaudible] so it continues to be an issue within the state and I don't see it changing anytime soon.

>> Yeah. It seems like this direct connection between grazing management vegetation management and public goods like clean water is something that represents for land owners and I think particularly of ranchers is an opportunity to do good and you know market that idea. Is that the case or is it more regulatory hammer that somebody should fear if improper grazing causes soil erosion and poor water quality?

>> Sure. You know I do a lot of ranch visits. You know somebody's got a concern or somebody has raised a concern about a ranch whether it's the individual rancher or not or on a you know on a public land allotment or you know a lease on an irrigation land allotment or something. And so you know you will go out and if I see somebody who has got a serious grazing issue you know there stocking rate is too high, their timing is wrong and they've got more substantial bear soil they got issues with you know sustained productivity, I would say first and foremost water quality at that point is the least of their concerns. They got an unsustainable production system. You know so livestock performance, those types of things are going to be suffering. There's clear on ranch economic incentives to clean up if you will poor grazing management practices and you can demonstrate the benefit of that in terms of increased productivity, [inaudible] forage productivity livestock so you know when you get into those scenarios you hear a lot that you know there's really substantial degradation of [inaudible] rangeland. I don't see substantial degradation occurring in today's age just because it economically makes no sense to a wise manager. There is a place in the middle there we can of livestock production and rangeland conditions seem to do quite well. Certainly moderate to fair and you know that might be from an economic perspective in the near term sustainable but you can be seeing some water quality issues associated with that and in those situations you know we have substantial practices at hand for people to adapt. In terms of how ranchers are thinking about issues such as water quality, you know, these regulatory mechanisms that are out there they have raised awareness without a doubt and I think you know it's important to force awareness on some issues. What I've seen in California is awareness has been-- was brought back in the late 90s and water quality became a big issue for producers within the state. What we saw happen was a true partnership and leadership exhibited by proactive folks within livestock community proactive leadership with in core agencies such as our water boards and others. And we were fortunate in that within the state of California there came together a coalition of folks to take a leadership role in how we address water quality issues related to grazing. Does that mean that every ranch in California is joyfully going out and addressing water quality issues on their ranch? Absolutely not. You know people deal with that problem where they have clarity. Perhaps they are in a watershed or a water body that's been listed as impaired and the local regional water quality control Board is you know engaging them and folks will engage and become proactive at that point because there's been a history of that. I think within the community in the state to say that it's been without bumps to say that we haven't had some strong conflicts between the ranching community, the universities, and the agencies involved in this and other organizations we had a lot of bumps. But if you look at where we are in terms of the ranching community complying in partnership with water resources regulations within California we are way ahead of other types of land uses. That are in a much more I'd say structured regulatory framework then we are due to the fact that they haven't been as proactive in addressing this issue.

>> Yeah. There is a-- I mentioned in our most recent episode with Jack Southworth who is a rancher in central Oregon, Baxter Black quote that I recalled hearing I don't even know where I heard it but he said there's nothing that comes out of the end of a [inaudible] or a hypodermic needle that can compensate for subpar animal husbandry and I think that the same principle works with land as well. Economically beneficial ranch practices are good for the land because there's this close tie between was ecologically beneficial and economically beneficial to the ranch. There's just not enough money in the world to you know to compensate for tearing things apart and I would say that in general perennial grass dominated plank communities don't lose much soil or shouldn't and of course hydrologic function the ability of the soil plant interface to capture store and safely release incoming water you know is inversely related to erosion potential within some range of variation under-- just to drill into that a bit, under what circumstances do grazed watersheds lose soil and maybe you could contrast here annual grasslands which are somewhat unique there in California with perennial grasslands and what I would call treed rangeland.

