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Robinson, N.P., B.W. Allred, D.E. Naugle, and M.O. Jones. 2019. Patterns of rangeland productivity and land ownership: Implications for conservation and management. Ecological Applications 29:e01862.
Rangelands cover 40–50% of the Earth's terrestrial surface. While often characterized by limited, yet variable resource availability, rangelands are vital for humans, providing numerous ecosystem goods and services. In the conterminous United States (CONUS), the dominant component of rangeland conservation is a network of public rangelands, concentrated in the west. Public rangelands are interspersed with private and tribal rangelands resulting in a complex mosaic of land tenure and management priorities. We quantify ownership patterns of rangeland production at multiple scales across CONUS and find that both total production and average productivity of private rangelands is more than twice that of public and tribal rangelands. At finer scales, private rangelands are consistently more productive than their public counterparts. We also demonstrate an inverse relationship between public rangeland acreage and productivity. While conserving acreage is crucial to rangeland conservation, just as critical are broad-scale ecological patterns and processes that sustain ecosystem services. Across CONUS, ownership regimes capture distinct elements of these patterns and services, demonstrated through disparate production dynamics. As ownership determines the range of feasible conservation actions, and the technical and financial resources available to implement them, understanding ownership-production dynamics is critical for effective and sustained conservation of rangeland ecosystem services.