Cover photo: Horned lark sits on a fencepost with landscape in the background. Photo by: Nicole Kaplan

A digital fact sheet for:

Wilmer, H., Derner, J. D., Fernández-Giménez, M. E., Briske, D. D., Augustine, D. J., & Porensky, L. M. (2018). Collaborative adaptive rangeland management fosters management-science partnerships. Rangeland Ecology & Management, 71(5), 646-657.

Image: Logos of collaborating institutions including the US Department of Agriculture, Colorado State University, Texas A&M University, University of Wyoming and University of California Davis.

In 2012,

ranchers, researchers, state and federal land managers, and staff from environmental conservation organizations set a common goal:

manage the land for future generations.

A photo of a collared steer used in the experiment. Photo by David Augustine.

The Collaborative Adaptive Rangeland Management experiment was born.

Background photo: Bird's eye view of the shortgrass steppe with blue grama grass and scarlet globemallow. Photo by Mary Ashby.

This experiment addresses big issues in range science & management.

For example, science and management often operate in different worlds, where scientists aren't involved in management, and vice versa. This gap between science and management limits our ability to sustainably manage rangelands into the future.

In the Collaborative Adaptive Rangeland Management experiment, stakeholders drive the goals, objectives & decisions.

Stakeholders included ranchers, representatives from conservation groups, researchers, and state and federal land managersThey agreed on goals and objectives for the project, setting objectives to manage for vegetation height (structure) and make-up (composition), wildlife habitat & profitable ranching.

Photos clockwise: Prairie coneflower in bloom on the shortgrass steppe by Amy Yackel Adams | Close up of McCown's Longspur next with four eggs by Sean C. Hauser | Steers at the Central Plains Experiemental range by Hailey Wilmer.

Stakeholders make decisions collaboratively (for example, when to move cattle or do a prescribed burn), and interpret results from data collection. Decisions first strive for consensus, and if this is impossible, decisions must have a super-majority (75%).

Below is the timeline of decisions in the the Collaborative Adaptive Rangeland Management experiment (CARM), 2012 - 2016. Graphic by Hailey Wilmer. "CARM" refers to Collaborative Adaptive Rangeland Management.

Timeline of the Collaborative Adaptive Rangeland Management experiment timeline and decisions, 2012 - 2016. Graphic by Hailey Wilmer. "CARM" refers to Collaborative Adaptive Rangeland Management.

The Collaborative Adaptive Rangeland Management experiment tests real grazing strategies with a robust experimental design.

Stakeholders decided to group steers into one large herd and rotate them among 8 of 10 pastures, with 2 planned for rest (no-use) as a drought management strategy (see map below with the experimental design).

They are comparing this rotation to traditional management (season long grazing from early-May to early-October). The experiment pairs 10,320 acre pastures (similar in terms of size, soil and vegetation) and contrasts the two grazing strategies. Stakeholders make decisions on stocking rate, herd rotation, triggers to move the large herd from pasture to pasture, and vegetation management. They also decided to rest 2 pastures per year for additional forage in drought (i.e., grassbanking), and vegetation, and wildlife objectives.

Researchers measure outcomes on habitat characteristics for grassland birds, vegetation structure and composition, and cattle production.

Beyond "postage stamp" science.

The Collaborative Adaptive Rangeland Management experiment tests real management practices, at a ranch scale.

A map of the Collaborative Adaptive Rangeland Management experiment (or "CARM") at the USDA-Agricultural Research Service's Central Plains Experimental Range, located in northeastern Colorado. Pastures used in this experiment are green (denoted by a "C". "C" = Collaborative Adaptive Rangeland Management ) and yellow (denoted by a "T". "T" = Traditional Rangeland Management.). There are ten 320 acre experimental pastures (green) paired with ten 320 acre traditionally managed pastures (yellow). Traditional Rangeland Management (TRM), is continuous, season-long (early May to early October) grazing. For the experiment, stakeholders chose to rotate a single herd of cattle through a set of 8 of the 10 green pastures, with 2 pastures each year planned for rest (no-use) for grassbanking. They move the herd through the CARM pastures based on vegetation structure and cattle behavior monitoring triggers

Researchers also study the collaborative process.

They want to understand:

  • Can a group of people with diverse experience, knowledge, and goals, learn from each other to manage a common landscape?
  • Does the group learn together?
  • Do people adapt and change their knowledge as the experiment continues?
Stakeholders discuss data gathered by researchers at a stakeholder working group meeting. Photo by Hailey Wilmer.

Background photo: Stakeholders participate in field day at the USDA-Agricultural Research Service's Central Plains Experimental Range. Photo by Skye Greenler.

What did they learn about collaboration?

Researchers conducted interviews and focus groups to find out.

Prescribed burns are one treatment option in the Collaborative Adaptive Rangeland Management experiment. In this photo, a prescribed burn is conducted on the shorgrass steppe. Photo by Hailey Wilmer.

Background photo: Stakeholders participate in field day at the USDA-Agricultural Research Service's Central Plains Experimental Range. Photo by Skye Greenler.

Collaboration made worldviews explicit, but it did not reconcile them.

