Grazing & Range Management

Grazing management

Rangeland ecosystems have evolved over thousands of years, adapting to the soils, climate and natural disturbance factors of the Northern Great Plains, especially the influence of wild grazers like bison.

What is rangeland?

Rangeland, or range, is land supporting indigenous or introduced vegetation that is either grazed or has the potential to be grazed and is managed as a natural ecosystem.

Rangeland includes:

  • Grassland
  • Grazeable forestland
  • Shrubland
  • Pastureland
  • Riparian areas
  • Shrubland

Rangelands are an important agricultural resource for livestock grazing. In Alberta, it is estimated that rangelands provide forage to about 14 per cent of the Alberta beef cattle herd.

Rangeland management: then and now

Simply stated, range management is about balancing human needs and demands from rangelands with the needs of the range resource; i.e. to protect soil, vegetation and water.

The first domestic livestock arrived in Alberta with the fur trade and eventually ranching became established by the 1870's. Traditionally, range management has dealt with manipulating grazing so that both plant and animal production are maintained or improved.

Today, range management also includes a broader perspective of grazing. It is viewed as a natural process and tool for perpetuating rangeland ecosystems to be managed along with other factors like fire, disturbance, and human activity.

Ranching and range science have served to protect much of the remaining native range, a home to a vast array of flora and fauna (fish and wildlife), ecological goods and services, and vital to the livestock industry and future needs and appreciation of Albertans.

For more information about the history of Rangeland Management in Alberta, you can review a copy of the Grazing Lease Stewardship Code of Practice at:

Rangeland management goals

One of the department's core businesses is the effective management of rangeland on the province's public land.

With about 8 million acres (3.3 million hectares) of grazing land used by livestock producers under various forms of dispositions, this management task is a significant responsibility that the department shares with ranchers and farmers.

Key goals of range management are to maintain:

  • A diversity of native plant species, especially deep-rooted and productive forms
  • Vigorous healthy plants with well developed root systems
  • Adequate vegetative cover to protect soils from erosion and to conserve scarce moisture

Rangeland management principles

Range management principles are applied to maintain or foster healthy productive rangeland. These include:

  • Balancing livestock demands with the available forage supply; the rancher harvests forage to produce red meat but leaves adequate ungrazed residue to protect plants and soil
  • Promoting even livestock distribution by using tools like fencing, salt placement and water development to spread the grazing over the landscape
  • Avoiding grazing rangeland during vulnerable periods; early spring grazing can stress range plants when energy reserves are depleted as new growth is initiated
  • Providing effective rest periods after grazing to allow range plants to recover from the stresses of grazing

On Alberta rangelands, a planned and balanced cycle of forage harvest and renewal is required to protect the range resource and sustain the many benefits that rangelands provide.

 

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Updated: Aug 21, 2015