AoR 9: Lynn Huntsinger, Ranching as a Conservation Strategy

Dr. Lynn Huntsinger has written persuasively about the importance of private land ranching and public lands grazing as a means of conserving, even protecting, open space, wildlife habitat, and clean water. This runs counter to the preservationist paradigm that dominated for several decades, but it is gaining traction as it also gains scientific validity. Dr. Huntsinger is a Rustici endowed professor in Environmental Science, Policy, & Management at University of California at Berkeley. She and Tip discuss risks of land conversion, benefits of intact ranches, and opportunities for ranchers to capitalize on the less tangible benefits that society receives from their private lands, when managed well. 



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

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My guest today on the Art of Range is Dr. Lynn Huntsinger of STG Endowed Professor in Environmental Science Policy and Management at the University of California at Berkeley, and we're visiting in person at the Society for Range Management Conference in Minneapolis where's she speaking today. Lynn, welcome to the show.

>> Thank you. Glad to be here.

>> Your website at UC Berkeley indicates that you work on a fairly wide range of range of topics, but focus somewhat on the social aspects of range management. I'm quoting here from the summary, which I expect you wrote. It's on the website. "Extensive livestock production on rangelands requires negotiation between demand for a relatively predictable flow of products, and the inherent unpredictability of an arid range line environment. There are property, and social relations, practices, and values that are widespread among pastoralists, and ranchers that reflect adaptation to the disequilibrium dynamics of the resource based upon which they depend. My work seeks to understand these factors as part of a coupled human natural systems with the goal of learning how long term sustainable management of rangelands can be created." So first, I would guess that many listeners may be surprised to hear of really useful rangeland work coming out of Berkeley, but I have to say that you and Nathan Sear are among my favorite writers, and I think you've been highly influential in promoting good rangeland focus thinking at the grassroots level, as well as in academia, and among natural resource professionals. You've spent all of your career in California, I think, so maybe it's just the water you breathe, but I would guess you've heard that sentiment of surprise before?

>> I think so.

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You mean ecological surprise?

>> No, surprise that anything good coming out of Berkeley?

>> Oh, oh, about Berkeley. Yes, that's true. And it's too bad, because Berkeley is a great school. It's the top public institution in the world, and it's really great that we have a range program, we have a range graduate program, and we have $50 million acres of rangeland in California, and I am delighted that we have the opportunity to develop management strategies for that rangeland.

>> Good. What I'd like to do is get to a paper that you wrote with Mark Branson from Utah State on ranching is a conservation strategy for extensive range on ecosystems, but first maybe distinguish between extensive livestock production, and what I assume is the converse intensive production. When I think of intensive production I think of irrigated pasture or grazed annual crops, which are ground intensively with lots of crop inputs, and managed intensively with lots of effort ,and infrastructure, and, you know, which support animals per acre rather than acres per animal. Extensive livestock production involves domestic animals gleaning from essentially wild, even if not native ecosystems where there, I guess in my opinion, ideally not changing the fundamental nature of those ecosystems, like, we do with a built agricultural environment. I've said before you can grow corn or a field of [inaudible] on shrub land or savannah without obliterating the shrub land and the savannah. Your thoughts on extensive versus intensive?

>> Well, first of all, I have to say there's a little bit of a gray area there, because even - there has been extensive livestock production where you graze solely on what comes up on the range all over the world for thousands of years. I think, well, I think sheep were - well, I'm not going to try to remember how many years exactly it was since the sheep was domesticated, but a very long time ago. And today in most places in the world, while most of the forage production and grazing is on extensive rangelands, as you described, without much modification some of it is irrigated pasture, some of it is fed hay, sometimes agricultural byproducts to maintain a higher plane of nutrition, and especially if the weather's bad. But the fundamental premise is right. As opposed to crop agriculture, which changes the environment, people who graze, ranchers and pastoralists all over the world, they really have to work within the environmental endowment of the place, of the geography, of their location. So they need to, they don't - we can't change the weather. It's often too arid or too cold or various conditions on rangelands. And that's something that a lot of people don't understand is traditionally extensive livestock production has been evolved, and adapted on lands where you can't grow crops, and there's not enough water to irrigate, and you use the animal to collect the natural forage, and then people can eat that. Because it's very hard for people to eat grass. So pastoralism came into being as a way of using those landscapes. So in terms of geography, it's not really in competition with crop agriculture when you're talking about extensive livestock. The basic premise, the other part of that I think is really important is that rangelands in California, and around the west are very important, and valuable for their ecological services, if you want to call it or for the environmental benefits that they offer, society. In California a great deal, maybe , I guess most of our rangelands are privately owned, and throughout the west, often the most productive rich wildlife habitat is in private ownership, because even though a lot of its public, the Homestead Act encouraged people to claim areas with water, and near water. And so those lands are inherently more productive. And then some would argue managed to be more productive. But in California it's a really interesting challenge, because ranchers own this land. They need to make a profit from it in order to keep it, and they do that, and they want to do that by producing livestock. So they have developed management strategies to use in natural lands of California that matched the precipitation, and the time when the grass is green and all the different characteristics that determine how an animal can grow. So I think it's really important to understand that extensive production takes place on what we might call semi-natural lands. And I have a story that I can tell you. I used to talk about the wonderful open space of our rangelands. I think it's, like, many millions of acres of privately owned rangeland in California, all in the most rich part of the state, because these were lands that were allocated by the Spanish instead of homestead acts. So we have many large, completely private ranches. And I was saying we need this years ago. I started becoming interested in this right off the bat when I went through graduate school. I was talking about the wonderful open space of ranch lands in California, and how we need to work to conserve it. And a rancher friend of mine later said, "Lynn, we don't much like it when you talk about open space." Now, of course I still do, but this really was very interesting to me. Why did he not like open space? So I said, "Why?" And he said, "Well, because people think we're not there. It applies that nobody lives there."

