Arid and semiarid rangelands often behave unpredictably in response to management actions and environmental stressors, making it difficult for ranchers to manage for long-term sustainability. State-and-transition models (STMs) depict current understanding of vegetation responses to management and environmental change in box-and-arrow diagrams. They are based on existing knowledge of the system and can be improved with long-term ecological monitoring data, histories, and experimentation. Rancher knowledge has been integrated in STMs; however, there has been little systematic analysis of how ranchers describe vegetation change, how their knowledge informs model components, and what opportunities and challenges exist for integrating local knowledge into STMs. Semistructured and field interviews demonstrated that rancher knowledge is valuable for providing detailed management histories and identifying management-defined states for STMs. Interviews with ranchers also provided an assessment of how ranchers perceive vegetation change, information about the causes of transitions, and indicators of change. Interviews placed vegetation change within a broader context of social and economic history, including regional changes in land use and management. Despite its potential utility, rancher knowledge is often heterogeneous and partial and can be difficult to elicit. Ranchers' feedback pointed to limitations in existing ecological site-based approaches to STM development, especially issues of spatial scale, resolution, and interactions among adjacent vegetation types. Incorporating local knowledge into STM development may also increase communication between researchers and ranchers, potentially yielding more management-relevant research and more structured ways to document and learn from the evolving experiential knowledge of ranchers.
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Vol. 62 • No. 6