This episode has the authors of a recent article in the journal Rangeland Ecology & Management tell the story behind their work: Clare Kazanski & Marissa Ahlering (The Nature Conservancy), Patrick Lendrum (World Wildlife Fund), and Sheri Spiegal (Jornada Experimental Range). Sheri was recently honored with the USDA ARS Early Career Scientist of the Year Award. The organizations represented by these and other contributing authors are all involved in evaluating environmental and social success in ranching. Quoting from the article: "There is a need for greater clarity on which indicators are most effective for assessing and monitoring sustainable management and continuous improvement of ranching operations. Our objective was to synthesize existing guidance on monitoring and assessing ranch-scale sustainability in the United States and to identify core ecological, social, and economic indicators that could identify well-managed ranching, support adaptive management, and demonstrate producers’ sustainability and continuous improvement to retailers and consumers. We evaluated 21 range and pastureland assessments from nongovernmental organizations, agencies, and academics that totaled 180 indicators. From this, we selected 20 commonly used “core” indicators (12 ecological and 8 socioeconomic)" that can be used to measure ranch sustainability.
AoR 82: A Synthesis of Ranch-Level Sustainability Indicators for Land Managers, Part 1
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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 artofrange.com.
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Welcome back to the Art of Range. We have a larger than usual list of guests today, so I'm going to introduce the topic before we introduce all of the people. We would like to periodically highlight on the podcast articles -- either from "Rangelands Ecology & Management" or the "Rangelands Journal" -- that managers should know about. There's an awful lot of range science that is really useful, applied science, and much of this does not get communicated adequately. So we want to take one small step in that direction to highlight individual articles every once in a while. The folks that are on, with us today wrote an article published in 2021 in "Rangeland Ecology & Management" titled "A Synthesis of Ranch-Level Sustainability Indicators for Land Managers to Communicate Across the U.S. Beef Supply Chain." The article is open access, so it doesn't cost a lot of money or require an institutional login to get to. And we will put the direct link in the show notes. We do have a pretty good list of folks with individual contributors that represent a number of different organizations. So we're going to go around our virtual room here for introduction, and you can say, who are you? What organization are you associated with? And how did you come to be doing range work? And, Marissa, I think we'll start with you.
>> Yeah, hi, Tip. Thanks for having us today. My name is Marissa Ahlering. I am the lead scientist for The Nature Conservancy in Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota. And the simplest way to say sort of what I do is that I'm, you know, I'm science support for our conservation work in those three states. And, however, I guess I would say my background is really prairie ecology, grassland ecology. I'm a lover of prairies and grasslands. And I, you know, that's how I've come to do this work in this region, in this area. Rangelands, grazing lands, thinking about sustainability and grazing, it's all really important to conservation of grasslands and prairies. So, yeah, that's me.
>> Great, welcome. Clare.
>> Yeah, thank you for having us, Tip. My name's Clare Kazanski, and I'm a scientist with The Nature Conservancy. And I sit in our North America region, where I support our North America sustainable grazing lands strategy. And similar to Marissa, I have a deep love of prairies and grasslands. I'm not a rancher myself or from a ranching family, but have kind of grown up near some of those systems and just have always gravitated to thinking about them. My science and my research started with soil and roots and carbon, and then has really grown from there. And I do a lot of work collaborating with social scientists to think kind of about the big picture and the whole system. And that's a little bit about how I've come to this work.
>> Great, thank you. Patrick.
>> Yeah, great. Thanks, like everyone else said, for having us and for getting this information out. My name is Patrick Lendrum. I'm the science program lead for World Wildlife Funds' Northern Great Plains program. Based out of Boseman, Montana. I guess I'm a little bit of a black sheep of this group in the sense that my training is wildlife biology. I studied everything from insects to grizzly bears. But when the opportunity came to work on conservation in the grasslands, least protected, most at risk biome across the globe really, it was an opportunity I couldn't say no to, and I haven't looked back. So thrilled to be here.
>> Thank you. Corri.