>> Empty.

>> Yeah, it's empty. "There's no steward. And this is our home. And we really care for our home," which both Mark and I have done numerous projects, and surveys, and [inaudible] and earth creator, and a number of other of us who do social science projects. Discover the incredible stewardship ethic of most of the ranchers out there in the west that they often needed. I have a friend, even in busy California. Berkeley is actually closer to rangeland than any other university of California. We have it right in our backyard, and just over the hills there is ranching going on. And we have a very good friend who told me that - he just told me how much people frequently telling me how much they care about rangelands. They're very committed. They invite our classes out to see rangelands, and we go often enough that they trust us. I mean, you know, we have a really good relationship. So I also see the key to a lot of this conservation to be trust, and building that understanding between people. And even though you're saying people are surprised that I'm from Berkeley, I like to go out and meet people, and talk to ranchers, and go to meetings, and give talks, and I enjoy convincing them otherwise. And that's actually okay. I'm sad that there's a big assumption made, but Berkeley is a very large place with a great many different kinds of people, and --

>> Well sure. And depending on the rancher they may have the same cynicism regarding any university.

>> They may, yeah. And some of them went to Berkeley actually. So that's also interesting, but, yeah, we have a pretty good relationship I think with ranchers in California, for the most part, especially once we've met them or they've seen our work.

>> Right.

>> Yeah.

>> You wrote in the paper that working ranches are promoted as a means of conserving rangeland because working ranches on rangeland protect open space, whether we like the term or not.

>> That was a great term. I tried to avoid it, but you can't help it, and it really resonates with people.

>> Associate.

>> So it's important.

>> It has a good connotation for most people.

>> Yeah. And generally, when I use it I explain it doesn't mean there's not a steward there. People who own that land are proud of what they've done, and that's some of the issue for them is they're worried that people don't understand that the land is beautiful, because they've taken care of it, and the wildlife is abundant, because they've taken care of it, and they want that recognition. And when we say they're not even there, that's hard for them to take. Or when we make the assumption that they're exploiting the land or that somehow even though they've been there, that my friend over the hill from Berkeley has been on that family ranch, his family for five generations. And it wouldn't look that way, and it wouldn't be land that we are so interested in keeping around if they hadn't taken care of it.

>> Right.

>> I mean, I wish people would understand that more.

>> Right.

>> Yeah

>> You also write that working ranches safeguard ecosystem services, and that these are broad social benefits that we as a society should value. That is a little bit in contrast, I suppose, to the approach of a lot of environmental organizations whose goal is to protect those landscapes, protect those wide open spaces by removing people from the landscape.

>> Yeah.

>> And removing grazing in order to preserve those same social benefits. But the social benefits seem to be the common denominator here. In other words, you know, different segments of society differ on how we maintain them, but is that a common goal? Am I reading that right? That --

>> Oh --

>> -- that may be the end goal is similar?

>> Well, it's a really interesting thing in California. So, first of all, California's been inhabited, managed, and used --

>> A long time.

>> -- for thousands of years, 14, 15,000 years. There's evidence going back that far in California today, and it's probably longer. So when we think that by taking people out of the picture we're restoring something, or recreating something, what are we recreating? I really believe in active management that you don't - these fires that we are having in California they're partly result of protecting the land. We're protecting it to death.

>> Right.

>> In my view. The other thing about California is the vegetation has changed completely, and the grass, the grasses of California are not native. There are plenty out there. There's a lot of them, and a lot of us would enjoy seeing more, I suppose, but it's what we call a novel ecosystem. There's not really a good way to change it back. So oftentimes I'm asked can cattle replace antelope or can cattle replace elk. Well, are they filling the same ecological niche? Well, in some ways, but that ecological niche is gone. The whole thing is different. So we have this opportunity, and challenge I think to really think about building the ecosystem, and thinking about what we want, and how to get there, but it's very hard for people to think that way. They want to restore things to something that they imagined existed before.

>> Per European conditions sometime.

