Rangelands Ecosystems

Pictures of rangelands, the people, places, plants, animals, soil, and water.

Rangeland ecosystems in the United States are diverse lands. They are the wet grasslands of Florida to the desert shrub ecosystems of Wyoming. They include the high mountain meadows of Utah to the desert floor of California.

Rangeland Area

The United States has about 770 million acres of rangelands. Private individuals own more than half of the Nation's rangelands. The federal government manages 43 percent of the rangelands. State and local governments manage the remainder.

The Forest Service, an agency of the United States Department of Agriculture, administers approximately 191 million acres of National Forest Systems lands. About half of this acreage, 96 million acres, is rangelands.

Rangeland Values

These diverse rangelands ecosystems produce an equally diverse array of tangible and intangible products. Tangible products include forage for grazing and browsing animals, wildlife habitat, water, minerals, energy, recreational opportunities, some wood products, and plant and animal genes. These are important economic goods. Rangeland ecosystems produce intangible products such as natural beauty and wilderness, satisfying important societal values. These are often as economically important as the more tangible commodities. We refer to this full suite of environmental processes, goods, and services provided by rangelands ecosystems as ecosystem services.

History

The Forest Service has undergone many changes in its management of rangelands. In the early 1800s, free forage on unclaimed public domain lands allowed the building of cattle and sheep empires. The ranges soon became over-grazed, overstocked, and overcrowded. Congress stepped in the early 1900s and designated the Forest Service as the pioneer grazing control agency. By 1906 to 1907, the Forest Service had established its system of range regulation. This includes permits, limits on herd size, grazing seasons, allotments, and rental fees. The system has served as a pattern for other agencies concerned with resource protection and the pursuit of society's goals.

Read more about the laws, regulations, and policies that direct Forest Service rangeland management…

Current Direction

Today, the Forest Service concentrates it efforts on managing the vegetation resources across the range landscape to serve a multitude of resource needs. Rangeland management specialists are working to provide such things as habitat for a variety of plant and animal species, clean water, and sustainable grazing and browsing. They inventory, classify, and monitor rangeland conditions to maintain or improve rangeland health. When they identify unhealthy rangelands, they strive to restore rangeland ecosystem functions. Forest Service rangeland management includes a whole host of partnerships, public and private, working together to make sure our rangelands are healthy and functioning properly.