>> Yeah, thank you. My name is Corrie Knapp, and I work as an assistant professor at the University of Wyoming in the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources. And I was really trained as a social ecological scientist. So I kind of straddle the worlds of sociology and ecology. And I got into this sort of work growing up in Colorado. I loved these big mountain parks that they have, North Park and South Park. And they were my favorite places to spend time, and I always thought how wonderful it would be to be able to work with the people who work the land there. And so I started out as a qualitative social scientist and over the years have done hundreds of interviews with ranchers. And so I'm very curious about how ranchers think about sustainable land practices.
>> Thank you. Sheri.
>> Yes, hi. I'm Sheri Spiegal. It's wonderful to be with you all today. It's really exciting to be able to talk about the work after writing it together. So I am a rangeland management specialist at the Jornada Experimental Range in Las Cruces, New Mexico, which is in South Central New Mexico, pretty close to Texas and Mexico. So that's a USDA agricultural research service unit where we have a huge research ranch. So I get to be a scientist at the Jornada, and then I'm also a co-lead of a project called the Sustainable Southwest Beef Coordinated Agricultural Project, which is a project of research extension and education where we're looking at strategies for more sustainable beef production and supply chains that originate on southwestern ranches. And how I came to love rangelands, I've always been interested in the intersection of the environment and food production. And I also just love wide open spaces and arid climates. So what better way to put that all together than in rangeland ecology and management. And so I do have my Master's in range management and then a Ph.D. that's range management related. So focussing on ecology, but the other aspects of range management, socioeconomic pieces and productivity pieces and environmental pieces and trying to minimize tradeoffs among goals. So thank you again for having me.
>> Yeah, thank you. I was really intrigued by the title of the article, probably because I also am interested at the intersection of food and natural resources. And I have said over and over again that I feel like rangelands-based livestock production is one of the only sectors, I guess, of agriculture that is sort of by definition the most sustainable. But it, saying that reminds me of a talk that I heard by Nathan Sayre a number of years ago regarding the word "sustainability" and the sometimes meaninglessness of these buzzwords that we use all the time to the point that they almost don't have any meaning. And he pointed out that sustainability is nearly a circular argument. Anything that still persists has to be by definition sustainable because it's still here. So, anyway, my recollection of that talk is that he was telling those of us who are in the range science community and working with ranchers to be specific about what it is that we think we're concerned to sustain? And it looks to me like that's what you tried to chase down with this synthesis effort. So that's my interest in the article. But I'm curious from your end, what were the set of circumstances or needs that you were aware of that led to working on this project? Which, in my opinion, has been -- it is a tremendous service to those of us who are working at this intersection of landowners, land managers, ranchers, and range science.
>> Yeah, this is Marissa. I think I can take a shot at that because how this sort of began and how we got started, because it's sort of funny. It was not, we didn't start actually, I don't think, with an intention of doing a synthesis and thinking about it from that sustainability perspective and kind of trying to define what that looks like. We started, basically, Clare and Patrick and I, TNC and WWF, World Wildlife Fund, Nature Conservancy, were thinking about baseline assessments for continuous improvement on rangelands and what we needed to do, what we needed to monitor, and how we needed to set that up to think about, you know, tracking continuous improvements. Initially, we were really initially focused on Nature Conservancy lands and our ranching partners -- you know, both with The Nature Conservancy and with World Wildlife Fund -- and mostly in the Northern Great Plains because that's where I am focused and that's where Patrick is focused. That was kind of our initial thinking and focus for the project. And we didn't want to reinvent the wheel. We wanted to see what was out there already because, you know, we knew assessments already existed. And then, when we went to look, we really got overwhelmed by what was out there and started to think about, you know, there's so many different approaches and so many different assessments. And so we said, all right, well, let's line them up and compare them and see, you know, what are the commonalities to see if we can get a handle on, what are the things we might want to be tracking? Where's there agreement? Where might there be discrepancies? And so once we did that, we thought, oh, you know, this might actually be useful to other people beyond us who get kind of overwhelmed with the same thing when they might want to start down this road. And so that I would say is kind of the genesis. And then we started to think about, when we sat down and thought about how we'd share this, we started to think about, well, how might this to useful to others? Especially thinking, you know, The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund are both parts of -- involved in the U.S. roundtable for sustainable beef and work with partners kind of across the supply chain and had noticed this kind of general interest in tracking improvement over time around sustainability. And so then we were also trying to sort of figure out how we could connect the synthesis with those efforts and the other parts of the supply chain as well. So that was kind of the, I guess, the short story of the genesis of where the project started.
