• Ranching and Multiyear Droughts in Utah: Production Impacts, Risk Perceptions, and Changes in Preparedness

      Coppock, D. Layne (Society for Range Management, 2011-11-01)
      Droughts characterize rangelands, yet drought research remains limited. Objectives of the study were to determine: 1) effects of the 1999-2004 drought on ranch resources, 2) how ranchers coped with the 1999-2004 drought, 3) whether ranchers have altered their preparedness for future drought, and 4) factors influencing change in preparedness. A phone and mail survey engaged a random sample of 615 ranchers providing 509 usable responses (83%). Data analysis employed descriptive statistics, directional change tests, and logistic regression. Compared to ‘‘normal’’ years, the 1999-2004 drought had negative effects on 75% of operations including major reductions in water supplies, forage, and cattle productivity. One quarter of respondents indicated that the drought had neutral or positive effects, usually because they had unhindered access to water or high-value hay. Only 14% of respondents felt they were adequately prepared for the 1999-2004 drought, illustrated by the high use of federal relief programs and involvement in crisis-related water development, livestock sales, and hay purchases. The ‘‘drought trap’’ was financial (lower revenue and higher costs), with effects well beyond 2004. By 2009 preparedness had reportedly changed. Twenty-nine percent of respondents felt they were better prepared for drought in 2009 than in 1998, a significant shift (P<0.01) in the population. Increased preparedness was significantly associated (P<0.02) with how badly a rancher was affected by the 1999-2004 drought as well as their belief that another drought is imminent. Risk-management tactics now include investment in natural-resource development and conservation plans, reductions in stocking rates, income diversification, and enrollment in insurance and federal disaster-assistance programs. Sixty-one percent of respondents said they were actively planning for future drought. The lessons of 1999-2004 have increased awareness of drought hazards among Utah ranchers, providing opportunity to enhance the financial and ecological sustainability of ranching via well-conceived risk-management initiatives.
    • Rangeland Ecology & Management Index Volume 64, 2011

      Society for Range Management, 2011-11-01
    • Topoedaphic Variability and Patch Burning in Sand Sagebrush Shrubland

      Winter, Stephen L.; Fuhlendorf, Samuel D.; Goad, Carla L.; Davis, Craig A.; Hickman, Karen R. (Society for Range Management, 2011-11-01)
      Patch burning is the deliberate application of fire to a management unit in a heterogeneous manner, resulting in the heterogeneous distribution of grazing animal impact. The application of patch burning typically has been discussed within a framework of imposing heterogeneity on a homogeneous landscape or management unit, yet most landscapes and management units are actually distinguished by an inherent level of heterogeneity. Within landscapes and management units, differing topography and soils interact to create patterns of contrasting patches, also known as topoedaphic sites. Thus, introduction of a heterogeneous disturbance such as patch burning on a landscape or management unit is more accurately described as the imposition of one layer of heterogeneity onto a pre-existing layer of heterogeneity. We examined effects of patch burning on vegetation structure and animal distribution across contrasting topographical sites in sand sagebrush (Artemisia filifolia Torr.) shrubland of the southern Great Plains in North America. Landscapes at our study site were characterized by an inherent amount of heterogeneity in vegetation structure due to variability in topoedaphic sites, and the patch burning treatment superimposed additional heterogeneity that was constrained by topoedaphic characteristics. Shrub-dominated sites were more dependent on patch burning for heterogeneity of vegetation structure than sites dominated by short grasses. Distribution patterns of cattle (Bos taurus) were not significantly different across treatments, though they followed patterns similar to previous studies. We demonstrated that heterogeneity was dependent on topoedaphic patterns and the application of patch burning management for heterogeneity was dependent on the inherent variability of a landscape.