>> Yeah. Sure. So you know we-- so here in California of course a lot of are key drinking water reservoirs are-- the primary watersheds feeding them are an annual grassland in the lower elevations. Oak woodland with annual grassland understory at the mid-level elevations and then in conifer forests up in the higher elevations generally on natural forest lands. And what we see in California is on our annual range lands we see really high levels of soil cover with our annual grasses. And so we have recently actually just published paper-- Toby [inaudible] specialist in soil science led an effort to based on the soil conditions across California empirical research that we've done on residual dry matter basically it's all covered levels at different levels of standing crop on annual range lands that we are seeing very low below background levels of soil erosion off of our annual grasslands. So sheet and real erosion that might occur due to their soil and things like that. We are not really seeing even at you know fairly heavy stocking rates are annual range lands still maintain enough cover. And given the types of rainfall events that we have here in California which are more [inaudible] in general in nature we don't see a lot of erosion off our annual grasslands. The erosion that we do see on ranching operations to be honest with you, primarily much like on forested systems if you look at the literature and [inaudible] culture and practices and erosion is from road networks. So you know rural roads, branch roads, forest roads, that you know just aren't designed up to spec that you know do not shed water correctly that slough are our primary source of erosion on range lands. Now those roads that exist on ranches you know they are part of the livestock production system so they are part of the operation but we-- I I say often-- I get in a pickup and drive around a ranch looking for erosion caused by grazing and get back to the headquarters and tell the manager well the primary source of erosion that I saw by and large on this ranch was the roads that we were driving on. And so we focus a lot of attention on that aspect relative to-- your question about annual grasslands and perennial grasslands, you know perennial grasslands are quite diverse. You know I read a lot of literature from Nevada and Utah and places like that and they talk about their-- some of those perennial grasslands they can be achieved maybe 50 or 60% soil cover. When inherently there's bare ground between some of those areas. So some of that site retention some of those perennial grasslands you know with the types of mobile rainfall that they get have substantial potential to yield sediment but that is part of a likely part of their inherent background sediment load. So it kind of depends upon soil cover and what that particular site is able to generate whether it be perennial or annual.

>> I was recalling when you said that some concepts from coursework in riparian ecology from 20 years ago that was distinguishing between pulse disturbances and pressed disturbances. And even know that I've heard that language since then. But what stood out to me is that you know say in aquatic ecosystem like a stream can withstand fairly well a short-term increase in sediment load for example where you've got you know a two- or three-day pulse of sediment in response to a precipitation event or a grazing event or whatever. That has a very different effect than a pressed disturbance which would be something like a road that was located immediately adjacent to a stream and the road is a constant source of sediment input and that press disturbance that constant input of sediment fundamentally changes the nature of the stream. It doesn't just present you know a single short-term challenge that can be dealt with by a healthy riparian ecosystem. It represents a long-term change that really changes the entire nature of the stream.

>> Yeah. That's right. You know and you think about that just like plant community on a rangeland up on a site of a riparian area in a stream channel that is there has evolved to the levels of sediment and flow that are received. And anything you do that alters the load of sediment either increases it or decreases it, or alters the flood regime runoff regime such as a road or a culvert can you know basically upset the dynamic the balance-- the dynamic balance that that system has come into and it will seek a new level. Right? It will be in for [inaudible] until it is able to find some level of equilibrium. And so that's a-- you know that series of events both changes in sediment as well as flow dynamics into streams it has become-- is a substantial issue that we face across the West and I think across all systems.

>> Yeah. I think that's a good transition. If ranch practices that are both ecologically and economically beneficial results in whole functioning ecosystems that should be producing some of these less tangible ecosystem goods and services which are some of the things that society values on really both public lands and private lands.

>> Yeah.

>> And I think one of the sleeper issues over the last 100 years is the extent to which well-managed private lands provide those to the public. But I've thought for some time now that the future of public lands grazing is with ranchers who can demonstrate their ability to graze toward these less tangible goods and services. What are-- if you were prompted by the title of the episode, what are the main threats or obstacles to continue sustainable ranching assuming that we are concerning ourselves with preserving ranches and ranch families and that that's what they are doing is good for the land.

>> Sure.

>> What are the primary barriers?

