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Grazing and Range Management

Grazing management

Rangeland ecosystems have evolved over thousands of years, adapting to the soils, climate and natural disturbance factors of the Northern Great Plains. Wild grazers, like bison, and periodic fires influenced rangeland vegetation and soils since the last glaciation.

What is rangeland?

Rangeland, or range, is land supporting indigenous or introduced vegetation that is grazed or has the potential to be grazed and is managed as a natural ecosystem for multiple uses or values.

Rangeland includes:

  • Grassland
  • Grazeable forestland
  • Pastureland
  • Riparian areas
  • Shrubland

Rangelands are an important 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

Range management is about balancing human demands with the needs of the range resource; such as protecting soil, vegetation and water.

The first domestic livestock arrived in Alberta with the fur trade and eventually ranching was established by the 1870's. In the past, range management manipulated grazing so that both plant and animal production were maintained or improved.

Today, range management includes a broader perspective of grazing as a natural process and tool for perpetuating rangeland ecosystems. Grazing is 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), that provides important ecological goods and services, and is vital to the livestock industry and future needs and appreciation of Albertans.

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

Environment and Parks is responsible for the effective management of rangeland on the province's public land.

With about 8 million acres (3.3 million hectares) of grazing land, Environment and Parks shares this responsibility with hundreds of ranchers and farmers who act to steward the resource.

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.


Page Information

Updated: Jan 30, 2018