>> Yeah. Yeah. And the Native Americans of California were very active in burning, planting, transplanting, harvesting all over the state, and we have lost that knowledge right now with our peril. The second thing about that, that I think is important is that these native grasses, they're huge when it rains. We have an environment where we don't know how much it's going to rain at any given time. It's very variable. And so when we say work within it or adapt to it, it's in a non equilibrium environment. So we have to consider that we need to be super flexible, but when it rains, and the temperatures are right, this grass can grow five feet tall, and our native species don't do that. They don't grow that tall, and they're not as vigorous. I had a lab project where we planted both native, and non native species, and at the end of the semester, not a single native grass came up. They started to come up, like, two weeks after the end of the semester. Meanwhile the non natives have grown three feet tall.

>> Right.

>> You know, just in that same time. They're very vigorous. And grazing now is a tool for removing that grass or keeping it under control. We can't necessarily predict exactly what's going to happen in the next year, no matter what we do with management, because the system is fundamentally driven by rain, but we can remove grass within a year or within a season, and that allows the natives to do better. We have a very good research done by Jamie Marty, and David Pike looking at vernal pools, and you wouldn't associate grazing as beneficial to an aquatic system, but in this case it's hugely beneficial, because these very rare endemic species that grow inside and outside the pool suffer from those non native grasses using up the water, and shading them out. And grazing has been shown to be very - you have more biodiversity, there's more water in the pond longer, so endangered tiger salamanders can go through their life cycle, and a lot of other species. They're all based on these pools dry up in the summer, so they need a certain period of inundation and grazing increases that period, and also protects the plants. And sometimes it's hard. We have to do this step by step with science to convince many people in the environmental community who automatically assume that this must be bad --

>> Right.

>> -- to have a cow wandering run. Interestingly enough, the California Range Land Conservation Coalition, which was started by ranchers in California, they got off the ground by writing something called the Range Land Resolution, which says we [inaudible] a lot of things, but among those that says we understand that grazing can be beneficial for many species. There's a lot of endangered species, and threatened, and so on that are linked to positive effects of grazing. And many agencies, like, in entities in California, the Nature Conservancy, The Forest Service, they signed onto this, because they understood, and had learned this based on science. But, you know, the frustrating thing is that nothing is - we have to prove this over and over again when there are some times when it's not good. Right. But when it is a good thing, we have to prove it this, because the assumption we're starting from is we don't know. The assumption in the general public, so, you know, well anyway, among many people and conservation people, many agencies is it's got to be bad.

>> Right.

>> And so it's not, we're neutral. We don't understand until we have some science is you better do the science to prove to me that it's not bad.

>> You're guilty until you've been proven innocent?

>> That's exactly right. That's exactly the attitude. Yeah. And I come from the range community, so I say if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

>> Right.

>> Right. The other thing is with his non native grasses, I guess I've made three or four points now that they are very flammable, and easy to start on fire. And I'm where I live in the Bay area, the East Bay Regional Parks, which is a wonderful thing to have all this huge parks all around the city used as grazing, and quite avidly to reduce fire hazard. Grass fires are not the worst kind of fires. They're easier to control, but they are a place where fire can start and spread.

>> Right.

>> And so they consider that to be really important. They're surrounded by people in housing, and the town, and they can't have fire, wildfires, and it goes in concert with prescribed burning. Prescribed burning, and grazing can be very complimentary, but it's hard to use that much prescribed burning that close in proximity to town.

>> Right.

>> But we do it. We still do it, but, you know.

>> I had seen some research that I believe Kirk Davies talked about in the episode with him, where they had combined targeted grazing, and prescribed fire --

>> Yeah.

>> -- as a kind of a double punch to try to clean out the invasive annual grasses. And of course in that case they're actually trying to move the plant community back toward, back toward a native or, you know, the functional equivalent of natives in some places like Daniel [inaudible] California, it's -- you're just maintaining some kind of a dynamic equilibrium where the goal is to just keep using the grasses, because they're not going away.

>> Right. They've been in place for since the 19th century. They came first with the Spanish 1769, rapidly took over the grassland. We still don't know that much about what the previous grassland was like. It's an interesting field of study to try to find fossil evidence, and other evidence about grass. Not easy.

>> Right.

>> But they've been there, and people do want it. There are groups that manage specifically to try to encourage, and restore native grasses, but it's usually not - you can see some improvement if the site is right, and the soil is right, and the rain is right, but it's very difficult, and you know, so it's just not, it's very unlikely to happen on most of California --

>> Yep.

>> Range lands. It's very unlikely.

>> Let's back up just a step or two. Can you characterize the problem? We've talked a bit about the desire to maintain open space, and habitat, and those are some significant social benefits. What about the negative effects of what happens when you no longer have that open space? So what if the ages of suburbia are spread out? What are the, the, the negative effects of that?

