A monumental project by the University of Wyoming and nearly 70 collaborating entities across the nation will help public and private groups better manage rangelands and understand their importance to the well-being of communities and economies, according to a UW professor.

“This is the first time the rangeland profession and interest groups have come together to define the important components of social, ecological and economic aspects of sustainable rangeland management,” said professor John Tanaka, head of the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Tanaka helped direct the Sustainable Rangelands Roundtable (SRR), a national effort aimed at developing detailed guidelines to gauge whether rangelands are managed sustainably.

Those guidelines are detailed in the 242-page online document, Criteria and indicators of sustainable rangeland management. SM-56 is a joint publication of the SRR, UW Extension and Society for Range Management.

“The SRR formed in 2001 to develop a set of broad-scale criteria and indicators that any interested person could examine to decide if rangelands were being managed sustainably or moving in the right direction,” Tanaka said.

 “The publication describes the indicators for sustainable rangelands that will be informative to land management agencies, private landowners, organizations with an interest in sustainability, rangeland scientists and others interested in the long-term health and vitality of these lands,” Tanaka added.

The SRR is applying these indicators to evaluate the effects of activities such as energy development and food production on the economic, ecological and social aspects of rangeland sustainability.

“These sorts of activities are vitally important to Wyoming and many other states,” Tanaka said. “How public and private land managers address their impacts will greatly affect how sustainable rangeland ecology is and the communities that depend on these rangelands.”

After conducting 14 meetings between 2001 and 2003, the SRR developed five criteria and 64 indicators of sustainable rangeland management. Individuals from nearly 70 government agencies, universities, public and private organizations, American Indian tribes and professional societies participated.

About 45 SRR members from 15 states and Washington, D.C., then worked to assemble the roundtable’s findings into a publication that could be used by anyone interested in rangeland sustainability.

“Sustainability is defined as providing for the needs of the present generation while also allowing future generations to provide for their own needs,” said John Mitchell, who helped convene the SRR and also served as chief editor of the publication. “Our group focused on defining what that information should be and how it should be collected.”

Chapters cover: 1. soil and water conservation on rangelands, 2. conservation and maintenance of plant and animal resources, 3. maintenance of rangeland productive capacity, 4. social and economic indicators of rangeland sustainability and 5. legal, institutional and economic frameworks for rangeland conservation and sustainable management.

Mitchell, an emeritus scientist with the U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station in Fort Collins, Colo., said the work of the SRR and the subsequent writing of the publication were tremendous undertakings because of the number of people involved.

“I would call the entire effort monumental because it involved many, many players,” Mitchell said. “The fact that so many participants did this on a mostly volunteer basis speaks to the interest in what we’re doing and trying to achieve.”

The publication is available for free download. Go to www.uwyo.edu/ces and click the Publications link on the left side of the page. Click Search Bulletins, and type SM-56 in the Publication Number field. Click on the title to open.

For more information about SRR’s ongoing activities, go to http://sustainablerangelands.org

Those having questions or comments can contact Tanaka at 307-766-5130 or jtanaka@uwyo.eduor Kristie Maczko with the SRR in Fort Collins at 970-295-5985 or kmaczko@uwyo.edu