>> Well I will speak to just research and information that we have in California but you know as you well know the things that we are facing with here are the same that you are facing out across the West. And you know we did a-- we recently did in the last several years we did various social surveys mail surveys and follow-up interviews with over 500 ranchers across California and we found you know if you think about so what is a ranch these days? How is it made up? And what does a ranch depend upon in terms of land resources? We found in California that over 50% about 50% of our ranchers are dependent upon access to some type of public land lease whether it be federal public lands or state or regional type lands that are managed for the public trust by agencies. And so there are substantial reliance among ranchers within the state of California on access to public lands to basically provide around the annual clock the year long forage that they need. As you know we've got a six month to seven month summer dry. Here in California. Our lower elevational range which we call winter range provides forage from October to April or May. During that summer dry., You know for the last 150 years, our ranching community has been dependent upon access to higher elevations in the summer range generally managed by US Forest Service and [inaudible] management. We are very dependent upon about 800 acre-- 800,000 acres of irrigated pastor. So we have a dependence upon that irrigated pastor and the availability of water. And so when we talk to ranchers about you know the issues that they face in being sustainable and what they need to be sustainable one of the key terms that we hear back from them is flexibility. The flexibility. They need to be able to have the access to these different types of lands to be able to make the entire year plots. And so thinking about access to public lands and ranchers dependence upon public lands is essential. What is the capacity of the individual ranchers to maintain their access to the public lands? And my experience the folks that have public lands leases who seem to have the least number of issues you know what I mean of just I don't get phone calls from them on a regular basis. They are able to do business as they understand it that access to the public lands is via contract. It's via an agreement. And in modern times accessing federal public lands you're making agreements in your annual operating plan operating instructions to manage those range lands with a multiple uses that have been established for them. So ranchers who are actively working to distribute livestock well to make sure that clearly identified critical areas are you know receiving a level of use that's going to be agreed upon ranchers that are taking the time to understand what the grazing-- reoccurring grazing standards are, you know in terms of level of use that can be met annually on reoccurring areas site specifically within their ranch folks that understand those things and have graphically managed to meet those agreements generally are not having a lot of problems on their public lands. In terms of complying with the policies and the regulations that exist there. And I think it's important for folks who are doing that to document those things taking photographs keeping some records so that they are able to demonstrate that their management is proactive and beneficial. I think that's a key step in being able to maintain that sustainable access to those lands and those foraging [inaudible].

>> Yeah. Regulations exist in principle to limit behavior that harms others or harms resources that other people depend on and some regulations seem reasonable and some don't. Some people have said that the current regulatory burden is a result of the legacy effects of historical overgrazing depending on how you see that you know we could probably argue that the period of time during which true overgrazing occurred probably wasn't all that long but that may have had some pretty significant punctuated changes in the landscape that in places we are still dealing with. To what extent do you think the current regulatory structure or regulatory burden is a result of past mismanagement and to what extent is it just that's just the way society has changed over time we

>> Yeah. You know it's hard to say. You know one of the things we have talked about these surveys that we did with ranchers. One of the things we asked them kind of the last question in the survey was this kind of free-form they could write into their response to this question would ever they want when we ask them. So basically you know what you see as the greatest threat to the sustainability of your ranching business you know in your family operation? Without a doubt regulation. Terms like regulation, governmental oversight, those were by and large the primary topics that came up. Regulatory oversight and issues like related to water and water security and availability and a lot of those concerns about water security and availability went right back to regulatory issues. So ranching community definitely sees regulatory pressures as a primary threat to sustainability of their operations. I've seen similar results from almost-- surveys of other agricultural commodities here in California I saw a paper where they surveyed organic tomato producers in the Central Valley of California they got the exact same result. So this is I think prevail and across the agricultural communities as we work through this interface between regulation and food production. You know on the flipside of that we've got you know 10 billion people to feed and about 30 years. Right? So we got to find some solution this. And as I look at you know the idea of you know regulations currently and just the broader you know prevail and concern that might be out there about livestock grazing practices and impacts on water quality and environmental health one of the things I've done I went back and I was thinking why is there so much discrepancy you know in some of the research literature on grazing management and environmental outcomes? I talked to other colleagues in other disciplines and there like well can it doesn't make any sense. Usually science as a whole body moves forward and converges on some truth and some agreed-upon knowledge. But you guys seem to keep you know we keep seeing you know literature that goes head-to-head and say appeals on public land law. It's like why is this? So I went back and I looked and if you look at as an example if I go in and I look at an appeal on the grazing plan on [inaudible]. Somebody basically appealed something and took it to court a decision on a modern grazing allotment. If you look at a lot of the literature that they are referencing you know reviews of grazing impacts on say like [inaudible] areas you go back and you look and you like wow all those papers-- those are review papers published in the 1990s. You know 94, 99 and you go back and you look at the papers that are in those literature reviews that comprise it and they are all from the 80s and 70s and the early 90s. And then you look now at some of the more recent reviews that find that livestock grazing practices exist which allow us to graze riparian areas in a way that's compatible with you know healthy riparian function. And so if we look at a review of research that was completed in St. 2015, and the papers that it's based upon that occurred in 2010, 2005, etc., you realize you know there's actually kind of a disconnect. If you think about the grazing management that was occurring you know in the early 1900s even into the 1950s and 60s the research that's in those literature reviews conducted and published in the mid-1990s are probably actually valid. But if you look at what's been happening on grazing practices and management of public lands in particular, you know over the last 20 years there's been a sea change in policy and on the ground management as an example in California on Forest Service land we have 30% fewer animal unit months on forest service allotments in California today then we had 20 years ago. Substantial reductions. And so we have different read. Grazing standards to protect our riparian areas. And so one of the disconnects that exist I think and continues to perpetuate this concern is that if you go off and read a review paper from that long ago and don't realize that there's been a change in on the ground management in the conditions out there that current studies reflect I think that's part of the issue in the way the scientific literature is being used. And I think that drives some of the concerns in terms of just the current regulatory environment, you know we need regulations because you know I like to tell my class I have a class I teach in rangeland management ecology you know if we didn't know that the California Highway Patrol was out there enforcing the speed limit we'd all drive 15 to 20 miles over it. That's just human nature. But when we know that person is going to be sitting out there and they are going to enforce the law, all of us are pretty law-abiding. We will get on board and we will drive a safe speed. And I think that's kind of the rule regulations play. I think that there has to be some balance in the application of those standards and those regulations and I think in enforcing those regulations we have to understand that some branches in order to comply with those regulations it might be a 20-year timeframe. You know? If substantial capital improvements are required or changes in management are required that require some time to get in place I think we need to see the regulatory community and I think we do see them in many cases giving folks credit for the actions of beginning the compliance process. And getting on the road to get down to the right place. I think they understand that we can't get there overnight when we do have a problem but understanding and rewarding the efforts of individuals on the ground to move in that direction is essential.

