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Increasing flexibility in rangeland management during drought


Extreme droughts like the recent 2011-2013 drought impacting the central and western United States present a challenge to sustaining livestock ranching operations and the ecosystem goods and services they produce. Wyoming ranchers manage half of this drought-prone state and are at the forefront of this challenge. We examined Wyoming ranchers' drought management strategies and how ranch characteristics affect drought management flexibility, a key component of resilience, through a mail survey. We find that many survey respondents manage drought in similar ways, by selling livestock and buying feed, highlighting the market risks associated with drought. Ranches that are larger, include yearling livestock, use shorter grazing periods, and/or incorporate alternative on-ranch activities (e.g., hunting) use more drought management practices and thus have greater flexibility. Larger ranches experience fewer drought impacts, highlighting advantages of a larger resource base. Our findings suggest three components of national drought policy that encourages flexibility and thus increases resilience of ranches to drought: (1) encouraging forage-sharing mechanisms; (2) promoting income diversification that is independent of climatic variability; and (3) facilitating a shift to diversified livestock production systems. These measures could increase sustainability of ranching livelihoods and provision of ecosystem services despite predicted increases in intensity and duration of future droughts. © 2014 Kachergis et al.

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