Rangeland ecosystems have evolved over thousands of years, adapting to the soils, climate and natural disturbance factors
of the Northern Great Plains, especially the influence of wild grazers like bison.
What is rangeland?
Rangeland, or range, is land supporting indigenous or introduced vegetation that is either grazed or has the potential to
be grazed and is managed as a natural ecosystem.
- Grazeable forestland
- Riparian areas
Rangelands are an important agricultural resource for livestock grazing. In Alberta, it is estimated that rangelands provide
forage to about 14 per cent of the Alberta beef cattle herd.
Rangeland management: then and now
Simply stated, range management is about balancing human needs and demands from rangelands with the needs of the range resource;
i.e. to protect soil, vegetation and water.
The first domestic livestock arrived in Alberta with the fur trade and eventually ranching became established by the 1870's.
Traditionally, range management has dealt with manipulating grazing so that both plant and animal production are maintained
Today, range management also includes a broader perspective of grazing. It is viewed as a natural process and tool for perpetuating
rangeland ecosystems to be managed along with other factors like fire, disturbance, and human activity.
Ranching and range science have served to protect much of the remaining native range, a home to a vast array of flora and
fauna (fish and wildlife), ecological goods and services, and vital to the livestock industry and future needs and appreciation
For more information about the history of Rangeland Management in Alberta, you can review a copy of the Grazing Lease Stewardship
Code of Practice at:
Rangeland management goals
One of the department's core businesses is the effective management of rangeland on the
province's public land.
With about 8 million acres (3.3 million hectares) of grazing land used by livestock producers under various forms of dispositions,
this management task is a significant responsibility that the department shares with ranchers and farmers.
Key goals of range management are to maintain:
- A diversity of native plant species, especially deep-rooted and productive forms
- Vigorous healthy plants with well developed root systems
- Adequate vegetative cover to protect soils from erosion and to conserve scarce moisture
Rangeland management principles
Range management principles are applied to maintain or foster healthy productive rangeland. These include:
- Balancing livestock demands with the available forage supply; the rancher harvests forage to produce red meat but leaves
adequate ungrazed residue to protect plants and soil
- Promoting even livestock distribution by using tools like fencing, salt placement and water development to spread the
grazing over the landscape
- Avoiding grazing rangeland during vulnerable periods; early spring grazing can stress range plants when energy reserves
are depleted as new growth is initiated
- Providing effective rest periods after grazing to allow range plants to recover from the stresses of grazing
On Alberta rangelands, a planned and balanced cycle of forage harvest and renewal is required to protect the range resource
and sustain the many benefits that rangelands provide.
Updated: Aug 21, 2015