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Factors influencing ranchers’ intentions to manage for vegetation heterogeneity and promote cross-boundary management in the northern Great Plains

Maggi S. Sliwinski, School of Natural Resources, University of Nebraska-Lincoln; current affiliation: Grasslands National Park, Parks Canada Agency
Mark E. Burbach, Conservation and Survey Division, School of Natural Resources, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Larkin A. Powell, School of Natural Resources, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Walter H. Schacht, Department of Agronomy and Horticulture, University of Nebraska-Lincoln


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Most private grasslands in the Great Plains are managed with the goal to optimize beef production, which tends to homogenize rangeland habitats. The subsequent loss of vegetation heterogeneity on private lands is detrimental to ecosystem function. However, conservation planners should understand the factors that lead to variation in management of rangelands. We used a mail survey targeted to ranchers in counties with intact rangeland in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska in 2016 to examine factors predicted to be related to attitudes about strategies leading to heterogeneity such as innovativeness and low risk aversion, and intended behaviors associated with creation of heterogeneity. We used survey questions and a set of relevant scales to examine predictors of behavioral intentions for rangeland management and conservation. Attitudes about fire and prairie dogs, two strategies that create heterogeneity, were largely negative, and ranchers with positive attitudes about fire and prairie dogs and higher perceived behavioral control of their ranch and surrounding landscapes had greater intention to engage in heterogeneity-promoting behaviors. Social norms were also important in predicting intended behaviors and attitudes. Our research suggests that heterogeneity of grasslands may remain low unless land managers understand the importance of spatial and temporal heterogeneity and recognize prescribed fire and prairie dogs, and other burrowing colonial mammals, as principal drivers of ecological processes on rangelands. Conservation organizations may find success by modeling management tools, reducing the perceived effort producers must make to adopt behaviors that support heterogeneity, and by developing programs that work to change social norms around fire and prairie dogs.

Key words

heterogeneity; northern Great Plains; prairie dogs; prescribed fire; rangelands; private lands conservation; wildlife habitat

Copyright © 2018 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087