>> Well, we have a tremendous wildlife, and plant resources in California. So if you like wildlife, it would - it's very important to have open lands. And our most productive wildlife habitat is in private ownership. People who live in suburbs like seeing wildlife too, so that's an important social service, also hunting, and everything else, fish, fisheries on private rangelands. We don't want to lose those. California's pretty developed as a state. It has a pretty high population, and our open spaces are more, and more precious to the people of the country. There are an incredible view shed. It's kind of California. You don't go there expecting to, oh, maybe some people do, but you don't go there expecting a big city. You go there expecting a beautiful Mediterranean landscape. So keeping the land open is really important if you - for biodiversity here incredible wildlife resources, incredible diversity. Also, sequestration of carbon. A large portion of our water supply flows through rangelands in California, and if you develop that, that becomes a huge water pollution problem, and you've also seen, we have all seen what happens when we allow development to sort of creep into wildlands without a lot of forethought, and mixed houses, and forests and woodlands. They burn up in this climate, because it's a very dry, hot summer. I always tell my students, imagine you're a plant and you have to go for eight or nine months without water every year when it's hot. How are you going to survive? I mean, the same could be said of us if we don't, you know, think about how to reduce the risk to our homes and our property of this nine months. The problem is we have very active growth during the rest of the year. All this vegetation grows, and then it dries out over the summer, and becomes quite a fire hazard, perfectly naturally. And probably with climate change it will get worse. We think we'll have more droughts. We just came off the largest drought in history a few years ago, so these kinds of things are reasons why that open space is so important. It's also true that the California residents are more and more interested in the foods that are produced on rangelands that are, you know, organic, grass fed, natural. Those are all things that people will pay a premium for.

[ Inaudible ]

And they don't even have to fit in that - one of those categories. If you're a rancher, and you advertise that you're doing sustainable grazing, and taking care of the land, that is often what people would want, that's more important.

>> Not the [inaudible].

>> Yeah.

>> Yeah.

>> And so most of our interests are conventional and that's also, you know, a very good product for healthy product for people. But I remember this rancher said he was raising his sheep 100 percent grass fed, and he had - there's some - it's hard. Doing this is hard for the ranchers, and it's just a developing industry genetically, and husbandry wise. So people are still quite challenged to do it, but he arranged where he would drive his packed, you know, slaughtered sheep, meat to San Francisco, and all around the North Bay and places, where there were people, and arranged this through the Internet that people could come meet him there, and buy his products. And he would take preorders, and he said, you know, I'm a little hard of hearing. And so the people would come, and they'd buy my product, which I loved and they would take it, and more often than not they would say for blah blah, blah, blah. And I couldn't understand what they were saying. It was sort of under their breath. And he finally said, "Hey, please tell me what you're saying." And the person said, "Oh, I wanted to say thank you for what you're doing." And he was so pleased by that, that people appreciated that he was making this effort to bring them --

>> Yeah.

>> -- products direct from the ranch. So it's also an important food resource, as I mentioned water, wildlife, carbon sequestration. Our rangelands hold a great deal of carbon, and with our normal management practices that carbon's protected in the soil, and there for a long, long time. So it's important to maintain that. We don't plow the soil, we don't overturn it. It stays intact. And our standard grazing practices in California protect the soil from erosion, which would cause loss of carbon from the soil. Yeah. We have research showing there's substantial carbon pools in the grasslands annual or [inaudible].

>> Yeah, this is a bit of a rabbit trail, but I think it may be useful. You mentioned in the paper that the Chicago climate exchange had a program about ten years ago to look at carbon markets, and pay people to sequester carbon.

>> Yeah.

>> And we looked into that a bit in Washington, and as I recall it lasted for a couple of years, and then faded out. One reason was that it didn't provide enough money to incentivize ranchers to manage it perhaps a way different than what they were doing in order to match the contract.

>> Yeah.

>> So one, it didn't pay very much, and two, there was not enough evidence on exactly how much carbon could be sequestered with range practices. And then I think the third thing was that the evidence at the time indicated that degraded rangelands had higher potential to sequester carbon, and so you were paid for active sinking, not how much it's holding, and so they would pay more for people that had degraded rangelands.

>> Well --

>> Incentivized that.

>> The thing is that those programs are based on demonstrated additionality.

>> Right.

>> So if you have a program like that, and it's funded to reduce admissions, and you, unfortunately you give it to people that already don't have emissions or have very low emissions --

>> Right.

>> -- then you're allowing, you're not lowering emissions. So that's the problem. There are programs, I don't know that much about it. In Europe now they're starting to talk about, and maybe have some avoided deforestation funding programs where they will help people to maintain their forest, and avoid deforestation. So that's not additionality, because the forest is already there.

>> Right.

>> But it's just saying we anticipate that --

>> Paying for storage?

>> Yes.

>> Right.

>> And we could do that. We could have avoided derange [inaudible].

>> Yeah.

>> But it takes political will to do that, and that's a long time coming. California is kind of on the forefront of that. They are trying to develop some programs for increasing carbon sequestration with soil amendments, and other kinds of things. But I think the storage is really the key, and maintaining that storage. So I hope we come up with programs that reward people for that, because many people do do that, and could use a little money, because many of our ranchers are land rich and cash poor. And the way that you get that money out is unfortunately by selling them on the ranch to the highest bidder, and that that's going to often be a developer is going to convert it to something else or intensive agriculture too.

