A healthy ranch can be a benefit to all. Sustaining an economically and ecologically successful ranch also preserves western rural landscapes, lifestyles, and livelihoods. Business planning that incorporates resource monitoring offers the rancher measurable indicators of the health of a ranch.
The February issue of Rangelands presents a framework for such monitoring and planning developed by the Sustainable Rangelands Roundtable’s Ranch Sustainability Assessment Group. This working group seeks to identify the best indicators for monitoring ecological, economic, and social conditions on an individual ranch and to integrate these with business planning goals.
Being aware of the conditions of soil, water, vegetation, and wildlife on a ranch means knowing what one’s business assets are. They are the basis for good decision-making. The Ranch Sustainability Assessment Group has identified 17 indicators to help ranchers effectively assess their resources.
These indicators include, for example, estimating the potential for erosion of the ranch’s soil. By measuring the per cent of bare ground using sampling techniques, one can see the possible impact of rain and wind on soil loss. Another indicator of erosion is soil aggregate stability — the degree to which soil clumps, or retains its structural integrity, when exposed to a water bath.
This type of assessment and business planning can help the rancher achieve goals beyond cattle production. The use of grazing land for wildlife habitat and wildlife-related human activity is projected to increase during the next 50 years. Ranchers with a business plan can track such trends and incorporate them into their goals, with the possibility of increasing income and conservation.
The SRR Sustainable Ranch Management Assessment Guidebook is available online at http://sustainablerangelands.org/ranchassessment. The document takes ranchers through a self-assessment survey to evaluate the current sustainability of their operation. Profitable cattle-ranching operations can keep ranches intact, prevent development that divides the land, and protect biodiversity.
Full text of “Ranch Business Planning and Resource Monitoring for Rangeland Sustainability” and other articles in this issue of Rangelands, Vol. 34, No. 1, February 2012, are available at http://www.srmjournals.org/toc/rala/34/1.