Dustin Ranglack, 2014 graduate of the S.J. and Jessie E. Quinney College of Natural Resources, was awarded the Southwood Prize by the British Ecological society for his paper: Competition on the range: science versus perception in a bison-cattle conflict in the western USA.
“This international award is highly prestigious in ecology and puts a spotlight on graduate studies at USU,” said Johan du Toit, professor of ecology and conservation of large mammals in terrestrial ecosystems in the Department of Wildland Resources. “As Dustin’s former advisor, I am very proud of the recognition he has earned.”
The paper was a chapter in Ranglack’s dissertation focused on American Bison ecology and bison-cattle interaction in the Henry Mountains of Southern Utah. Here a genetically pure heard of American Bison share grazing land alongside cattle and other grazers, creating competition between wildlife and livestock.
Ranglack’s study looked at the perception of ranchers on the influence of bison on grazing land and the impact of other species such as mule deer and rabbits on the system.
“Because bison graze in the summer and ranchers are not allowed to put their cattle out until winter, ranchers were concerned that the bison would out compete the cattle and graze everything down before they were allowed to put cattle on the land,” Ranglack said. “Our study, however, found other species were responsible for the majority of the grazing.”
Despite ranchers’ belief that bison were the biggest competitor, Ranglack found that it was cattle that were responsible for over half of the grazing. Rabbits contributed to over a third of grazing, with bison contributing to only 14 percent (a little over an eighth) of grazing. This meant rabbits had more than twice the impact than bison on the system.
To help address ranchers’ misperception, Ranglack presented his results prior to their publication to the state Henry Bison Committee, a working group that meets annually to discuss issues surrounding the bison.
“At first I was concerned to present my results because it’s a highly contentious issue,” Ranglack said. “Ranchers, however, were very receptive initially because of the rapport I’d built with them throughout the process, updating them on my findings when we would meet out in the field.”
Ranglack notes that some ranchers are skeptical of how widely applicable the results are given the size of the study area. But Ranglack said the study served as a starting point to begin discussion about the relationship between grazers and the environment.
“This entire ecosystem is coupled together. We can’t just blame one thing and assume that it’s acting independently of everything else.”
As part of the Southwood Prize, Ranglack is invited to present at the British Ecological Societies annual meeting in Liverpool, England this year. For him this is another opportunity for outreach.
“We take for granted all the open space and land available to us in the West,” Ranglack said. “In Europe they don’t have the same sense of wildness, so there is a difference in how we think about ecological systems. Presenting at the British Ecological Societies’ annual meeting allows me to highlight research that we’re doing in Utah and in the Western United States that researchers from this part of the world would have never heard or been exposed to before.”
Ranglack is working as a postdoc at Montana State University, where he researches the spatial ecology of elk, another instance of wildlife-human conflicts. During the hunting season, elk have become inaccessible to hunters because of their migration from public to private lands. This creates two problems; elk are grazing on private lands needed for the forage of cattle and elks’ presence on private lands prevents the management of herd populations. Ranglack is investigating how to manage elk habitats on public lands differently to address these problems.
“I think not only from a wildlife perspective, but about land use and social perspectives,” Ranglack said.” The Department of Wildland Resources and the Quinney College of Natural Resources is very interdisciplinary; I was exposed to professionals from a range of fields such as social scientists and rangeland professionals. This interaction and collaboration shaped the way that I think about and approach problems. This has been a very helpful toolset that has contributed to success in my career.”
–Emily James, RGS Communications: firstname.lastname@example.org