>> Yeah, it feels like a significant challenge just because there are so many angles or so many facets to this, you know, to this object that we're calling ranch sustainability. There's all of the ecological or environmental sustainabilities as well as economic and social. And probably more that maybe don't even fit into those categories.
>> Yeah, for sure. And I, you know, to your point about definition of sustainability, and we had this conversation early on when we were thinking about this too. Because, you know, we reviewed a number of different approaches, and the different approaches use different terms. Like, you know, some of them are really focused on "regenerative" or, you know, use "sustainability," or they use different words. But what we really found was that they were all kind of really describing the same vision. And we needed one word to sort of be consistent throughout the paper, and "sustainability" really has those three components kind of clearly defined; the ecological, social and economic. And we kind of saw that in the indicators, and so we thought that, we sort of chose that as a framework for the paper. But I don't, I know that other coauthors have thoughts on this as well.
>> I'll jump in. I think that the sustainability framing is really important because, when it comes down to it, it's about what people value and what they care about. And so, when we think about this kind of three-legged stool of ecological, social, and economic, really what measure is what we pay attention to. And so, in my view, what we've assembled in this paper is excellent. It's a really rich set of commonly included indicators, and it also shows where there are gaps that need to be filled or where maybe certain values aren't being incorporated enough in that process. And so I'm kind of excited as this, for this as a stepping-off point to think about more participatory community-level workshops that could help to tease out how various stakeholders value different attributes of sustainability in different systems.
>> I couldn't agree more. I -- that's such an excellent and important point. I think agreeing, I also agree with Nathan Sayre in thinking we need, in saying that we need to be super clear on what we mean by sustainability. And in a lot ways it's in the eye of the stakeholder. So it's really important to systematically understand stakeholder values and goals around sustainability and then see how different types of innovations, different types of management or policy strategies on rangelands meet those marks or potentially detract from those marks or those targets in those different domains. And the organizations I work in, we have split out that third leg of the stool that's pretty popular. So it's often social, economic, environments. And I think those are from kind of big UN reports and big UN efforts around sustainability, but it's been helpful for us to split out the social and the economic into social human condition and economic. So to really get clear on some of those socioeconomic pieces that I know a lot of folks who are trained more classically in ecology or biology can sometimes have a harder time wrapping their heads around and feel maybe slightly intimidated by some of the socioeconomic variables and indicators. So I find that splitting those out can clarify a conversation. So I work at, in the long-term agro-ecosystem research network. So that's part of my work with the Jornada -- so it's 18 other sites around the country -- seeking or evaluating innovations around sustainability outcomes in these different regions. And we have found that having a kind of a five-legged table of productivity -- the environment, economics, social cohesion, and human condition -- helps us get really clear about what we're talking about. And that's why -- and I know this paper has been super helpful for people in that network also to see how our work can apply more broadly and how it fits in, how it compares and contrasts with other indicator frameworks.
>> Yeah, I think the broad list of organizations represented by the authors seems to be speaking to that somewhat. You wouldn't expect that the world Wildlife Fund has the same interest as the Savory Institute, as the Bureau of Land Management, as the Noble Research Institute. You know, they -- but I think in a number of these ecological spheres, sometimes this sort of assessment framework provides for a common language so that people are not talking past each other. Because I think often times we're valuing the same things, but we use different words and have different concepts in our head to describe it. And this seems to begin to define some of that.
