Reading the Range
- 1.23 million acres of Tonto National Forest rangeland effected
- 48 percent of Tonto National Forest ranchers now monitor grazing allotments
- 125 range-monitoring reports totaling 34,148 pages
- 10-year growth – from 100,000 to 1.23 million acres
Reading the Range was originally funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but has grown and is now funded from a variety of contributors with 46% being federal funding sources, 5% being state and local government funding sources, and 49% from private funding sources. Collaborators include ranchers, the U.S. Forest Service, University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Natural Resources Conservation Service and Tonto Natural Resources Conservation District.
Good Stewards of Livestock & Land Resources
Once you walk the land and gather the data, you can read the health of the Arizona range like a book.
In 10 years, the Reading the Range program expanded from 100,000 acres to 1.23 million acres. Today half the ranchers with grazing allotments in the Tonto National Forest monitor the land and use data for range management. Rangeland monitoring demonstrated that palatable native grasses increased from 8 to 40 percent in one area with improved management practices.
This program grew from a dispute between a rancher and the U.S. Forest Service, which considered removing livestock from his grazing allotment. The rancher and the president of the Gila County Cattle Growers asked University of Arizona Cooperative Extension agent Jim Sprinkle for help.
He suggested gathering data and formulating a range management plan to address environmental concerns. The Forest Service agreed. A year later the U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded a grant to launch Reading the Range. These boots-on-the-ground data enable land managers, ranchers and the public to base decisions on facts and to mediate conflict.
“Decisions need to be based upon the best science available,” Sprinkle said.
Teams monitor 225 key range areas from low desert to high pine forests. Ranchers and agents record the plant species, density, precipitation, slope, grazing history and more on a touchpad computer in the field. Once analyzed, the data indicate how to maintain a more economically feasible herd while addressing watershed, conservation and range management concerns.
There are immense benefits from “rubbing shoulders together,” Sprinkle said. Once-contentious relationships have greatly improved. Survey comments include “Range monitoring is the best thing I’ve ever done on my ranch” and “Jim Sprinkle saved ranching in Gila County.”
Sarah and John Sowers bought 21 acres in the middle of a 57,600-acre grazing allotment 35 years ago. When that permit became available in 2009, they decided to become ranchers. “The learning curve has been very steep,” John said.
“Dr. Sprinkle helped us apply scientific management principles. He gave us a better appreciation for the nuts and bolts of managing and protecting the land. It’s a very, very important responsibility.”