WERA1008: The Rangelands Partnership as a Community of Practice

(Multistate Research Coordinating Committee and Information Exchange Group)

Status: Active

WERA1008: The Rangelands Partnership as a Community of Practice

Duration: 10/01/2021 to 09/30/2026

Administrative Advisor(s):

NIFA Reps:

Non-Technical Summary

Statement of Issues and Justification

Rangelands are typically composed of grasses, forbs and shrubs and their land use is managed as a natural ecosystem (Huntsinger, Starrs & Hall 2006). Recent extent estimates vary due to cover type and land use definitions. A 2015 USDA report estimated rangelands at 21% whereas Theobold (2014) put grazing lands at 31.6% and Robinson et al. (2019) at 35%.  Reeves et al. (2018) predicted 11% of private rangelands will undergo increased development by 2033. These lands are complex systems that produce valuable goods and ecosystem services, including forage and habitat for livestock and wildlife, places for recreation and scenic beauty, clean water, and energy resources from fossil fuels, solar technologies, and wind (Maczko et al. 2004).  Forces threatening the productivity and ecological integrity of these working landscapes and the human communities that rely on them include climate change, drought, fire events, invasive plants, grazing practices, urbanization, uncertain generational transfer, and recreational activities (RREA 2012).

There is critical need for reliable science-based, accessible information about effective rangeland management practices as land managers seek to diversify operations and improve ecological and economic sustainability (Vavra and Brown 2006). Also, greater understanding of rangelands contributions to vital ecosystem services is important for planning, conservation and restoration efforts (Robinson et al. 2019). The advent of the Web provided an opportunity to address land management challenges through a collaborative approach spanning geographic and disciplinary boundaries. Coming together nearly 20 years ago, rangelands professionals & Extension specialists, librarians, and IT experts from 19 land-grant universities in the Western and Great Plains regions formed the Rangelands Partnership (RP) to provide an increasingly connected world with authoritative information, resources, and tools [https://globalrangelands.org/ and https://rangelandswest.org]. The goal is to improve decision-making in rangeland management and planning, and to increase general understanding of the importance of rangelands to economic, social, and environmental concerns in the U.S. and around the world. 

The RP successfully applied for WERA status in 2005, 2011 and again in 2016.  Throughout, the RP has continued to grow as a community of practice and to strengthen its educational and outreach activities and products serving increasingly diverse audiences: rangeland researchers, extension professionals, private and public land managers, policy makers, teachers, students, and the interested public. The RP has also expanded its scope of work to take an active role in international efforts to increase the visibility and understanding of rangelands issues, challenges, and opportunities. This has been most particularly realized through the effort to gain a UN designated International Year of Rangelands & Pastoralists [see IYRP.info] and through the North American IYRP Support Group encompassing governments, NGOs, and academia.

Over time, the RP has responded to changes in user needs and preferences by improving website accessibility, developing social media & multimedia outlets, and adding in-person programming. In early 2021, the RP launched a total redesign of its Web pages. Renamed the Rangelands Gateway (RG), the new site merges four distinct web presences into one user-friendly website (https://rangelandsgateway.org). The current and projected impacts from the continued work of the RP are described more fully below, but the overarching purpose is to provide stakeholders one place to search and access relevant and accurate scientific-based information about our often-misrepresented rangelands, thereby broadening the knowledge base and informing practice.


  1. Strengthen the RP as a Community of Practice providing opportunities for professional development, networking, and collaborative projects and initiatives.
  2. Promote the launch of the RG (merging globalrangelands, rangelandswest and member websites), and publicize through all communications outlets.
  3. Expand the number of resources and collections in the RG database through strategic initiatives among member institutions as well as collaborating organizations in North America specifically, but elsewhere as opportunities arise.
  4. Continue to build and expand the 19-member state rangelands websites with locally specific content in updated formats, providing additional access through the RG database.
  5. Develop marketing and new technology capacity to meet the needs and priorities of an increasingly diverse audience.
  6. Refine the “topic” sections to incorporate new knowledge and to integrate cross-cutting issues such as climate change and ecological restoration.
  7. Co-coordinate the North American International Year of Rangelands and Pastoralists (IYRP) Support Group and its efforts to develop and facilitate outreach and educational activities beginning in 2021 through the expected United Nations designated year of 2026.
  8. Continue collaboration with The Society of Range Management (SRM) to increase visibility and awareness of both SRM and the RG, a mutually beneficial objective.

Procedures and Activities

RP members are continually involved in determining operational directions and in setting the agenda for activities. This is achieved through surveys, Zoom polls, and RP Roundup and annual meeting discussions. Given this input, the primary activities of the RP for the next few years will be focused on (1) initiating professional development opportunities especially in marketing and reaching new audiences through technology (received funding from WSARE PDP to support this activity); (2) developing, organizing, and maintaining state websites and the RG (January 2021 launch of the RG will be followed by a series of training activities); (3) expanding the global repository of rangeland ecology and management resources (a RP Content & Collections Action Group has been formed and is planning to survey the membership to determine priorities); (4) developing “science for society” topical resource pages (currently in production: ‘public lands grazing’, ‘monitoring’ and ‘wildfire’); (5) supporting the IYRP initiative as Secretary for the Support Group and maintaining linked IYRP and RG websites (ongoing); and (6) expanding the RP’s network throughout the U.S. and globally (facilitating the North American IYRP Support Group provides opportunities for new connections). This work is largely conducted through Zoom meetings as well as regular communications through the RP listserv and monthly e-newsletter. The listserv is primarily used to disseminate general information to members as well as others in the RP network, and to promote and organize the annual meeting and related sessions. Zoom meetings are used to facilitate cooperative decision-making, planning, and training. 