>> Yeah, Tip, this is Clare. I agree, and I think it's, in my experience, it was one of the really wonderful parts about this project, was working across a broad list of folks. And so we -- maybe to give a little bit of background on kind of how we got there. When we were starting and reviewing and looking to kind of synthesize across all these existing resources and guidance documents, we wanted at the very first level to make sure that we were interpreting the meaning and intent of those sources correctly. And so we reached out to connect with the authors where we could find them. And then through that process and in conversation invited folks in to join the project and bring their perspective. And so that led to this large group of 20 coauthors. We have 14 different institutions represented. Like you said, including different environmental nonprofits, ranching organizations, and grazing lands coalitions, USDA's ARS, BLM, and the University of Wyoming. And having the opportunity to dialogue and connect with such a large and diverse group really developed, you know, led to really rich conversations and I think a much richer end product as a result than anything that we could have done on our own. So I think it really was a key piece of kind of looking and thinking about, you know, the commonalities across these different resources and all the amazing work that has been done before that we were really simply kind of trying to bring together and shed some light on. So it was, I think, a key piece of this whole work.
>> Yeah, I apologize if I missed it somewhere. Does the list of organizations represent the organizations that are responsible for many of the certification programs and assessment protocols that are listed in the synthesis?
>> Yes, it represents a good number of them. Not all of them, but --
>> -- many of them.
>> Yeah, I think rangelands, in general, are often said to be significant because they're big. They occupy a large percentage of the land area, both in the United States and around the world. And the beef industry is one of the, probably the primary economic user of rangelands. But I feel like it's worth discussing some of the other, you know, major ecosystem services or benefits provided by rangelands that you've pointed out in the article; soil carbon, biodiversity, stabilizing soil, providing people a sense of place. You know, these are some of the things that are, it's hard to put a dollar value on them. And you don't realize sometimes that they're valuable until they're gone. You know, they, you have a view shed that gets, you know, some set of structures put up in the middle of it or a neighborhood pops up in a spot that didn't have one. And you realize that place will never be the same, and you can't put a dollar value on that. And there's, you know, the benefits of providing economic stability to rural communities. There's an awful lot of sociological and cultural benefits of rangelands and the beef industry that maybe get overlooked. And I think these indicators provide a way to begin to at least identify what those values are, even if we're not able to put, you know, quantify it in some kind of a, you know, a value system.
>> Yeah. I'll jump in and just really agree with you with that. I think that one of the most important things about our rangelands are the diverse benefits that they provide to people that don't even live in rangelands, to people that live in urban areas. And, you know, when we think about the historical settlement of rangelands, in the Western United States especially, water was so critical. So when we look at private rangelands, they're often the most productive, lower elevation, lots of water, critical resources, and fairly arid environments. And like you said, you know, they provide such a suite of ecosystem services, things that we don't typically think about. You know, we think about clean air and water, carbon cycling, but things like sense of place and cultural connectivity, habitat, and view sheds are all really, really important to these places. And so, when we're thinking about how we're measuring sustainability, I think it's really important for us to think about what the metrics that we're measuring with capture and what they fail to capture. And so to me in this project, I really loved looking at the gaps and thinking about what would or would not be captured with these indicators. So when we think about things like, you know, the rise of large corporate ranches, you know, do we think that those are as sustainable as family farms? And in what ways? And what type of ecosystem services are both of them providing? And so, yeah, I think it's a really interesting question, both what the indicators can tell us about sustainability now, but also where the gaps might be where we're not fully getting at the sustainability of systems.
>> Yeah, and I feel like, too, it helps people think through how to communicate the values of ranching. If I'm a rancher, you know, whether or not I stay in business largely depends on whether or not I can continue to make any money or at least cover my operating costs running a ranch. But that may not have a whole lot of bearing on whether or not the people in town think that ranching is a valid use of rangelands in that particular area. You know, so those people may value the view of my place off of Highway 70, but that doesn't really have any economic value to me and plays not much part in whether or not I continue. But some of those things have tremendous sociological value that, again, we don't recognize until they're gone.
