Wyoming is a rangeland state! Around 85% of the state is considered rangelands. These rangelands are not only an important part of Wyoming’s history and culture, but also influence the ecosystems we have today and contribute to the economic base in many rural communities. “Great,” you say, “but what is rangeland?”
What are Rangelands?
Rangelands are a type of land that are dominated by some mix of mostly native grasses, forbs (broad leaf plants / wildflowers) and shrubs. Some woodlands are considered rangelands, too, particularly if they have relatively open canopies and support a significant understory of grasses, forbs and shrubs. Notice that the definition contains no mention of a particular land use. This is important – rangelands are defined by the ecosystems they support, NOT by how they are used.
Rangelands throughout the world are known to vary in their climatic and vegetative characteristics. Some regions experience high annual precipitation while others do not. Some rangelands are occupied by mostly grasses, while others may have plant communities that are a combination of shrubs and grasses. Even across sites in the western U.S., drastic differences are noted. Common terms used to describe rangelands are grasslands, shrublands, deserts, and plains. This list could go on and on. Each type of rangeland has unique characteristics that help guide management objectives and determine what resources we can use from them.
Why are Rangelands Important?
Nearly half of the world’s land area is considered rangelands. Rangelands are important because they provide a variety of goods and services to society such as clean water, wildlife habitat, domestic livestock grazing, and energy extraction. On a smaller scale, states like Wyoming rely heavily on rangeland resources to build local economies. When managed properly, rangelands can be used to simultaneously provide a number of different services, which is why good range management focuses on multiple uses.
Who are Range Managers and what do they do?
Range management is defined as the manipulation of rangeland components to obtain the optimal combination of goods and services for society on a sustained basis. Because rangelands have such a broad range of uses, good range managers must have an understanding of the interactions between animals, plants, and environmental factors such as soils and topography. It is important to realize that range management also combines ecological sciences with social sciences such as economics and cultural history.
Range managers are the ones who make decisions concerning a particular site or region of rangeland. There exists a variety of different management goals that can vary from domestic livestock production, to wildlife management, to recreation activities. Often times, range managers are managing for objectives in more than just one of these areas. A range manager may be an individual rancher operating on a few thousand acres of grazing lands in the Powder River Basin who is also interested in maintaining a stable mule deer population, or a national park service employee concerned with maintaining a functional ecosystem to meet both wildlife habitat needs as well as recreation on the Teton Mountains.
Managing Wyoming Rangelands
It is no surprise that one of the most common uses of rangelands is domestic livestock production. However, like many western states, Wyoming is comprised of a combination of private, state, and federal lands. Federally owned and managed lands (Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service Lands) comprise about 27.6 million acres (~44%) of Wyoming’s landscapes. The mixed ownership of rangelands results in differences in management objectives as well as management practices. Rarely is a manager only subject to one type of ownership. While private land is dominated by agricultural production, public land is an essential part to many operations. Two thousand, five hundred nineteen ranchers in Wyoming hold grazing permits and these ranchers represent 44% of the ranching operations in the state and about 73% of the acres in ranching. Fortunately, management practices between public and private land managers can often be coordinated to meet the goals of both types of managers.
Climatic conditions are another issue faced by many range managers. If you have ever spent more than a day in Wyoming, you have likely experienced how quickly and drastically Wyoming climate can change. The fauna and animal species found in Wyoming have adapted to the harsh climatic conditions typical of a cold desert. Wyoming pant communities are mostly categorized as either a sagebrush steppe or shortgrass prairie. The constantly changing weather conditions, arid climate, terrain, and soil characteristics present unique challenges and opportunities to range managers. In addition to these, Wyoming range managers must also be prepared to handle disasters such as drought and wildfires.
If you have any questions about range management, feel free to explore the rest of our webpage. We have provided a variety of rangeland resources to equip range managers with the knowledge and tools to help them make decisions and be prepared for natural disasters. Our climate and weather resources provide information that is up-to-date and relevant to range managers. Finally, learn more about our partners and affiliations to see how broad and diverse range management is. If your questions are not answered here, you can also contact us. We hope you find this website informative and helpful!