Climate Change and the Decline of the Federal Range: Is Adaptive Management the Solution?

29 Pages Posted: 21 Oct 2013 Last revised: 11 Feb 2014

Date Written: October 17, 2013


Livestock grazing impacts over 160 million acres of federal public lands under BLM management and 95 million acres of National Forest lands. It is widely acknowledged to be the most extractive and destructive use of federal public lands. Yet, despite decades of attempts at remedial legislation, scholarly criticism, and extensive litigation, the legal structure governing livestock grazing remains unchanged. This is problematic in isolation, but when added to climate scientists’ predictions that western public lands will suffer from water shortages and attendant impacts of climate change into the foreseeable future, the need for management policy changes grows urgent.

Given the lack of congressional or agency incentive to make these necessary changes, adaptive management may be the only viable means of addressing climate change impacts to the federal range. To date, the Forest Service and BLM have missed the opportunity to use adaptive management to manage the range resource consistent with climate change predictions, in a manner that allows flexibility in decision making as climate change occurs. This Article discusses adaptive management, in theory and in practice, explaining the various models scientists and policy makers use to incorporate adaptive management into natural resource planning decisions, and how some federal agencies have used adaptive management over the past decade, to varying degrees of success. It then explains the statutory and regulatory structure governing livestock grazing on federal lands managed by the Forest Service and the BLM, as well as the individual management decisions regarding permitting and annual operating instructions. In addition, this Article discusses climate change, on a global and national level, and explores the specific predictions regarding climate change’s effect on the federal range. Finally, it explores the potential for adaptive management to allow agencies to manage for a changed climate as it relates to livestock grazing and concludes that the Forest Service and BLM must incorporate adaptive management into current grazing management decision making processes to accommodate the certainty that climate change will impact the federal rangeland.

Keywords: Taylor Grazing Act, livestock grazing, adaptive management, climate change, National Environmental Policy Act, National Forest Management Act, Federal Lands Policy and Management Act, federal lands

Suggested Citation

Hoffmann, Hillary M., Climate Change and the Decline of the Federal Range: Is Adaptive Management the Solution? (October 17, 2013). Vermont Journal of Environmental Law, vol. 15, 2014; Vermont Law School Research Paper No. 32-13. Available at SSRN:

Hillary M. Hoffmann (Contact Author)

Vermont Law School ( email )

PO Box 96
South Royalton, VT 05068
United States
8028311205 (Phone)


Register to save articles to
your library


Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics