Vulnerabilities of Southwestern U.S. rangeland-based animal agriculture to climate change

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Havstad, K. M., J. R. Brown, R. Estell, E. Elias, A. Rango, and C. Steele
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The Southwestern US is a five-state region that has supported animal agriculture since the late 16th Century when European settlers crossed the Rio Grande into present day west Texas and southern New Mexico with herds of cattle, sheep, goats and horses. For the past 400 years the rangeland livestock industry, in its many forms and manifestations, has developed management strategies and conservation practices that impart resilience to the climatic extremes, especially prolonged droughts, that are common and extensive across this region. Livestock production from rangelands in the southwest (SW) is adapted to low rainfall and high ambient temperatures, but will have to continue to adapt management strategies, such as reduced stocking rates, proper grazing management practices, employing animal genetics suited to arid environments with less herbaceous production, erosion control conservation practices, and alternative forage supplies, in an increasingly arid and variable climatic environment. Even though the aging demographics of western ranchers could be a deterrent to implementing various adaptations, there are examples of creative management coalitions to cope with climatic change that are emerging in the SW that can serve as instructive examples. More importantly, there are additional opportunities for incorporation of transformative practices and technologies that can sustain animal agriculture in the SW in a warmer environment. Animal agriculture in the SW is inherently resilient, and has the capacity to adapt and transform as needed to the climatic changes that are now occurring and will continue to occur across this region. However, producers and land managers will need to thoroughly understand the vulnerabilities and sensitivities that face them as well as the ecological characteristics of their specific landscapes in order to cope with the emerging climatic changes across the SW region.


Havstad, K. M., J. R. Brown, R. Estell, E. Elias, A. Rango, and C. Steele. 2016. “Vulnerabilities of Southwestern U.S. Rangeland-Based Animal Agriculture to Climate Change.” Climatic Change, November, 1–16. doi:10.1007/s10584-016-1834-7.