The Rangelands Partnership is starting to see the effects of its original members approaching retirement. While 19 states are represented and have resources in the Rangelands Gateway, there is a core group of members that conduct the business of the RP. Of note, is the most recent annual meeting held April 2021, with the following 12 states actively participating: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, and South Dakota. To ensure the success of the RP, and to engage additional member states, the Partnership’s Executive Committee is actively working on a new member packet that outlines the benefits of engaging with the Rangelands Partnership. This packet will be directly shared with Extension rangeland specialists and agriculture librarians at each land grant institution that is part of WERA, and a follow-up conversation will be held with those individuals to encourage them to participate, and be listed in Appendix E. In addition to renewing relationships with states that do not currently have active members, current members will continue to develop and maintain their state RP pages. This will be accomplished by discussions and networking that occur during the quarterly professional development “RP Roundups” as well as the annual meeting.

Expected Outcomes and Impacts

  • Strengthened relationships among rangeland professionals, librarians, and information specialists in member states because of information sharing, professional development activities, and content development for the RG.
  • Successful launch of the RG with improved access and navigation.
  • Improved quality and quantity of rangeland information/resources to meet the needs of a broad range of users, with specific focus on the U.S., but elsewhere as opportunities arise.
  • Development of an active marketing plan and promotion schedule to increase visibility, awareness, and utilization by all stakeholders and users of the RG.
  • Increased use of the RG and its social media outlets by key stakeholders, including rangeland professionals, librarians, information specialists, Extension personnel, and producers.
  • Successful vote at the U.N General Assembly for an IYRP in 2026, accomplished through expanded networking and outreach.

Projected Participation

View Appendix E: Participation

Educational Plan

Internal and External Linkages:  See Appendix for the NIMSS“Appendix E” list available at: https://www.nimss.org/projects/view/mrp/outline/18817.

The Rangelands Partnership continues to have extensive organizational linkages. In addition to the internal linkages among the target 19 state partners represented by rangelands specialists, librarians and IT experts, there are external linkages with the Society for Range Management, Australian Rangeland Society, Grassland Society of South Africa, Range Science Education Council, Sustainable Rangelands Roundtable, International Rangelands Congress, International Year of Rangelands and Pastoralists Support Groups and the Food & Agriculture Organizations of the United Nations (FAO) Pastoralist Knowledge Hub.

Educational Plan: There will be continual refinements made on the RG for ease of use and for expanding the database. This includes ensuring that web pages and resources are ADA compliant.  As in the past, new content will be harvested from collaborators' databases as well as original content developed on topics and issues in the news.  To meet current learning preferences, there will be particular emphasis on short videos and learning modules that bring “science to society”. An online tutorial introducing the RG will be completed following the January 2021 launch. Technical training sessions have begun with members for creating their updated state rangelands websites.  Training on new technologies and social media will continue to be offered to enhance communications for collaboration with a new emphasis on marketing strategies for reaching a broad range of stakeholder groups. In person and virtual presentations will be made at relevant conferences and meetings to alert potential users to available resources.



RP governance includes bylaws that specify the requirements for the election of officers who serve as the Executive Committee (chair, vice-chair, and secretary), as well as the treasurer. At the annual meeting an officer is elected to serve a three-year, rotating term. Officers generally alternate between range specialists and librarians. The Executive Committee, along with Ad-Hoc Committee chairs and members, make decisions on behalf of the membership as needed. Issues of a complex nature or that benefit from a broad perspective are brought to the full membership for consideration either through surveys, at the annual meeting, or bimonthly Zoom “Roundups”. RP members usually meet in person at least once a year for updates, training, site development and planning, and to fulfill requirements for its numerous collaborative extramural grant projects.

Literature Cited

Huntsinger, L., Starrs, P. F. & Hall, H. Grazing in arid North America: A biogeographical approach. Sécheresse 17, 219–233 (2006).

Maczko, K.A., L.D. Bryant, D.W. Thompson, S.J. Borchard. 2004. Putting the pieces together: assessing social, ecological and economic rangeland sustainability. Rangelands 26: 3-12.

Reeves, M. C., Krebs, M., Leinwand, I., Theobald, D. M., & Mitchell, J. E. (2018). Rangelands on the Edge: Quantifying the modification, fragmentation, and future residential development of U.S. rangelands. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-382. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. 31 p.

RREA 2012. Sustaining the Nation’s Forest & Rangeland Resources for Future Generations. Renewable Resource Extension Act Strategic Plan for the State-Federal Partnership 2012-2016. https://nifa.usda.gov/sites/default/files/resource/RREA_Strategic_Plan_2012_2016.pdf

Robinson, N. P., Allred, B. W., Naugle, D. E. & Jones, M. O. Patterns of rangeland productivity and land ownership: Implications for conservation and management. Ecological Applications 29, e01862 (2019).

Theobald, D. M. Development and Applications of a Comprehensive Land Use Classification and Map for the US. PLOS ONE 9, e94628 (2014).

U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015. Summary Report: 2012 National Resources Inventory, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Washington, DC, and Center for Survey Statistics and Methodology, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/technical/nri/12summary

Vavra, M. and J. Brown. 2006. Rangeland research: Strategies for providing sustainability and stewardship to the rangelands of the world. Rangelands 28:7-14.


Land Grant Participating States/Institutions


Non Land Grant Participating States/Institutions

Humboldt State University, Kansas State University, North Dakota State University, University of Alaska Anchorage, University of California, Davis, University of Idaho, University of Nebraska, Utah State University
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