>> The importance of connecting links across the supply chain and helping consumers to understand the role of ranching and the role of rangelands in beef production, I think is a really important job for scientists, for extension folks, for all curious consumers and interested consumers and citizens and those working in rangeland communities. I think that just consumer awareness of how the ecosystem services or cultural services that we value on rangelands are really part of that whole supply chain. I think it quite important for the future of sustainable agro-food systems, and here I go using that "sustainable" word again without defining it necessarily. But with agro-food systems that reflect values of a lot of folks in rural and in urban areas. So I, one of the things I really appreciate about this paper is the explicit link between rangelands and the full beef supply chain. And I think The Nature Conservancy has done an excellent job of really illuminating some of those links in their work. So I, really thrilled to work with them on that end, the whole list of authors. It was really interesting to hear perspectives, and that continues today. But, yeah, this I think this kind of consumer awareness and just general understanding that the beef on your plate actually, you know, came with a whole packet of services with it. And that's why it's important to look at all those different domains, I think, too, of sustainability.
>> Yeah, let's get into that a bit. I may have beat around the proverbial bush a little too long. But in the article, toward the end of the introduction, it looks like there's some purposes listed. So I want to know, is this what you were aiming for with the article? We've talked about it a little bit. The -- one of the objectives was to understand what measurements are currently being used to track rangeland health and various kinds of sustainability of management as well as indicators for social and economic health, is one purpose. I guess a corollary purpose is to equip ranchers and range managers with the tools necessary to measure and manage and communicate these sustainability concepts. And then, thirdly, to identify some of the gaps in indicators that require some further development. Is that an accurate summary of what the goals were?
>> Yeah, Tip, this is Clare. I think that's about right. I think the only thing I'd add to it is that we were a little less focused on tools per se and really more on the indicators and the information that could help ranchers and producers in adaptive management on their operation and also inform other sustainability goals across the supply chain for companies and consumers. And so I think really focused on sort of the indicators is that foundation from which, you know, there could be multiple metrics for a particular indicator. For example, you know, you can measure water quality in lots of different ways. And so you're kind of getting less into that and really focussing on kind of what's that base level of indicators and even beyond that the tools of how you would do it. There's lots of different ways and resources there. So we were kind of starting at that ground level of just like, what's that commonly understood view of those key indicators across all these different resources and organizations providing guidance?
>> Yeah. I'm not sure what's the best way to go about this, but I think it would be worthwhile to talk through some of the certification programs and the land health protocols that you used in the synthesis, and that should lead us to discussing, have a discussion about the indicators. What was the process of going through this?
>> Yeah, this is Marissa. We, well, the process was messy as you can kind of imagine with 21 different syntheses. And we basically, you know, rounded up all of the various indicators, metrics into one and then lined things up where they matched. Sometimes we kind of had to categorize and simplify or re-summarize or group. So that was the process of like winnowing down. And then, as Clare said earlier, we reached out to authors of these approaches where we could to try to make sure we were interpreting correctly when we summarized and synthesized these things. But it was challenging for a few reasons. And in terms of -- because there's quite a difference in the -- we had 21 different approaches, depending on how you lump or group, because some of the riparian stuff really is paired with some of the terrestrial stuff. But we, in looking at all of those, they, there's a wide spectrum of kind of what they represent. We tried to keep it fairly high level. So we tried to stay -- we didn't, I'm sure there are other assessments out there that we did not include that are maybe more focused like on small regions or particular parts of states or communities. We tried to look at assessments that were kind of bigger picture, bigger in scope and scale. And then from there we also recognized that they're -- and you can -- in the table in the paper, you can see they're kind of grouped by -- there's some that are certification assessments, where there's actually, you know, a third-party certification involved. There are some that actually have protocols for how to measure those indicators and are very in-depth protocols, like the NRI protocol that is in there as well as some of the others. And then there's a set of approaches that are more just frameworks and don't have -- they're kind of bigger picture, these are the things you should think about. They don't necessarily have protocols attached to them. And so, you know, trying to line those things up gets a little challenging too, but we kind of did our best at that. And so that's where we came up with these kinds of group of indicators at a higher level. Even though some of them really specified metrics, we kind of took it a step above that. Some of them maybe you could use as metrics themselves, like something you would actually measure on the ground. Some of these indicators, for instance, like abundance or, of native plants or invasive species. Like there are many different ways you could measure that. And we haven't necessarily specified that here. We're just, you know, some level of tracking native plants or invasive plants is common among these approaches. So does that kind of answer your question?