>> Yeah. Yeah. Just to play the devil's advocate on the speed limit analogy, I think the downside of that is that the natural world is pretty complicated and more complicated than rocket science.

>> Oh yeah.

>> You know so it's not always obvious. It's very difficult to write regulations where it's obvious at what point you are exceeding the speed limit and what exactly is the speed limit?

>> Oh, yeah. I concur with that. One of the issues that we have is so there needs to be you know we need to have regulations in place and help us you know recognize boundaries but one of the problems that we have is substantial conflict and overlap in regulatory agencies and that's an issue for just myself being a professional trying to keep up with what are the regulatory programs and mechanisms that are coming out of state government coming out of federal agencies I got at least four state agencies that have oversight on a lot of related issues in California. They don't communicate very well among themselves. I've got at least four federal agencies who have some oversight on the way of water related issues on rangeland. And so trying to distill down to ranching communities which practices planning processes etc. that they can do would satisfy all of those constituents at the same time and then the other side of that is you know I talk a lot about the ranching community being a clientele the agencies are also a clientele for the scientific community. You know I have a lot of questions from various agency staff who have been tasked with the job of working on water quality impairments in a-- say a rangeland watershed. And some of them will say you know, I had no training in this. I had no idea what beef cattle production looks like. I don't know what the constraints are. And save got people within the regulatory agencies tasked with a job that they have no training to do. And so you know that's a real challenge. Oftentimes there are people that are able to recognize that and look for assistance and sometimes they look for assistance and there's nobody there to assist them. Other times you have situations where regulatory process with an agency will move forward in a bubble. And they will come out the other end with a program for compliance that isn't based on the best available science and isn't practical. It just can't be implemented on the ground. You know economically or just logistically. So absolutely that is an issue. I actually had an opportunity to visit with some state legislators couple months ago. These are people who are in state legislator setting policy and it was interesting to talk to them and listen to them. They'll say things like you know we set this policy we put in place as a state law because it seemed like a really good idea and it was clear evidence and clear need and then we were mortified to see how it was actually administered and turned into a regulatory program by agencies. And so I think you know policies and how they are implemented by agencies how they are handled I think collaboratively by the multiple agencies that might have oversight for them is a real challenge I think not just to the livestock industry it's a challenge to the wise protection and conservation of our resources.

>> Right. Meanwhile you've got 97% of ranchers in your survey that say they try to conserve natural resources. And there's probably some good evidence of that.

