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Change on the range

Learning exercise gives insight to land managers and scientists on range management strategies during climatic changes

In the Southwestern U.S., land managers face equally critical and difficult decisions when it comes to their ranges. The region is known for its climate variability which has strong influences and impacts on range conditions. Access to the latest climate and range science information is vital for managers to make effective short and long-term decisions. An experiential learning exercise was held at a meeting in January, 2006 to open communication between land managers and scientists about climate and range science concepts.

The main objective of the exercise was to challenge range managers to explore how long-term temperature changes and precipitation distribution may impact their management strategies. Adjustment of planning time was also stressed for adaptation to climatic conditions. Participants explored potential plans for rangelands under changing climates. Description and outcomes of this event were published in the 2007 volume 36 of Journal of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Education.

The exercise consisted of several rounds where management decisions had to be made in certain climate conditions. Groups of five to 10 individuals were given situational and financial restraints with a 1,000 acre parcel of land. Its condition was determined by chance for six decision periods that represented 60 years. Each round, groups discussed potential changes to and transitions of their land based on interactions between its initial state, any disturbances and the data of climate changes by each decade. The groups used management strategies to either keep their land in its original state or improve its condition. The purpose of this exercise was to give an opportunity to investigate the complexities in range management decisions based on climate change at the small group level.

According to the study’s authors, the exercise was valuable to its participants who took an active role in making management decisions. They became more comfortable with the concepts of climate change, working with state and transition models and working together with scientists and/or land managers. It was also effective in increasing awareness of the impacts of long-term temperature and precipitation changes on their management strategies.

Evaluation results indicated that the exercise was useful in creating small group discussions between scientists and managers on the complex interactions between short and long-term climate changes and management decisions. It also identified strengths and weaknesses of the state and transition approach and highlighting information gaps for everyday decision making.

Though designed for use in semi-desert grasslands, the exercise could be adapted for use in any part of the country. Required adaptations would include selecting a local major land resource area (MLRA); modifying the initial state of the parcel, the management objectives, and the potential environmental disturbances appropriate for the area. Relevant temperature and precipitation datasets would need to be developed based on climate change projections for the region also.

Sara Uttech | EurekAlert!
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