>> Right.

>> The other thing about, I forget all the points you made, but the other thing about one of your points is you said they don't want to follow the management protocols. Unfortunately, management protocols in rangelands are often unfortunately developed by people who got their education somewhere else, and they don't understand California rangelands. And so that's the other thing that's a little irksome is ranchers think they know what they're doing, and they've been doing it for a long time, as I mentioned earlier, and this carbon is in the soil. And oftentimes these sort of one size fits all protocols don't fit. And with the amount of money that was available for that program, and the change that they would have to do is often sort of contra indicated by everything they knew about how to sustainably [inaudible] in California. I'm afraid that that happens a lot, and it's unfortunate. It's one of the reasons why good people suffer sometimes when you start saying you need to do this. You need to rotate your cows, you need to do that. We have such incredible diversity, and such good ranchers in California. They all have ideas about how to graze, and what they should do. And of course those are developed in accordance with the particular environment that each of them is in. Each ranch is unique, and has different resources.

>> Right.

>> I think that's true everywhere in the west, and you have to plan within those resources. And we think that's really diverse. That that adds diversity to the state, that people are doing different things in different places. And it would, it just doesn't work to have a blanket policy or recipe that everybody's supposed to apply, and most people know that.

>> Yeah.

>> But when you start saying, we'll give you money, you know, if you manage it in this particular way, that's wrong.

>> [Inaudible] your options.

>> Yeah.

>> I want to come back to incentives in a second, but a quick question about development. You made a comment in the paper that there is some evidence that cluster development really didn't work to maintain some sort of these ecological benefits. I think that's interesting. And in quite a bit of the west, I think most states or most, you know, county jurisdictions oftentimes have rules about zoning where if a farmer wants to break up the quarter section, it has to be broken up into 20s or 40s, and then which is too small to do anything with, and big enough that if you ruin it, it's a really big problem. And so the idea was that if you had, say a five acre piece or a two acre piece, that we're all in the middle of that, and then left the rest of it untouched, that, that should work. But there's evidence if that doesn't work, is that right?

>> Well, from what I've seen, there's a number of problems. Who manages that land? It's often a homeowners association, and they're managing it in ways that may not necessarily be the best for the environment. And you still, even though you have a cluster, it's not nearly the same as having 5,000 acres altogether undeveloped. I mean, that's home for elk, and for deer, and for mountain lions, and everything else. Whereas, the kind of bits and pieces of land that are left around the cluster development maybe better for some things, but it's not as effective for many a vernal pools. Because you've got the people there, they're going to have dogs, and cats, and they're going to do stuff, and I don't want to say that's bad. It's just that you need places where the animals are free of that if you want to maintain certain kinds of, of species. And I'm not against people going into the wild lands and seeing all this stuff, but it's different from if you go to a place, and you know that you're not supposed to let your dog off the leash or you don't let your cat wander around, you visit it, because it's a big natural open space area. It's different from, well, the land in my backyard is this piece of land that we didn't develop and --

>> Right.

>> -- that gets used a lot differently.

>> Right, and changes the composition of the wildlife species that are present --

>> Right. Yes, absolutely.

>> Or it does a more opportunistic in a human dominated environment.

>> Where I live, we have an East Bay Regional Park behind us, which has thousands of acres, so but right against the border we have people feeding feral cats, because they love feral cats. Google, Google headquarters is making a apparently according to what I heard on the radio, is making some of the burrowing owls disappear by feeding feral cats next to a bird and elk preserve. You know, there's just some conflicting uses that you want to avoid for some wildlife, and also I'm on this social media, I guess, Next Door or something where you converse with your neighbors, and people's ideas about we need to get rid of the coyotes, because they're threatening our cats. You know, people have different ideas, and fighting about all the time. Yeah, I'm sure that becomes an issue with any place where you have a small area of a wild land right next to people's houses. You need buffers.

>> Yeah.

>> And oftentimes ag land or ranch land, sometimes it's a very good buffer. I wanted to tell you a story about Mount Diablo State Park. When I was a new professor they decided to remove grazing from the state parks, and I went to some of the hearings about that, and the most powerful advocates for returning grazing to the parks where people lived on its perimeter who were afraid of fire. So it can - and they knew the rancher. They would call them up and say there's a, you know, these things can work out, but you've got both this buffer area where you have all these influences, and you have the core. But, I mean, I'm not - it's not true that residential people are necessarily --

>> Antagonistic.

>> Yeah. Sometimes we see the mutual benefit, and work towards it. That was really interesting to me.

>> We have a local rancher whose neighbor lives on the edge of his property will call him and ask him if he can move cows into the pasture next to his house when he has company coming, because --

>> That's hilarious.

>> Because they like to see the animals.

>> Yeah. No, people do, and we don't learn about those people often enough.

>> Right.

>> You know, we hear about people who are complaining.

>> Right.

>> You hear their voice. I have a colleague, and student who did a paper based on posted pictures that people took on social media, and it was really interesting how many people really wanted to take pictures of themselves in the parks with the cow nearby, and a cow in the background. There's a lot of people enjoy that, you know, and they like agriculture too.

