OOS 74-4
Crafting the future of usable science for sustainable rangelands

Thursday, August 13, 2015: 2:30 PM
317, Baltimore Convention Center
Mark W. Brunson, Department of Environment and Society, Utah State University, Logan, UT

Policy makers and funding agencies increasingly expect taxpayer-supported scientific research to create knowledge that can inform solutions to intractable problems. Researchers are well aware of this and generally do their best to link questions of scientific interest to potential outcomes that promise broader impacts. Nonetheless, much research output inspires little use by practitioners or decision makers, and prospective users often criticize scientists for focusing on esoteric questions or failing to convey new knowledge in ways that accommodate its use. In response, many ecologists have begun seeking ways to incorporate prospective users’ ideas, interests, and needs when planning new research. In June 2014 the Sustainable Rangelands Roundtable, a consortium of researchers, land managers, public officials and stakeholders formed to promote the social, economic, and environmental sustainability of United States rangelands, organized a workshop designed to bring together scientists and prospective beneficiaries of research to develop a use-inspired research agenda for sustainable rangelands. The workshop in Ardmore, Oklahoma, featured ranchers, federal agency officials, researchers, and representatives of nonprofit organizations who formed workgroups to identify and prioritize researchable issues and questions for rangeland soils, water, vegetation, animal, and socio-economic research.


Issues identified by the workgroups were broad, leading to research questions that in themselves could constitute long years of research. Initially many questions identified by practitioners were intended to provide support for a preconceived conclusion rather than to test hypotheses about the sustainability of rangelands and the natural and human communities that depend upon them. The issues and research questions tended to focus on topics of regional importance (e.g., drought, ranch operation, rural depopulation) in the Great Plains. Despite these constraints, the workshop generated valuable insight into issues of particular importance to users as well as a list of high-priority questions that promise to generate usable science. Highest-priority issues were topics of considerable scientific interest already: understanding and managing for variability in climate and disturbance regime; improving methods of knowledge transfer from scientist to practitioner, tools for drought planning and adaptation; better understanding of the role of diversity in grassland systems; impacts and management responses to invasive species. Participants gained insights into each others’ perceptions of the scientific process and uses of research. Applying the workshop format to other regions or more narrowly defined questions could yield additional benefits for scientists and research users.