Lack of long-term ecological monitoring presents a challenge for sustainable rangeland management in many areas of the western United States. Ranchers and other land managers have local knowledge gained from ongoing experience in specific places that could be useful for understanding ecological change and best management practices. Local knowledge is defined as knowledge gained by daily contact with the natural world and ecological processes. Unfortunately, little is known about ranchers' local knowledge, and few studies have systematically examined the types, depth, and validity of this knowledge. Ranch memoirs offer an unexplored entry into rancher knowledge acquisition, categories, and context. In this study, we coded and analyzed eighteen ranch memoirs from the western United States to investigate the specific types, depth, and quality of local land knowledge. We found that ranchers possess knowledge of both management and ecology, and that these knowledge realms are intertwined and often inseparable. In addition to learning from experience, social interactions are an important part of rancher education and create a shared knowledge culture. In most of the memoirs, ranchers revealed very little knowledge of long-term patterns of vegetation change. In all the memoirs reviewed, ranchers articulated a deep sense of responsibility and connectedness to the landscapes they manage and steward. This review of ranch memoirs provides a framework for future studies of local knowledge by identifying how ranchers gain their knowledge of the landscapes they manage, describing some of the distinctive types of knowledge that ranchers possess, and challenging conventional classifications of rancher knowledge.
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Vol. 61 • No. 2