>> Well, it's become clich to say that grazing is better than condos, but --

>> Oh, yeah.

>> The unspoken precursor to that I think is grazing may be bad, but it's better than houses, but I think I hear you saying two things. You know, one that grazing is usually good, and it's better than houses, and two, even where grazing has done badly it may still be better than houses, because it protects, maybe protect is the wrong word, but, you know, maintains open space, which has habitat value even if it's not managed well.

>> Oh, no. I think raising sheep we manage well. I really do think that otherwise people won't continue to support it.

>> Yeah.

>> You know, it's really important that Stuart Stuart, in terms of one of the ways you build a relationship with the public, and with your neighbors is by being a conscientious good manager.

>> Okay.

>> So I firmly believe in that. I don't think that the long term outlook for bad grazing is a good one.

>> Yeah.

>> Yeah.

>> Social sustainability of grazing longterm depends on doing it well enough that it doesn't cause a lot of problems.

>> Doing it well, and trying to get people to recognize what you're doing, and appreciate it, those are a couple of things that I think groups in California are really interested in. And one of our biggest advocates in California is The Nature Conservancy actually. That's a very interesting thing. So I don't think, I just don't want to see badly managed grazing.

>> And I've been arguing for years that it's not economically sustainable for very long --

>> No.

>> To graze badly. And so I think a lot of the situations where that was happening have kind of starved out.

>> It's also true that our grassland is an incredibly resilient, tough grassland. These annual grasses are very good forage, and fairly easy to manage. Our main goal is to protect the soil from erosion. So the tricky stuff is when you need to protect a riparian area, or you need to protect a particular kind of habitat, or you don't want to graze this area during the right, or the wrong season. Those things do come into play, but in terms of just straightforward managing the grass, it's not too hard. We protect the soil. Yeah.

>> I know, and as much of the west, because ranchers are often asset rich and cash poor. For some of them, the ability to liquidate some of that land is their retirement plan.

>> Yes.

>> How big a problem is that? And is that primarily driven by economics or is it, you know, was there an, an upside down age class distribution of the ranching community that means that there's just no future for it even if it was profitable?

>> Well, there's a couple of things. I mean, our ranching community has been in its early 60s for as long as I've been doing surveys, so I don't see a huge growth in age. I see a slow growth in the age of the primary landowner. I think it was like 59 when I was a student, and last time I did a survey was more like 60, so or 61.

>> They're not aging.

>> No. I think people don't really want to stop, and so they keep doing it as long as they keep the ranch as long as they can before they retire, and turn it over to their kids. The problem is some young people don't want to ranch. And so then what do you do? I mean, we have young people who want to ranch, but have no ranch, and we have young people who grew up on ranches who don't want to ranch. And then the price of a ranch is so high, it's very hard for a young person to get into it who wasn't raised in it with a ranch. And it's very hard, for example, if you have three kids, and you pass away, it's very hard for any one of them. Maybe only one of them wants to continue ranching, so it's impossible for them to buy out the other two.

>> Right.

>> Right. So you wind up fragmenting ranches that way.

>> The state planners say fair is not equal, and equal is not fair.

>> Well, yes.

>> Maybe splitting is not a good idea.

>> Yeah. No. Well, ecologically it certainly isn't.

>> Right.

>> Yeah, but that is a thing. Families, we know families, this is, like, source of strife in any family eventually if there's assets to be held, but, so the conservation easement is a valuable tool in the area. It's not a perfect tool, but I've talked to ranchers [inaudible] put a conservation easement on my land so I could get some cash to pay out a decent inheritance to the children who don't want a ranch. And also because this way they can't break it up, and then nobody else can either. And they like that. Some people like that. Some people feel strongly the other way. And one of the things that makes it work is it is voluntary. Voluntary things work much better with your California rancher, then something imposed on them. So conservation easements are, have worked really well. We have a lot in California. Unfortunately, you'd mentioned cluster development. Cluster conservation is good where you can have several nearby instead of scattered across the landscape. The Marin Agricultural Land Trust has a concentrated area. They try to purchase conservation easements, and so they're good, they're great, but they cost money. The money has to come from somewhere. A lot of it comes from the Farm Bill, a lot of it from donors.

>> And they're controversial among farmers and ranchers.

>> Yeah.

[ Inaudible ]

>> And some of them will donate. Interestingly, they are controversial, not that much in California or maybe I hang with people that like them, I don't know. But the more exposure, you know, environmental regulations. Let's see. Let's take one like about water quality or stock ponds. Stock Ponds are valuable wildlife habitat, it turns out. In the bay area half of the endangered habitat for --

>> Is stock ponds.

>> Yeah, for Tiger Salamanders is stock pond. So it turns out it's very valuable, and the people who have remained on the outskirts of the city that are still ranching almost in town. The other cows on the East Bay regional parks, and they have come, there are incentive programs available for environmentally friendly management for fixing those stock ponds and maintaining them in a way that's friendly to those species, and they recognize that, and they can put in a conservation easements on parts of the land or all of it. So they see a lot of incentives, whereas people who are further out see a lot of regulation. You know what I mean?

