From: David A Gabel, ENN
Published January 23, 2012 09:45 AM

New Study Predicts Declining Rangeland in California

Duke University researchers have predicted that climate change in California will result in a declining percentage of rangeland. Such a change will have widespread impact on the state's large cattle industry of California's Central Valley. No matter if climate change will cause wetter or drier weather, available pasture will decline. Forage areas, known as one of nature's free services, may no longer be so free. The grasses will either wither as arid conditions creep north, or be pushed out as inedible shrubs and brush take over.

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The study has been published in the journal, Climatic Change, by Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment in conjunction with the Environmental Defense Fund. The change in the rangeland ecosystem is expected to occur gradually over the coming century. Total costs expected to hit California ranchers over the next sixty years may be as high as $209 million a year if the ecosystem dries up.

Less grazing land will mean smaller herds, and less productive herds. Movement of cattle will also be much more difficult because of highways and suburban sprawl.

If the weather becomes wetter rather than drier, biodiversity is expected to increase. However, this will come at the expense of the ranchers. Cattle like to eat grasses, not trees or bushes.

The US Department of Agriculture has estimated about 5.2 million head of cattle in the state of California. Of these, less than 10 percent are raised in large feedlots. The rest can roam across the range, munching on free grasses.

A decline of rangeland may result in an increasing percentage of cattle raised in feedlots, where cattle food has to be bought and fed, adding to the costs of beef production.

California's cattle industry brings in over $2 billion in total income through about 11,800 ranches. The hit the industry will take will likely affect the state's overall economy. If similar climate changes occur in states like Texas and Oklahoma where cattle are much bigger slice of the economy, the nation's economy may be affected.

In order to prevent this, rangeland preservation efforts may be required. This may be legislated through California’s new cap and trade system.

Link to published article: http://www.springerlink.com/content/q773hv252l138240/fulltext.html

Image credit: Richard Thornton/Shutterstock

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