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Perceptions and history of rangeland [Chapter 3.1]Author(s): Steven D. Warren
Source: In: Dumroese, R. K.; Moser, W. K., eds. Northeastern California plateaus bioregion science synthesis. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-409. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. p. 45-47.
Publication Series: Proceedings (P)
Station: Rocky Mountain Research Station
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DescriptionWhen asked today to define range or rangeland, most people respond with something such as “open lands used for grazing by livestock.” That perception, however common, is incorrect. Range or rangeland is a type of land, not a type of use. While livestock grazing is, indeed, a common use of rangeland, it is by no means the only one. The definition of rangeland is variable and has changed over the years. The 1872 poem and the later classic western folk song by Brewster Higley, Home on The Range, predated the massive expansion of livestock in the Western United States and makes no mention of livestock; it refers only to buffalo, deer, and antelope. A century later, even after the explosion of the livestock population, the published definition of rangelands was “...those areas of the world, which by reason of physical limitations - low and erratic precipitation, rough topography, poor drainage, or cold temperatures - are unsuited to cultivation and which are a source of forage for free-ranging native and domestic animals, as well as a source of wood products, water and wildlife” (Stoddart et al. 1975). This definition makes it clear that the presence of domestic livestock, however common, is not necessary for land to be classified as rangeland. Twenty years later, the definition, published again without inclusion of domestic livestock, was “a type of land that supports different vegetation types including shrublands such as deserts and chaparral, grasslands, steppes, woodlands, temporary treeless areas in forests, and wherever dry, sandy, rocky, saline or wet soils, and steep topography preclude the growing of commercial farm and timber crops” (Heady and Child 1994). A decade later, the definition was “all areas of the world that are not barren deserts, farmed, or covered by bare soil, rock, ice, or concrete” (Holechek et al. 2004). The presence of, and use by, domestic livestock for grazing is not, and never has been, a requisite part of the definition of rangeland. However, because grazing by domestic livestock has been a common and easily recognized use of many rangelands for more than a century, people unfamiliar with the history of rangelands typically equate the two. Thus, a good working definition of “range” may be “[a]ll lands, except for urban, agricultural or densely forested lands, that support predominantly native or naturalized vegetation capable of sustaining native or domestic grazing and/or browsing ungulates, whether or not those animals are present.”
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CitationWarren, Steven D. 2020. Perceptions and history of rangeland [Chapter 3.1]. In: Dumroese, R. K.; Moser, W. K., eds. Northeastern California plateaus bioregion science synthesis. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-409. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. p. 45-47.
KeywordsLassen National Forest, Modoc National Forest, Northeastern California, forest planning, community engagement, socioeconomic resilience, ponderosa pine, western juniper, sagebrush rangeland, wildfire, wildlife, ecosystem restoration, climate change, disturbances
- Rangeland in Northeastern California [Chapter 3.2]
- Northeastern California plateaus bioregion science synthesis
- Sagebrush rangelands and greater sage-grouse in Northeastern California [Chapter 4.3]
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