>> Yes. I suspect there will be a lot of people that are not familiar with some of the certification programs. So I -- it might -- I would like to just [inaudible] about a couple of them. You list -- for those that are not going to be able to look at the table while we're discussing it, you know, across on the horizontal, there are lists of certification programs and then land health evaluation protocols, such as interpreting indicators of rangeland health. I'm not as familiar with some of the certification programs, so I thought, can you describe a couple of those. Maybe the ones that, you know, are more broadly used or might be more familiar.
>> Yeah, I mean, I think one of the maybe more broadly used ones that we looked at was the Savory Ecological Outcome Verification. And we also included their kind of holistic management planning process with that. They're kind of two separate documents. There's also another one Audubon bird-friendly land, which is kind of growing in our region anyway. I think maybe it's grown even more in other regions. But in the Northern Great Plains it's been growing a fair bit. This is run by the National Audubon Society and, obviously, you know, they call it bird-friendly land. They are really, as the Audubon Society, is focused on birds and bird conservation, but really have designed it to be a holistic ranch sustainability assessment, where they certify the ranch as sustainable. And then the beef actually gets a stamp or a, you know, a sticker on it that says certified as Audubon bird-friendly when it's sold in the stores as well. So the idea I think behind certification programs is that they will help bring price premiums or, you know, extra benefits, economic benefits to the ranchers.
>> Yeah. Maybe I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was surprised by the remarkable degree of commonality, particularly across the ecological indicators. I think that's an encouraging thing. It feels like that maybe means that we're agreeing on some eco -- ways to measure ecosystem processes that has not been the case for a while. Can you walk through some of those ecological indicators?
>> Yeah, Patrick, maybe do you want to --
>> -- tackle that.
>> Yeah, happy to. Or at least I'll start with it and see who else would like to chime in. But I agree, Tip, that it's great to see that there is cohesion and agreement, particularly on those economic indicators. But I'll also say what surprised me is that we identified over 180 indicators across these 21 assessments. And, personally, I didn't expect that large of a variety.
>> Yeah, exactly. So it -- without sort of a corset, it is easy to get distracted and be measuring different things and maybe not be able to tell that cohesive story. So as we went through those and pulled out really what are the most commonly used indicators, we did find about 12 ecological ones that jumped out. And, again, I think it's important to note that, like we said, this was a synthesis. These are not ones that we are saying are the ones, but they were the most commonly identified ones that have a good bearing on ecological health and ranch sustainability at that ranch level. For the ecological ones, they really boiled down into sort of four big buckets I'd say. There's vegetation. Soil. Water. And biodiversity. And those are intermingled, of course, depending how you talk about them. But really what those broke into was plant abundance, diversity, and productivity of both native and nonnative or invasive species. Ground cover was another overarching theme. So bare ground or litter depths within that ground cover category. And then we're hearing more and more about the importance of soil, the building blocks; right? And that's shown, too, in these different assessments. So soil carbon was one of those. Soil stability as well or erosion. And then soil compaction or bulk density were really sort of the three topsoil indicators that jumped out to us. For the biodiversity piece, that can obviously include plant diversity. But if we think of that from the wildlife side, that was a little more general I'd say. It's really, what are those animal species of interest to the ranch or to the audience that you're communicating to? But a main one that was throughout most of the assessments was grassland bird diversity and abundance. We know that birds can be great indicators of ecological rangeland health reflective of grazing management patterns of habitat patch size. So grasslands birds was a big one there. And then from the water side, we also identified water retention or water infiltration as being an important one. And then water quality as well. And I think Marissa mentioned earlier the importance of riparian condition. So that's our final ecological indicator. And riparian condition, as we all know, is a favored area by livestock, and it's also an area that can provide habitat for 70 to 80 percent of the specie's diversity in rangelands. So critically important one to pay attention as