>> Yeah. In a previous episode with Floyd read we are talking about the book that he had put out a few years back where they compared landscape photographs in west central Colorado from explorers that came through in the late 1800s and they retook those photographs and you know find the number of landscape changes probably the most consistent one is an increase in the number of trees but in general you don't see things getting worse over that timeframe in most places and I can't tell you how many ranchers have told me you know you should've seen what this looks like 20 years ago. And they always mean that it looks better now than it did 20 years ago. And you know on kind of an arbitrary landscape quality scale if somebody has gotten the piece of ground from a three to a six over the last 10 years that should get some credit. You know? But if a brand-new range con who got hired a year ago sees that on their arbitrary scale it's a five and they think it should be and nine and they are getting pressured to get there they may feel like the ranchers should be doing something different. I thought it was really interesting in your survey that ranchers were divided just exactly evenly over whether government is helping in the world of conservation or hurting or neutral.

>> Yeah that's a good observation. And I think that continuity is important you know my perspective is that I see rangeland health across our state certainly in the time. I've been here as improving. And you know if we look at our research on water quality and water quality conditions across rangeland we are 40 or 50 research papers and now we don't really find problems. We find our rangeland to be sinks for nitrogen phosphorus carbon. We find very little erosion to be occurring broadly across the landscape. We find very low microbial water quality gluten levels in our extensively grazed rangeland and you know that's a substantial body of work that consistently shows that outcome. So I think the ranging community is correct to have concern because generally the way we start a you know say okay well we are concerned about E. coli and let's say spinach in Salinas Valley. The first outcome of that is well, what about livestock? They must be a source because we heard in the news about hamburger and E. coli. So cattle must be a source and well like that's completely different issue. That's a slaughter that's a completely different system. Yet you know we always start it seems like we always start with the assumption that something that something's wrong. That there is a problem on this landscape. I think that that is a poor way to come at what might be a problem. It's a poor way to come at a community of individuals you know none of us like to have somebody walk in to our house and say well I really don't like the color of your walls I really don't like how high or low you hung your pictures. I think you should've done this I think you should have done that you know I will show them the door if they come and talk like that. And I think for the ranching community you know they are justified to say you know wait a minute you haven't demonstrated that my management is part of the problem here. And so you know one of the things that I always do of uninvited onto a ranch to you know take a look around and see what might be going on I never show up with the idea that there's something wrong. I show up with the assumption that everything's fine until I see otherwise. I think that's a real issue in the way we address whether it be livestock production or any other type of resource use and that I think you will see that when you've got a particular lack of continuity in staff and others working on an issue. So that they cannot see what the long-term conditions have been or they don't have an understanding of the efforts that are ongoing by that management community to ensure there are no problems.

>> Yeah. That's interesting. But a number of people and thinking specifically of Nathan [inaudible] and Lynn Hunsinger have made the case that most of the problems with ranching are social and not biophysical. And the philosophies that we bring the beliefs and values that we bring to our thinking about it make a big difference. You know one of them is whether people are innocent until proven guilty. And I think that's one of the things that ranchers are objecting when they say regulations are burden. The regulation seems to assume that they are a problem that their way of life is a problem and that the government exists to rein them in.

>> Yeah. Absolutely right. You know I tell my class all the time you know we certainly on range lands have some serious biophysical problems and challenges there's no doubt about it. There is some plant invasions and some thresholds ecological thresholds that have been crossed that putting all social issues aside you have a hard time fixing. But you know these are interconnected social economic ecological systems and the vast majority of the challenges that I see are people recognizing that the share values that they share a love for the landscape and resource that these multiple uses truly are compatible and I think wherever we see people get on that page and where individuals realize the other side right right whatever that is they they're really not out to get me. They're really not out to put me out of business. You know if we start to sit around the table or get out on the ground that is the path the sustainable path to solving the problem you know we talk about regulation a bit. You regulations can come and go you know we see one administration strengthen the regulations we see other administration trying to weaken the regulation of our agency you know those are for your terms five-year eight year terms that's not the path. You know that's not the path to getting a community and a resource to a stable sustainable place. And you know when you think about you just think about you know the ranching community and we interviewed 100 ranchers sat around the kitchen table with them and interviewed them one by one and one of the things I began to recognize after about 30 interviews and I knew this but really kind of hit home at the end is you can't make people afraid. You can't make people just regular folks concerned that they're not about their livelihood. But they're not going to be able to support their family. You kind of started out with that oh what gets me up outside of supporting my family that first and foremost is supporting my family right? And so if you come at a community or an individual and they perceive what you are trying to do as a threat to their capacity to support their family, and maintain you know a multigenerational heritage, they are going to fight. And I think you cannot put people in that position. That's just not no matter what that's on a good way to go about solving a problem no matter how bad it might be.

