Soil Health as a Transformational Change Agent for US Grazing Lands Management

Justin D. Derner, Alexander J. Smart, Theodore P. Toombs, Dana Larsen, Rebecca L. McCulley, Jeff Goodwin, Scott Sims, Leslie M. Roche

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


There is rapidly growing national interest in grazing lands’ soil health, which has been motivated by the current soil health renaissance in cropland agriculture. In contrast to intensively managed croplands, soil health for grazing lands, especially rangelands, is tempered by limited scientific evidence clearly illustrating positive feedbacks between soil health and grazing land resilience, or sustainability. Opportunities exist for improving soil health on grazing lands with intensively managed plant communities (e.g., pasture systems) and formerly cultivated or degraded lands. Therefore, the goal of this paper is to provide direction and recommendations for incorporating soil health into grazing management considerations on grazing lands. We argue that the current soil health renaissance should not focus on improvement of soil health on grazing lands where potential is limited but rather forward science-based management for improving grazing lands’ resilience to environmental change via 1) refocusing grazing management on fundamental ecological processes (water and nutrient cycling and energy flow) rather than maximum short-term profit or livestock production; 2) emphasizing goal-based management with adaptive decision making informed by specific objectives incorporating maintenance of soil health at a minimum and directly relevant monitoring attributes; 3) advancing holistic and integrated approaches for soil health that highlight social-ecological-economic interdependencies of these systems, with particular emphasis on human dimensions; 4) building cross-institutional partnerships on grazing lands’ soil health to enhance technical capacities of students, land managers, and natural resource professionals; and 5) creating a cross-region, living laboratory network of case studies involving producers using soil health as part of their grazing land management. Collectively, these efforts could foster transformational changes by strengthening the link between natural resources stewardship and sustainable grazing lands management through management-science partnerships in a social-ecological systems framework.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)403-408
Number of pages6
JournalRangeland Ecology and Management
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018


  • ecological processes
  • human dimensions
  • living laboratory network
  • social-ecological systems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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