The use and management of rangelands involves both ecological and social processes, and it is in the interaction of these that conservation is or is not achieved. Overall, the ecological dimensions of rangelands and rangeland management have been studied in greater detail and are better understood than the social dimensions. This paper argues that qualitative methods are necessary to understand the management of rangelands by ranchers. Existing studies using quantitative methods have found little correlation between ranchers' management practices and a variety of social factors. One consistent finding of these studies, however, is that profit is a secondary or insignificant motivation among ranchers, casting doubt on the premise that economic self-interest motivates ranchers to embrace improved management practices. The theoretical and methodological implications of this finding have not been adequately recognized in rangeland science. With its greater flexibility and attention to context, qualitative research can reveal social, historical, political, and economic factors that affect ranch management but have eluded quantitative studies. In addition, qualitative methods are better suited to capturing both the processes that generate ranchers' “mental models” and the historical information needed in light of recent theoretical advances in rangeland ecology. Suggestions for future research on ranch management include conducting case studies of smaller areas over longer temporal periods, focusing on interactions among ranchers, giving ranchers a greater role in identifying research needs, studying urbanization and other “new” rangeland issues, and drawing on research about pastoralist societies elsewhere.
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Vol. 57 • No. 6