>> Yeah. And I would add to that that where we do have even large biophysical problems the solutions are going to have to be socially derived because the real world is much more complicated than rocket science and passive restoration often doesn't work.

>> Yeah. That's right.

>> I thought it was interesting in your survey that 63% of ranchers identified the ranching lifestyle is more important than economic returns. Do they have the luxury to say that because people by and large are not losing money or is a lifestyle draw that strong? I think this is important because we need food producers and open space and ranching is one of the only places where we get those two things together.

>> Yeah. You know you will hear this from Lynn Hunsinger as you talk to her and others. You know people are in I'd say a ranching-- in particular in agriculture in general because they love that lifestyle. You know? It has heritage value to them they love that conductivities the land I often hear people talk about we produce food. We feed people. We are proud of that. And so there is absolutely a strong draw to that. You know if you look at that survey as well you will see that about the same number about 67% of respondents also had substantial off ranching and so a lot of people they are a ranching business their agricultural business is a component. It's an enterprise that they maintain potentially subsidize with other activities. A lot of our ranching folks who raised livestock on range lands also are active in crop agriculture. They have other aspects of agriculture. They have jobs in rural real estate and a suite of things that allow them to kind of make it work which to me tells me you know as an extension educator what is telling-- these are really busy people. They've got multiple jobs [inaudible] to make this all tie together. And so you know thinking about their concerns about time regulation their ability just to attend say an old-fashioned crop [inaudible] education event you know they've got to really careful with their time and you know for us in education we've got to be efficient in getting information to them in a way that they can access. I think for regulatory compliance perspective whatever compliance vehicle we come up with planning process or whatever we put out there as a collaborative fashion it's got to be fairly straightforward and achievable. It's really got to cut the red tape I think in order to get more activity on the ground and less activity in the laptop or in a meeting room you know in terms of plants because he got folks that are committed to the business committed to lifestyle but have a lot going on.

>> Yeah. I think there's something there. Regarding economics I've seen a number of studies showing that the rate of return on investment in most land-based businesses but ranching certainly probably toward the low end of this that rate of return is somewhere between three and 5%. And--

>> Yeah. I'd say that's about right.

>> You know, there's a lot of interest in slow food you know maybe this kind of slow money is good for society as well. And yeah one of the questions I had was what just to try to wrap us up a little bit what could ranchers do to stay ahead of regulatory threats? We talked about that a bit with good communication doing the best you can take care of your land and trusting that that will avoid the knock on the door.

>> Yeah.

>> Any other thoughts on that?

>> Stay engaged. You know? Be active in your local cattlemen's or wool growers Association be engaged at the state level. You know we find that ranchers that you know some of those surveys-- ranchers that are proactive ranchers that to be more able to deal with adverse conditions or uncertainty if it's regulations it's one of those that have those characteristics they tend to see a lot of information networks is valuable. They seek information from a lot of places. So I think staying engaged saying informed understanding what's going on that doesn't mean you go to every meeting there is you know but also keep abreast of conditions. Have a good network of information and do a bit of a self-assessment. Do yourself. Take a second look at the operation and how you are doing things. If you've got you know somebody in cooperative extension or within a technical support agency that you trust that you see value in, you know, ask them out to talk with you about what you're doing. I think taking advantage where you're comfortable with the resources that are available to make improvements on the ranch that have both economic as well as conservation benefits. It is wise and good business. If people are comfortable with accessing those funds. That's a good way to stay engaged also establishes a track record of you as an individual you know doing things to benefit not only your operation but also the conservation of the resources.

>> Looking a bit at our roles as people who work for like sort of government agency at the University, you said before the vegetable growers lay awake at night worrying about birds not upstream cattle. To what extent can we with new scientific discoveries help to make environmental regulations smarter and more fair maybe in the world of water quality? Is that happening? Is that too optimistic? Is that something that is so long-term that it's hardly worth thinking about in the here and now?

