The debate regarding the benefits of rotational grazing has eluded resolution within the US rangeland profession for more than 60 yr. This forum examines the origin of the debate and the major reasons for its persistence in an attempt to identify common ground for resolution, and to search for meaningful lessons from this central chapter in the history of the US rangeland profession. Rotational grazing was a component of the institutional and scientific response to severe rangeland degradation at the turn of the 20th century, and it has since become the professional norm for grazing management. Managers have found that rotational grazing systems can work for diverse management purposes, but scientific experiments have demonstrated that they do not necessarily work for specific ecological purposes. These interpretations appear contradictory, but we contend that they can be reconciled by evaluation within the context of complex adaptive systems in which human variables such as goal setting, experiential knowledge, and decision making are given equal importance to biophysical variables. The scientific evidence refuting the ecological benefits of rotational grazing is robust, but also narrowly focused, because it derives from experiments that intentionally excluded these human variables. Consequently, the profession has attempted to answer a broad, complex question—whether or not managers should adopt rotational grazing—with necessarily narrow experimental research focused exclusively on ecological processes. The rotational grazing debate persists because the rangeland profession has not yet developed a management and research framework capable of incorporating both the social and biophysical components of complex adaptive systems. We recommend moving beyond the debate over whether or not rotational grazing works by focusing on adaptive management and the integration of experiential and experimental, as well as social and biophysical, knowledge to provide a more comprehensive framework for the management of rangeland systems.
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Vol. 64 • No. 4