To some observers, the American cowboy seems like an endangered species. Threatened by suburban sprawl, regulated by an increasing number of federal laws, and often outcompeted economically by large agribusiness corporations, cowboys are sometimes described as little more than artifacts of the Old Wild West. But many ranchers say this just isn't the case; they are adapting to change with the times, and want to teach others how the mix of cattle and conservation can be a win-win situation. On Thursday, August 10, the Ecological Society of America will host a symposium as a part of the Society's Annual Meeting in Utah entitled "Cows and Conservation." This symposium will examine some of the ways in which ranchers are stepping forward to take an active role in the emerging New West.
The session will begin with Bob Budd, from the Red Canyon Ranch in Landen, Wyoming, who will discuss "Cattle and Biodiversity in Southern Wind River Landscape." Ranching, which continues to be a prominent land-use in the western United States, may have either neutral, positive, or negative effects on natural resources. In many landscapes grazing and fire are natural processes that can shape the land's ecological potential, Budd believes. Surprisingly, livestock can be used to create habitat, or manipulate habitats in a way that proves favorable to some native species. Budd will examine how a combination of grazing, fire and vegetative "rest" may lead to more dynamic and more diverse ecosystems. The loss of ranching can lead to the conversion of highly valuable riparian and weltand habitats into homogeneous landscapes of invasive species or housing developments, Budd asserts, and incentives which encourage ranchers to protect endangered or threatened species need to be tested. He will also advocate a management style which is inclusive of multiple ecological values.