Rangelands: Open Vistas & People – Making the Connection 

By: Clayton Marlow, SRM President

As my tenure as President draws to a close, I want to take a moment to recognize the unseen contributions made by SRM staff members Vicky Trujillo, Kelly Fogarty, Mary Jo Foley-Birrenkott, Amanda Miller, Lia Biondo and Jess Peterson to the mission of the Society. While our various Task Forces and committees develop and refine policies and action plans that direct the protection and management of rangelands, it is our dedicated, professional staffers that implement those ideas and actions. Please take a few minutes to send an email or note of thanks to let them know you recognize their efforts on our behalf.

If you ever question the value or meaning of membership in the Society, take the opportunity to serve on the Board or leadership team. Through such service, you will be amazed and invigorated by the inventive and dedicated women and men that form the Society for Range Management. I will always be thankful for my time serving with credible people dedicated to the conservation of rangeland resources and the management of the Society for Range Management.

Through my nearly six-year service it has become increasingly clear that the level of dedication we have to the Society reflects the deep, deep value we hold for rangelands, but I’ve also learned through repeated visits with agency leads, senate and house staffers and various lobbyist groups during the Washington “Fly-Ins” that SRM members represent a small segment of the world’s population that recognizes and appreciates the wonder and abiding nature of rangelands. This was made painfully clear during a conversation on the feral horse issue with congressional staffers this past July. We were following up on a series of recommendations made by the National Horse and Burro Rangeland Management Coalition asking if there were questions about rangeland health and feral horse management we could address. As the discussion wound down it became clear that ecological concepts would have little bearing on the House and Senate floor; basically, range managers were to “just make the problem go away.” As we left the meeting, I realized that contrary to everything I’d been taught and subsequently tried to convey to students and managers over the years, good science doesn’t move congressional agendas; money and votes do. While my observation appears fatalistic, I believe attention to this societal mindset can bolster efforts by Sections and the Society to conserve rangelands.

Even though most SRM members value grasslands, savannas and shrub steppe for their intrinsic ecological worth, the larger society doesn’t share that same understanding; so we struggle to have agencies and legislative bodies amend outdated policies or prioritize funding for grassland conservation efforts. The just finished UN climate conference in Madrid is an example of the challenge to get good science implemented into policy. Until an individual or community experiences the impact of degraded rangeland resources or climate change directly there doesn’t seem to be much incentive to put new science findings into practice. This means that the Society for Range Management will have to continue to frame management recommendations in terms of resource use just as it has done for the past 72 years. Congressional staffers and lobbyists understand and have more interest in program costs and political trade-offs than well-informed discussions about ecological site descriptions.

A review of historical grazing land conservation records teaches that impactful actions to curtail soil erosion, recover depleted vegetation communities and protect riparian resources began in the livestock sector because range conservationists could link ecological-based management practices to the long-term economic sustainability of families and communities. Riparian health improved when the negative impact of uncontrolled livestock grazing was linked to diminished sports fisheries and municipal water quality. In short, without a linked use, conservation measures are rarely, if ever, put into practice across large landscapes. This means that the Society of Range Management must create and maintain an atmosphere that attracts livestock producers, hunters, fisherman, the energy industry and outdoor recreationists as well as ecologists, range conservationists and educators. Embedded within these actions must also be heightened Society attention to the women livestock producers, tribal range managers, small property owners and wildlife enthusiasts that are equally focused on the health and sustainability of rangelands. As we move further into the 21st Century Society leadership will be most effective when we follow the advice of one of my former students, a member of the Piikani Nation. As she prepared to graduate, she told me she must now “paddle my canoe in both directions”. The Society for Range Manage must, likewise, paddle in both directions by fostering the appreciation of ecological processes simultaneous with recognition of rangeland uses. We cannot cling to cowboy boots and the Trail Boss and ignore the fact that rangelands are a biome. Conversely, we cannot embrace sophisticated ecological models and lose our understanding of the people who work the land. Fundamentally, rangelands have value because they reflect a self-sustaining complex interaction of climate, soils, wildfire and grazing animals.

The Society for Range Management has value because we represent a complex interaction of stock producers, educators, mine land reclamationists, herbicide representatives, researchers, writers, land managers, agency leaders, and any others who care about rangelands. Just as ignoring ecological processes leads to a less sustainable landscape, a narrow focus on the issues of one segment of our Society membership will diminish the organization’s value to individuals and rangelands. After nearly six years of service on the Board of this professional organization, I have no doubt that our shared talents will enable SRM members to accomplish a great deal at the Section level and the Society can foster a broader global recognition of the value of rangelands. #WeAreRangelands!

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