>> Right.

>> People, urban ranchers, you might want to call them, have learned to look for the incentives, and work with the NRCS or the parks or to capture those incentives, and those benefits, and the value of those benefits. The problem is they are producing benefits. All those fire management, and they're paying for the privilege to do it right now.

>> Right.

>> So how that works out, I think the urban ranchers are working on that. There's rural ranchers that are too, but they're just a little - they're still a lot that don't understand and no trust. And sometimes we're not very good at presenting opportunities to people.

>> Right.

>> You go out there in some kind of uniform, and with a map, and you say --

>> I know.

>> -- look, we can do this. And people immediately freak out.

>> Right.

>> You know, the black helicopters are coming.

>> Yeah.

>> So we need to work on communication and building trust too. And oftentimes the people that are around, and have exposure to students and to all kinds of people have learned to build that trust. Like the man who used to graze at Mount Diablo, the land owners knew him, liked him, trusted in. That's something we need to build.

>> At the risk of offending some people, what about what sometimes called lifestyle ranchers who have a small number of animals. It's not their primary source of income. As a result they are not dependent on that income, and support ranching with outside money. This morning in a session on non equilibrium dynamics, David Brisky and Sam Fuelador [phonetic] were talking about the risks of decoupling livestock from the landscape through, you know, various practices, like, supplemental feed that may stretch carrying capacity to the point where it's not healthy in the long run, at least not ecologically. To what extent do you think that's a problem?

>> Well, to the second part of that, that's a management problem, if it exists, and it can be worked on in fixed. These are just management problems. They can be fixed. The first one you mentioned is lifestyle ranchers, and you associate that with small numbers of livestock. But in fact, most ranchers supplement their income. Doesn't matter how many animals they have. There's some that don't. Even the king ranch's selling pickup trucks, you know, one of the largest ranches in the United States. Most people do supplement their income, because income from livestock that can be very variable, and have to compete with all of this intensively farmed livestock, and we want them to stay out there, because of the valuable things are doing for us in California, but they can't quite make it just on livestock. And maybe some years, yes, but then there's that year with no rain or several years with no rain. So it's hard to have a steady, reliable source of income. That's what I was talking about.

>> Yeah.

>> We're trying to manage a disequilibrium system for consistent income. It's hard.

>> Right.

>> So most of them do supplement their income, and there's all kinds of consequences to that. People used to take their livestock long distances up in the mountains or do these interesting traditional practices. It's hard to do that if you have to show up for a job. Right?

>> Mm-hmm.

>> So it's affected ranch families, I think in ranching. So then you - there may be a category of ranchers that has a small number of livestock. It's just for me to divide that up.

>> Right.

>> We also --

>> Well, even the larger ranchers almost uniformly say they don't do it for the money.

>> That's exactly right.

>> [Inaudible] run investments maybe three to five percent. And if they were in it for the money, they would take those assets, and put them somewhere else, and make money.

>> Absolutely. And the thing that we unfortunately the main monies in the land, appreciation.

>> Right.

>> You know, tremendous.

>> Right.

>> But they, yes. My friend, Mitch McClaren, who's here at the conference in 1980 something interviewed ranchers across the state, and we had cooperative extension, and scientists out there trying to show ranchers how to remove oaks, you know, in the '50s and '60s, especially. So they could have more grass, because the assumption was everybody needs more grass, so they can make more beef, and they'll get richer.

>> Right.

>> And he talked to people in the '80s, and said, you know, one of his questions was if we removed these oaks you'd have more grass. Why don't you remove the oaks? And they said one of my favorite answers was, "Well, then it'd be a farm. This is a ranch, this is my home. I love." I did a survey when I was a student, and one of the main reasons people gave for ranching, everybody, was I liked to work in natural beauty. But on the other hand, people are really committed to making a product, and making an income from what they do. Most of them are, I guess if they're really committed to it. And people from the California Angel and Trust tell me that or the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition, both great organizations, tell me that one of the problems in working with ranchers to get them to be part of the coalition, the coalition's goals is to promote grazing together with agencies and consultants, and all these people, they do science-based symposia, and stuff like that. It's great organization. But, she said one of the problems is that one of the sources of a lack of trust is that ranchers don't think that many people in the environmental community, even ones that weren't grazing for various purposes, recognize that they have a bottom line. They don't - nobody can lose money for, you know, consistently forever.

>> Yeah.

>> And sometimes they feel like people don't take that into account. They don't recognize that need to have a business, and that business is very important to them. So I don't want to say that just because people are after a lifestyle, they're not after an income, and a business.

>> Right.

>> And just because it may not support all their needs doesn't mean it's not an important component of it.

>> Right.

>> And I thought that was really interesting that they think we don't understand that. With public lands it's really strange. People seem - a lot of people seem to believe that it's always wrong to earn an income from using public lands. And yet your Kayak salesman, your tour guide, your hunting guide, all those people are [inaudible].

