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Fixing Stocking Rates

Fixing Stocking Rates

Monitoring and the Politics of Measurement

Chapter:
(p.109) Four Fixing Stocking Rates
Source:
The Politics of Scale
Author(s):
Nathan F. Sayre
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226083391.003.0005

Chapter 4 looks at the scientific struggle to determine carrying capacities and the political struggle to impose them on ranchers in the form of stocking rates. It took the Forest Service decades of concerted effort just to develop a basic inventory of its rangelands, and even when data were available the problem of converting an ever-changing volume of forage into a fixed number of livestock was a matter of chronic uncertainty and debate. Fixing stocking rates to match average conditions ensured that there would be excess grass in wet years and excessive livestock in dry ones; perennial disputes with ranchers predictably ensued. Publicly, the agency made bold claims about the condition of the nation’s rangelands, invoking solid-looking numbers to defend itself against ranchers, rival agencies and critics in Congress. Internally, however, the scientists conceded that determining carrying capacities was fraught with problems. Then, at mid-century, an apparent solution was found: economical, standardized methods of quantifying both the successional stage and the volume of forage of a given range. It was not actually a solution, as would become apparent over time, but it represented an important final step in consolidating the authority of range science.

Keywords:   carrying capacity, forage acre, Parker 3-step, range reconnaissance, range survey, range condition and trend, Taylor Grazing Act, Western Range

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