Cooperative Land Management
The principle challenge in front of many of us who care about the West is this: how to make conservation profitable (and thus sustainable). – Courtney White of the Quivira Coalition, in The Quivira Coalition Journal, October 2006.
Conservation scientists call for permanent protection of breeding, wintering and migratory habitats for all wildlife and bird species. Because grasslands in the US are mostly (85%) under private ownership, it would be impossible for any single agency or group to buy and manage the habitat needed to support even a few cherished wildlife species. Instead, it is critical that conservationists partner with landowners to provide long-lasting, cost-effective stewardship through compatible land use.
Today there are many ranchers who want to expand their management knowledge and improve the long-term sustainability of the family ranch. And, waiting in the wings is a pool of talented young people who may not inherit a family ranch, but are nonetheless ready to start their own operation. Unfortunately, opportunities for these new ranchers are limited because of the growing gap between the agricultural value of land and the purchase price it often requires. This gap in value has been created as nontraditional landowners purchase properties for uses other than food production, effectively decoupling the value of land from what it is able to produce. This has made it difficult or impossible for traditional ranchers, who depend entirely on the land’s productivity, to stay competitive in the real estate market. Prairie ranches are increasingly changing hands to new owners who lack the expertise that comes from generations of family ownership.
The Alliance pioneers programs to ensure that ranch stewards have the enviable opportunity to care for the land and pass it on to future generations. Ranchers assisted by the Alliance study holistic management – considering many factors like cattle numbers, grass availability, water levels, and wildlife habitat when determining suitable land management uses. We use low-stress stock handling techniques and inform the public about our practices through education outreach. RSA sponsors workshops for ranchers and community members about estate planning, generational transfer, land management, habitat restoration, and range monitoring. This helps ensure that today’s ranch steward will pass their legacy on to future generations. Universities and extension agents assist our communities, providing valuable information that improves our lives and encourages us to work smarter, not harder. Various conservation organizations are sharing ideas with us on how to transfer land between current and beginning ranchers. Financial advisors share their knowledge on how we can make ranch lands more affordable for ranchers.
The Ranchers Stewardship Alliance above all promotes understanding and respect for ranching and the critical role it plays in conservation. Working together, ranch stewards and conservationists can create effective, lasting solutions for prairie landscapes, ranching communities, and the wildlife that depend on them.