>> [Inaudible] on that.

>> Yeah.

>> Yeah. That's a good pivot to some wrap up on conclusions about what we can do about promoting ranching for the purpose of conserving land. Nathan Sear said in his intro to the book that we could define rangelands as places where more lucrative economic activities that not yet taken root.

>> Right.

>> Is that too cynical, and you know, does it require some kind of macro level manipulation of economics to prop things up? What are your thoughts on how we can make this work?

>> Well, I think an element of what he's saying is what I said at the beginning that rangelands are generally not arable, and not suitable for development. .> Right.

>> But if a mining operation comes along, they have a lot of money, they buy ranches, and then they mine them. You know, he's right in that if you can grow a crop, it's worth far more per acre than grazing livestock or if you can mine something.

>> Right.

>> So the rangelands are the hills in California. They're the hills that generally don't have great soil. They're steep, they're oak woodlands. You know, that is true, they are the places that -, but unfortunately, you know, increasingly they're worth more money for housing. That's kind of the crisis.

>> So it's politically legitimate to try to incentivize keeping them in open space?

>> Well, I think it is.

>> Yes.

>> And I've talked to people who disagree. If this is a service to us, and the general public, I don't own a ranch, but I love to see them. I love to know they're out there. I love the wildlife, I love the water, and I love the I think storing carbon and sequestering it is a really good idea. I think all those things are worth something to us as a public, and it's worth our investment. I think that's the premise behind the Farm Bill incentives that they offer through the resource conservation districts and NRCS.

>> And that's been a major shift in the last 15 to 20 years between incentivizing not farming versus incentivizing doing something well. It's doing well.

>> Yeah. And I was just reading in the paper some huge number of the insects of the world are dying off, which scares me very badly. And a lot of it's from the urbanization or farming, so these rangelands are one of the last refuges for those creatures.

>> Right.

>> Because ranchers don't tend to use a lot of chemicals or insecticides, and all those things on the landscape. So I think we don't even understand all the things that they provide for us. You know, those insects are the foundation of much of our eco logical life.

>> They're the bottom of the food chain.

>> Yeah, yeah.

>> Yeah.

>> Sometimes they're at the top.

>> They're generally the bottom.

>> I think that's one of the things that interests many of us in the rangeland profession and in rangeland based livestock production. It's nearly the only form of food, and fiber production that relies on naturally occurring plant communities that are still able to provide all these suite of ecological goods and services. And I really think that people are increasingly able to see that.

>> One of the other things to consider, I mentioned, you know, forest sequester more carbon shrublands due to --

>> Sure.

>> -- woody vegetation does, it burns, and the carbon in rain [inaudible] does not.

>> Right.

>> Most of it doesn't. [Music] So that's another interesting thing we have to consider in California. Not that we shouldn't have forests, just saying that they have their important part of the whole picture.

>> Very good. Any final thoughts?

>> Thank you for giving me this opportunity to talk about things --

>> Thank you.

>> -- that I love and feel strongly about. I appreciate it.

>>I appreciate it. Thank you very much.

>> You're welcome.

>> 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 the range line managers. Please take a moment to fill out a brief survey at This podcast is produced by Connor's Communications in the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. The project is supported by the University of Arizona, and funded by the Western Center for Risk Management Education through the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

[ Music ]

Mentioned Resources

Dr. Huntsinger’s website:

Article on ranching in the Bay area…is-not-open-space/

Articles mentioned in our discussion (most are not open access but Tip can provide a PDF upon request):

Barry, Sheila J. 2014. Using Social Media to Discover Public Values, Interests,
and Perceptions about Cattle Grazing on Park Lands. Environmental Management 53:454–464

Marty, Jaymee T. 2005. Effects of cattle grazing on diversity in ephemeral wetlands. Conservation Biology 19 (5):1626-1632.

Historical progression of articles related to our podcast:

Huntsinger, L. and J. Oviedo. 2014. Ecosystem services may be better termed social ecological services in a traditional pastoral system: The case of California Mediterranean rangelands at multiple scales. Ecology and Society 19 (1): 8[]

Huntsinger, L., Johnson, M., Stafford, M. and J. Fried. 2010. California Hardwood Rangeland Landowners 1985 to 2004: Ecosystem services, production, and permanence. Rangeland Ecology and Management 63:325-334

Brunson, M. and L. Huntsinger. 2008. Can old ranchers save the new west? Synthesis paper, Journal of Range Ecology and Management 61:137-147.

Sulak, A. and Huntsinger, L. 2007. Public lands grazing in California: untapped conservation potential for private lands? Rangelands 23(3):9-13.

Liffman, R., L. Huntsinger, and L. Forero. 2000. To ranch or not to ranch: home on the urban range? J. Range Management53(4)362-370.

Huntsinger, L. and P. Hopkinson. 1996. Sustaining rangeland landscapes: a social and ecological process. Journal of Range Management 49:167-173.

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