Increasing flexibility in rangeland management during drought

Emily Kachergis, Justin D. Derner, Bethany B. Cutts, Leslie M. Roche, Valerie T. Eviner, Mark N. Lubell, Kenneth W. Tate

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number77
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 30 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Adaptive capacity
  • Agricultural policy
  • Climate variability
  • Ecosystem services
  • Fragmentation
  • Livestock production
  • Mixed-grass prairie
  • Ranchers
  • Resilience
  • Sagebrush steppe
  • Wyoming, USA

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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