>> No I think we have an important role within the scientific community and the outreach community and one of the things he knows I was trained as a scientist you know to be very conservative report your results you know we as scientists are always taught to caveat our response to a question well depends the outcome depends and we add always depends. And we are taught that well you need 95% confidence in the results before it's true. You know and so we are taught to be conservative in how we tried to put our science into the policy arena not to bias one where the other. We are taught to be super conservative in a way record our results and advise people to make decisions based upon them in the real world. Policymakers managers they have to make decisions now. And they are a lot more comfortable than we realize with uncertainty. They get that. And so ideal that every day and so I think we as scientists and educators we need to be a little less conservative in putting our science out there making it accessible to policymakers weighing into in a constructive way policy discussions. And recognizing that you know Sam going to recommend to a rancher or group about a set of practices that they could put in place. I know that those practices are going to be somewhere between 30% and 90% effective based on site conditions out there. I can tell them that and then they can decide whether or not they want to take a risk on the practice being 30% or 90% effective on their site. They can make that decision. I just need to give them kind of those bounds and let them know what they can expect and so I think for us to be less hesitant in engaging in the policy and regulatory development discussions then I think we have been in the past and in being less hesitant but also continuing to try to stay in the middle and base our input on the science that we have available.

>> I was reminded when you said that of a sociologist from Rutgers that we had here for a conference on actually regulations to talk about 10 or 15 years ago and he said that we the scientific community tend to think that we are objective and we try to be conservative about what we say and we assume that other people will make the same actions that we would based on the information that we have here but he said human behavior doesn't work that way and never has. People know the facts about overeating and obesity and unsafe sex and STD's and smoking and lung cancer. You name it the list goes on. He said we have to persuade people not just inform people. You got to take a little bit of that muzzle off and be a little bit more engaged if you want to affect behavior and of course you know all over extension for the 15 years I've been in extension you know all we ever hear about is results you know we want behavior change outcomes long-term outcomes condition change and you don't get that by just making information available. We have to persuade people toward what we you know in a combination of subjective and objective evaluations think are the right things to do.

>> That's right. We have to provide some leadership.

>> Right.

>> That's exactly right. And you know as an comfortable that might be for some of us you know that's what we have to do. And you know matter what people are going to make a decision. A policymaker has to make a decision. They've got a week to do it sometimes they've got a couple days to do it you know they are going to make a decision whether you talk to them or not. Same eyes will talk to them. Particularly if they are asking you to. And then they will way that with the 500 other sources of input that they're getting and the make a decision. So I think we-- it behooves us to get in the game on some of these things that we might have sat back on in the past.

>> Yeah. The Sierra foothills research and education center has a tremendously useful website. You guys have done a great job with that. We are going to link to that in the show notes. Will also put together some of the maybe most applicable scientific studies that you have published recently and make those available at least the ones that are open access. Is there anything else that you would like to tell natural resource professionals and ranchers which is our main audience in the podcast here?

>> Well I would say as a scientist and an extension educator, tell me-- tell us what you need. Let us know what we can do as you know what are the research needs that you have? What are the questions you have that we can't resolve whether they be economic social ecological livestock production you know let us know so that we can begin to develop programs to address those. A lot of times in finding you the questions that all get that folks are hung up on I'm like oh wow. We know the answer that. You know we've known the answer that for a decade or two. And so you know reach out to your state universities and other technical resources and ask them for help when you need it. And if they can't provide the answers that you need challenge us to go find it. And then participate with us in the process of conducting the science. You know become engaged at the beginning with identifying the research goals and objectives making sure that at the end the answers that we come up with are going to be relevant to the questions that you have. So I would say the most important research that I have conducted my career has had the end user whether it be range conservationists water quality regulators ranchers or all of the above directly involved throughout the entire process, that's been the most rewarding research that I've conducted and so I would encourage managers that are listening to this to reach out.

>> Very good. Ken Tate, I appreciate your time today and I look forward to visiting with you soon.

>> Thank you.

>> Thank you for listening to the Art of Range podcast. You can subscribe to and review the show through iTunes or your favorite podcasting app so you never miss an episode. Just search for art of Range. If you have questions or comments for us to address in a future episode, send an email to For articles and links to resources, mentioned in the podcast please see the show notes at Listener feedback is important to the success of our mission empowering rangeland managers. Please take a moment to fill out a brief survey at This podcast is produced by Connors communications in the College of agricultural human and 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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