A great deal of beef production in Western Canada takes place on native rangeland. In their book Range Management, Stoddart, Smith and Box define native rangeland as those areas of the world characterized by physical limitations making these areas unsuitable for cultivation and suitable solely for livestock grazing.
Historically, these areas have provided a number of products that include: forage for domestic and native animals, wood and wood products, water, wildlife, mineral development and recently oil and gas exploration and recreational opportunities. As the number and variety of goods and services associated with rangelands increase, so too will the conflicts between the stakeholders demanding these goods and services.
As the numbers of conflicts increase, it will become increasingly difficult for traditional users, like ranchers, to make a living. If ranchers are to reduce the number and severity of these conflicts, they will have to become more proactive in their approach to resource management issues.
In the past, resource management decisions focused on traditional uses, such as livestock production. Unfortunately, society no longer feels this approach is acceptable, particularly on public land and there is mounting pressure from environmentalists and recreationalists to change the status quo on this particular issue. As this public pressure mounts, it is very probable ranchers will face dramatic changes to government policy, lawsuits or both. Whatever happens, ranchers can rest assured the transition from the present management policies to any future management policies will not be a smooth one, unless they change their approach.
While the traditional skills of ranching will still play a major role in planning, ranchers will need to develop new skill sets. Ranchers will have to begin employing a combination of integrated resource management and co-ordinated resource management planning (CRMP). This means ranchers must develop a better understanding of wildlife management; recreation management and ecosystem management (integrated resource management) and begin using CRMP to manage future conflicts.
Ranchers must be willing to take a leadership role in developing a management plan that not only involves all of the stakeholders, but also provides a tangible benefit to all of the stakeholders involved in the issue.
Rancher takes leadership
The key principle is that this is a voluntary process initiated by the rancher before the conflict becomes unmanageable. Ranchers must adopt a leadership role in the issue and invite ALL those stakeholder groups with a legitimate stake in the issue to become part of the planning process. The goal of this process is to create an action plan with goals which are clearly stated, prioritized, attainable and which encompass the concerns of all the stakeholders. It is also important for the management plan to state the responsibilities of each stakeholder.
For this process to be successful, it is important that ranchers ensure the process incorporates a number of key elements. The most important and fundamental element is choosing a facilitator who not only has a good general knowledge of the issues but is regarded as an impartial “referee” by all of the stakeholders participating in the planning process.
The second crucial element is the establishment of a set of “ground rules” all stakeholders can work with. This even includes developing procedures that enable the facilitator to censure those groups or individuals who try to circumvent or “short circuit” the process.
Finally efforts must be made to ensure all individuals who represent the various stakeholders have authority to make decisions and are willing to allow the consensus of the group rather than political machinations to determine what management decisions are made.
Three key points
When ranchers decide to use this process to develop a management plan, it is imperative they make sure the other stakeholders understand three important points. The most important point is to impress upon the other stakeholders to think outside the box and focus on those management policies that will achieve the desired goals the most effectively, rather than focus on laws and regulations.
Next, it is important to ensure the members of the group are willing to act as a team. Finally, to keep these groups committed to the process, each stakeholder has the opportunity to contribute to the process and feel they have something positive to gain from the process.
The final point the rancher should consider is ensuring the plan has mechanisms to allow the manager to determine if the plan is working and make provisions for unforeseen events. This is accomplished by incorporating a very large degree of flexibility in the plan’s construction, collecting accurate baseline data, creating a monitoring program to determine if the plan is achieving its objectives and creating a mechanism to make the appropriate changes to the plan.
In the past, ranchers have had a major voice in determining the goods and services created on western Canadian grasslands. Unfortunately, because of dramatic changes in demographics, this will no longer be the case and it is very likely (because of lawsuits, changes in government policy or both) ranchers will lose the ability to manage their ranches in an effective manner. If ranching is to continue on western Canadian rangelands, ranchers will have to adopt a leadership role and through the process of Co-ordinated Resource Management Planning adopt more flexible resource management strategies. †