PS 97-234
Framework for comparing ecosystem impacts of unconventional energy development on western US rangelands

Friday, August 9, 2013
Exhibit Hall B, Minneapolis Convention Center
Kristie A. Maczko, University of Wyoming, Sustainable Rangelands Roundtable, Fort Collins, CO
Urs P. Kreuter, Ecosystem Science and Management, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX
William E. Fox, Texas AgriLife Research, Texas A&M University, Temple, TX
John A. Tanaka, Department of Ecosystem Science and Management, University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY
Clifford Duke, Science Programs, Ecological Society of America, Washington, DC
Lori A. Hidinger, Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ
John E. Mitchell, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fort Collins, CO
Daniel W. McCollum, Rocky Mountain Research Station, USDA Forest Service, Fort Collins, CO

More diverse energy sources are needed for countries to progress towards energy independence and to meet future food production needs.  The USA Task Force on Strategic Unconventional Fuels concluded that achieving this objective requires development of a domestic unconventional fuels industry. Rangelands cover 50 to 70 percent of the earth’s terrestrial surface and dominate much of the western USA, representing a major source of alternative energies. A framework to systematically identify biophysical-socioeconomic links that influence delivery of ecosystem services affected by alternative uses of rangelands has been lacking. The Integrated Social, Economic and Ecological Conceptual (ISEEC) framework was developed by the Sustainable Rangeland Roundtable to address this deficiency. We apply this framework to demonstrate systematic comparison of the effect on ecosystem services of exploiting rangeland-based biofuel, natural gas and wind energy resources.   We also demonstrate the framework’s use for selecting suitable indicators to monitor changes in the biophysical-socioeconomic links affected by development of these unconventional energy sources. This type of approach can potentially enhance coordination between federal, state and local agencies attempting to set polices and regulations for sustainable development of unconventional energy resources on rangelands.


In North America, many untapped renewable energy resources are associated with rangelands.  We summarize the potential of western rangelands for future production of three energy technologies; natural gas, biofuel and wind energy.  These energy sources are vertically distributed - below, at, and above ground level.  Therefore, their respective development will likely affect rangeland ecosystems in fundamentally different ways.  After establishing key links affecting delivery and use of ecosystem services from rangelands with respect to alternative energy sources, the next step is monitoring changes in these links, especially those most likely to be differentially affected by the three energy types.  We used the ISEEC framework to hypothesize 10 biophysical and socio-economic links that influence rangeland-based ecosystem goods and services and may be impacted by development of three unconventional energy resources. We also suggested the direction (benefits and costs) and possible relative magnitude of the effects of each energy type on each link.  By identifying SRR criteria and indicators to monitor each link, we have provided a mechanism for systematically testing the hypothesized effect of each link and tracking changes in links over time.  This work can be viewed as a first step toward implementation of energy development approaches that minimize impacts on rangeland ecosystems and  introduce responsive management practices to mitigate impacts.