well. But, again, these are all sort of site-ranch-specific. Some of the ranches might not have those riparian areas. So these all need a little flexibility when interpreting them. Those ecological ones important for ranch-level sustainability, we're going to keep throwing that word out throughout this interview here. But it's also important when you think about the entire supply chain too. So there, it's useful to be able to communicate these ecological indicators if you're talking about the climate, water, biodiversity benefits of sustainable or regenerative -- whatever buzzword you want to use -- grazing practices in those cow/calf operations in particular. So those were really the 12 ecological indicators. And then throughout this assessment, we also pulled out eight social -- socioeconomic indicators as well. And those really had less consistency. And that is one of the gaps that we identified too. But of those eight socioeconomic indicators, the first one I'll talk about is forage utilization. And we went back and forth, is this an ecological indicator? Is this a social? Is it an economic? And really we felt it was one that ties all three of those together. And it depends on the grazing practice. It depends on the environmental condition. And that utilization and standing biomass really leads to economics as well. So we thought that was an important one to include. We also included livestock and non-livestock-related income. You know, many ranchers track this. It's not one we're saying should be, you know, assessed by an outside group and communicated across, but it's obviously an important one to the livelihood and sustainability of that operation. There's also operational energy use. And so if you can lower those costs and increase profits, an important piece for the economic sustainability. Also capacity to experiment. So is there some extra leeway in those economics or in those practices that ranchers have the ability to try new practices or adapt with conditions? Leads to that adaptive management component. And then from the social side as well, really connection to the community is obviously important to those on the land. And while we're focused on ranch-level indicators, that ranch-level community cohesion is incredibly important. And that feeds into satisfaction of livelihoods. Is this a livelihood that ranchers want to keep doing? Is it working? Or does something need to change? And how does that feed into the overall community health and well-being? These are ones that are talked about less in supply chain sustainability as well, but hopefully this paper can help indicate the importance of those and that this should be something people should be thinking across the entire supply chain and what an important piece of that community well-being on the land is in order for everything to be one big sort of cohesive holistic picture.
>> Yeah, I think part of what this says to me is that it's -- this highlights the importance of ranching in a way that is truly sustainable in the ways that we're defining it. Because the benefits of doing it well are really significant. They're large ecologically and economically. But the flip side is also true. There's a tremendous ecological and social cost if we do ranching in a way that is not sustainable. And maybe it's wishful thinking, but it seems like there's a -- what do they call that, a virtuous cycle. There's a, potentially positive feedback loop, where, if we manage in a way that is ecologically sustainable, it should at least be possible for it to be economically sustainable. And I'm curious if you all feel like that is borne out by your evaluation of these certification programs, which I think probably rely on that idea. But do you feel like that holds up under scrutiny?
>> Yeah, this is Patrick again. I'll jump in on that one. Yes, absolutely. Or at least like you said, that's the hope and the intent. We talked earlier about this sort of three-legged stool or maybe five-legged stool, might be a little more resilient. But you pull one of those pilars, and the whole thing collapses. And I think that's pretty well understood and recognized. The intricacies of those relationships might be less well understood or what thread can you tug on and the stool still stands? Or which one, you know, like a Jenga board, you push it out, and the whole thing collapses. But, overall, our understanding and going through this process and why all three of these sustainability measures need to be a piece of this is because they are so interconnected. The rangelands, grasslands are incredibly resilient. You know, they've evolved with disturbances, fire, grazing. Droughts are nothing new. But at some point they do hit a tipping point. And so the hope is that, by monitoring and measuring over time, changes can be made before those tipping points are reached. And that feedback loop keeps sustainability from a social and economic piece in place as well.
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