“I have a completely different culture than the landowners. I interact with totally different people. The data are all the same, but we’re different. We’re not always in agreement on things.” NGO representative

Science is one way of knowing. There are costs to prioritizing it over other ways of knowing.

Researchers and stakeholders discuss data in the field. Photo by Hailey Wilmer.

There are many ways of knowing about rangelands. In scientific research, we often prioritize "science" as the most legitimate and credible way of knowing. But this can backfire in collaborative processes. Prioritizing one way of knowing over others can alienate stakeholders because it devalues their knowledge and experience.

Assuming everyone shares the same knowledge base prevents meaningful engagement.

Further, assuming everyone comes from the same worldview can lead to barriers in communication, and prevent meaningful engagement in new information.


  • Find ways to build awareness of and appreciate diverse ways of knowing.
  • Future collaborative research efforts can take active steps to help stakeholders and researchers share and acknowledge different rangeland management experiences and expertise.
  • Reconciling diverse ways of knowing may not be realistic, but building awareness and appreciation must be a goal of collaborative processes.

Background photo: A researcher holding a male McCown's Longspur bird. Photo by Amber Carver.

Data collection & joint interpretation alone does not make up for lack of mutual trust.

Increased trust among stakeholders is an early outcome of the project.

Interviews suggest that trust played a key role in increasing engagement from stakeholders, and prompting them to work towards a common goal. Trust was built over the course of the project through increased awareness of and respect for others’ unique knowledge of rangeland systems.


  • Trust is primary and essential to learning, not a side-benefit.
  • Prioritize activities that build trust. These events might include workshops, tours, discussions and social events.
  • Building trust takes time. Future projects must commit time and funding beyond the typical (3-5 year) research funding cycle to collaborative processes, which are slower and more complex than conventional research processes.

Background photo: Four yearlings at the USDA Agricultural Research Service's Central Plains Experimental Range. Photo by Justin Derner.

Participants saw real-time benefits to participating.

“I think when we first started, everybody was kind of out for their own. I know I was. All I really cared about was cattle, (...) now I look at it as I want to meet the cattle objective, but I also want to meet the bird objective and the grass objective. I’ve learned a lot about inter-pasture heterogeneity … and then how cows gain better because of other reasons not just cow triggers. So we have to come together and work for all those objectives.” Rancher

Background photo of a Horned lark sitting on a fence post with shortgrass steppe landscape in the background. Photo by Nicole Kaplan.

There are benefits to collaboration.

“I hope the major lesson that comes out of it is that collaborative, multi-stakeholder processes actually work. That you can have your cake and eat it, too. You can have three different parties with three different objectives sit down and manage something and everybody at the end of 10 years can be happy.” NGO representative

But trade-offs among wildlife objectives, vegetation objectives, and cattle production are complex.

Panoramic view of both ends of rainbow from the shortgrass steppe long term ecological research site. Photo by Sean C. Hauser.

Background photo: Steers crossing a dirt road as they move pastures as part of the Collaborative Adaptive Rangeland Management experiment. Photo by Melissa Johnston.

The project will continue until 2022.

Stay tuned as beef and birds continue to seek out common ground

Thank you

Stakeholders include:

  • Bird Conservancy of the Rockies - Angela Dwyer & Seth Gallagher
  • The Crow Valley Livestock Cooperative, Inc. - Steve Anderson, Leonard Ball, Dana Bowman, Andy Lawrence, Jason Kern, & Jeff Wahlert
  • Colorado State Land Board - Matt Pollart
  • Environmental Defense Fund - Ted Toombs
  • The Nature Conservancy - Terri Schulz
  • USDA-Forest Service - Stephanie Magnuson & Kim Obele
  • USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service - Rachel Murph
Photo of Collaborative Adaptive Rangeland Management stakeholders discussing treatments in the field. Photo by Maria Fernandez-Gimenez.

Research team includes: Hailey Wilmer, Justin D. Derner, María E. Fernández-Giménez, David D. Briske, David J. Augustine, Lauren M. Porensky, David Hoover, John Ritten, Dannele Peck, Ken Tate & Leslie Roche

This research would not have been possible without the superb technical staff of the USDA-Rangeland Resources and Systems Research Unit, and the Crow Valley Livestock Cooperative, Inc., for providing the cattle.

The content of this publication does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the USDA, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

Learn more?

Publication: Wilmer et al, (2018). Collaborative Adaptive Management Fosters Management-Science Partnerships, Rang. Ecol. & Management.


  • Justin Derner, USDA-ARS, Justin.Derner@ars.usda.gov
  • David Augustine, USDA-ARS, David.Augustine@ars.usda.gov
Image: Logos of collaborating institutions including the US Department of Agriculture, Colorado State University, Texas A&M University, University of Wyoming and University of California Davis.

This work was supported by the USDA-ARS, USDA AFRI awards 2009-04442 and 2012-38415-20328, Colorado Agricultural Experiment Station project COLO0698, and the Center for Collaborative Conservation at Colorado State University.

Fact sheet compiled by Retta Bruegger, Regional Specialist in Range Management, CSU Extension. Learn more: http://rangemanagement.extension.colostate.edu/


Photos by: Nicole Kaplan, Skye Greenler, Amber Carver, Hailey Wilmer, Maria Fernandez-Gimenez and others as indicated.

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