Rangeland decision-making impacts conservation program adoption

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Rangeland Ecology & Management – Rangeland conservation programs are growing. The number of acres of land in the Western United States enrolled in conservation easements has outpaced land development since 1997. Understanding why ranchers participate in conservation programs helps to create partnerships and strategies that can enhance rangeland sustainability the ecosystem services they provide. 

In the current issue of Rangeland Ecology & Management, the article “Conservation Program Participation and Adaptive Rangeland Decision-Making” examines ranchers’ involvement in a social–ecological context. Conservation programs are just one strategy ranchers might choose to manage their land in a manner that promotes productivity and health.
More than 500 California ranchers returned mailed surveys in this study. Ranchers were asked about their awareness of, participation in, and attitude toward various conservation programs using a range of behavioral responses. With this information, a multinomial logit model was used to estimate the importance of different variables on rancher involvement in conservation programs. 
This study examined four key variables:
  • operator and operation characteristics, including whether the land is privately owned or publicly leased, and the education and income of the operator;
  • time horizon, meaning the number of family generations who have managed the land and whether an inheritance plan is in place;
  • social network connections, describing to what degree ranchers communicate and provide leadership and opinions in their communities; and
  • social values, including views on property rights, the government’s role in protecting private property, and trust in government involvement in conservation.
Ranchers with larger amounts of land, who look toward the future, and who are opinion leaders with knowledge of conservation  were found to be more likely to participate in conservation programs. Capitalizing on the decision strategies of ranchers by reaching out to well-connected opinion leaders, honoring the desires of many ranchers to maintain the family and historical legacies of their land, and establishing trust between ranchers and conservation organizations can help build collaborative conservation relationships. 
Full text of the article “Conservation Program Participation and Adaptive Rangeland Decision-Making” in this issue of Rangeland Ecology and Management, Vol. 66, No. 6, November 2013, is now available.

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