Stocking density, both current and past, is a major determinant of the nature and condition of rangelands. Despite this fact, there have been few detailed examinations of historical trends in stocking density. We used data from the U.S. Census of Agriculture to track the density of domestic livestock from the early 1900s to the present, for six rangeland regions in the State of Texas: (1) the Edwards Plateau; (2) the Trans-Pecos; (3) the Lampasas Cut Plain; (4) the South Texas Plains; (5) the Rolling Plains; and (6) the High Plains. We find that stocking densities have declined across the state—ranging from a decline of about 40% in some regions to as much as 75% in the Trans-Pecos and Edwards Plateau regions. The period of sharpest decline, which began in the middle of the last century, reflects important, but not fully understood, socioeconomic changes. These most likely include changing land ownership, fragmentation of land holdings, and increasing emphasis on wildlife conservation. Other factors potentially contributing to the destocking of Texas rangelands include woody plant encroachment and a rise in predation. We argue that the dramatic reduction in stocking densities documented here has profound socioeconomic, ecological, and hydrological implications that need to be better understood.
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Vol. 65 • No. 3