Wildlife & Range Management

Rangelands occupy about 47% of the world’s land area. They characteristically are unsuited for cultivation, but produce forage for livestock and wildlife. In the US, rangelands occupy about one-third of the country – much of it public land in the 17 states west of the Mississippi River.

photography of mountains under cloudy sky
Photo by Simon Matzinger on Pexels.com

Management of Range Vegetation

Range vegetation is managed to improve the quality and/or quantity of forage available for the production of livestock and, sometimes, for improving wildlife habitat.

Land managers appraise the composition of rangeland vegetation to determine range condition. This appraisal is based on how much the current vegetation deviates from its potential. In other words, what percentage of the plant community still represents climax vegetation. 

The welfare of livestock coincides with range condition, but so do many features of wildlife associated with rangelands. Studies indicate that both livestock and wildlife can share rangelands when the appropriate grazing system is used. Moreover, the effective stocking rate of livestock plus wildlife can be greater than with livestock or wildlife alone!

herd of brown doe walking on field
Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

Types of Grazing Systems

  1. Continuous Grazing: Normally leads to overgrazing and loss of wildlife habitat.
  2. Rest-Rotation Grazing (Deferred-Rotation): Includes one or more pastures in some stage of “rest” (no grazing) while other pastures are being actively grazed.
  3. Short-Duration Grazing: Includes one or more pastures that are subject to heaving grazing for a short time. (Usually used for fattening for slaughter)
  4. Savory Grazing Method: The range is divided into pastures resembling spaces between spokes of a wheel, with a common water source at the hub. Grazing periods in each pasture are short, no more than a few days. Typically used in desert grasslands.
brown and white cattle in the middle of grassland
Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

Rangeland-Wildlife Conflicts


Competition for water


Livestock Grazing and Wildlife

  • Wildlife Competition with Livestock:
    • Livestock and wildlife may compete directly for forage. Items in the diets of each may show competition for certain plants. Be sure the diet competition is real! The wise wildlife manager is aware that food habitat competition may be seasonal. In addition, wildlife may use different parts of the plant as compared to the parts used by livestock.
    • Proper range management can benefit livestock and wildlife, e.g., cattle and elk in Colorado: Cattle were allowed to short-duration graze mountain ranges in the late spring and early summer, but were removed before the end of the growing season. This allowed time for the plants to regrow and cure as forage of high nutritional quality. Without cattle, the fall forage would have been of lower nutritional value. The cattle simulated regrowth of forage later used by elk. The winter elk population rose fro 320 to 1190 animals in the 10 years after cattle grazing was introduced.
herd of cattle on brown grass mountain under white sky
Photo by Tyler Lastovich on Pexels.com
  • Overgrazing and Wildlife:
    • When rangeland is overgrazed by livestock, some wildlife species will suffer, but rangeland wildlife are often adaptable enough to utilize other food sources. E.g., Black-Tailed Prairie Dogs are Jackrabbits have increased in overgrazed areas.
    • Overgrazing can also negatively impact riparian areas (stream-bank vegetation) which can affect fish populations and overall stream health.
  • Rangeland and Wild Game Ranching:
    • “Game ranching” refers to:
      • Pay for hunting businesses: where big game (usually exotic species) are harvested for trophy and sport.
      • Production of meat and other products using native wildlife. The basic principle of game ranching for meat is that native species are better adapted to local weather and food conditions than domestic livestock.
pack of deer eating on plane grass field during daytime
Photo by Snapwire on Pexels.com

Being a wildlife manager doesn’t mean just managing wildlife, especially when you’re in charge of rangeland. While this is a more common practice out west, wildlife managers everywhere have to work side-by-side with the public, ranchers, and other livestock owners who depend on these lands to make a living (especially in these circumstances).

Its extremely difficult to make everyone happy when you’re making policies, but when managed correctly, it can benefit everyone involved. Livestock doesn’t always have to be seen as a “curse” when utilized correctly, when in the frame of mind that they are just another “herd”, it becomes easier to fit them into your grazing plans.

Finding the fine line where grazing doesn’t negatively affect your lands is the key! Next time we’ll continue with our “Wildlife &” series with Wildlife Management and Predators – an important topic no matter where you manage!

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