Journal of the NACAA
Volume 4, Issue 1 - June, 2011
The Secrets of a Successful Extension Program: AZ/UT Range Livestock Workshop and Tour 33 years and Counting
- Heaton, K, Extension Associate Faculty, Utah State University
Grumbles, R., Extension Professor, University of Arizona
Reid, C.R., Extension Associate Faculty, Utah State University
In the mid 1970s, livestock grazing was a contentious issue in southern Utah, northern Arizona and southern Nevada, due to the completion of the “Hot Desert” Environmental Impact Statement and listing of the Desert tortoise as an endangered species. During this time, federal agencies closed grazing allotments which forced ranchers out of business. Heated arguments and emotions ensued on both sides of the issue. Both ranchers and land management agencies requested Utah State University (USU) Extension and University of Arizona Cooperative (U of A) Extension to collaborate on a science based workshop to improve knowledge and understanding of the issues. Early on this science based educational program developed productive relationships among all parties. Since the first workshop in 1978, over 7,000 participants benefited from this educational event. Success of this workshop is due to excellent partnerships and collaboration, industry sponsors, addressing current and sometimes controversial issues and effective evaluations. The annual workshop brings cutting-edge, science-based knowledge to the participants and strengthens relationships among all parties.
In southern Utah, northern Arizona and southern Nevada, ranchers graze livestock on a five million acre parcel of public land known as the Arizona Strip. Livestock production is a significant contribution to the area’s economy. In the mid 1970s, livestock grazing on public lands became a controversial issue as a result of the completion of the “Hot Desert” Environmental Impact Statement and the concurrent listing of the Desert Tortoise as an endangered species (GAO 1991 & GAO 2000). Federal land managers shut down grazing allotments which forced ranchers out of business and caused heated arguments and high emotions on both sides of the issue. Ranchers and land management agency personnel requested Utah State University (USU) Extension and University of Arizona (U of A) Extension to provide a science-based workshop. The goal was to improve knowledge and understanding of the issue in hopes of resolution to the conflict. The first workshop, held in 1978, was successful resulting in continuation of the workshop for 33 years and education of approximately 7,000 participants.
The AZ/UT Range Livestock Workshop and Tour provides the most current information in range ecology and management, wildlife management, animal science, agriculture economics and marketing to participants. This program improves the participant’s knowledge of range monitoring techniques, noxious weed identification and control, vegetation management, water development, selection of cattle, and animal health procedures. This workshop helps maintain livestock production as a viable interest in the Arizona Strip region.
Each year USU and U of A Extension initiate a series of planning meetings at least five months in advance of the program. At the beginning planning meeting, the team reviews the previous year’s evaluations. The planning team consists of Extension faculty, ranchers, federal land managers, industry sponsors and concerned citizens. The planning team utilizes the previous years evaluations to develop the new program. The team develops a list of current topics and competent speakers, recruits sponsors, sets workshop dates, schedules facilities and markets the program.
The workshop, held in Kanab and St. George, Utah, is a free, full day workshop including lunch and door prizes. After the two day-long workshops, an all-day field tour highlights and complements the workshop topics. Attendance is excellent with over 250 participants attending each year. After each workshop, participants evaluate the workshop by filling out a two page survey. The evaluations ask questions regarding knowledge gained, overall quality of the workshop, relevance of the topics, the quality of the facilities and other demographic information. Also, participants may provide written comments. USU and U of A Extension summarize the evaluations and then provide the summary to the workshop planning committee.
Extension faculty provide the key leadership for planning, moderating and conducting the workshops and tour. Engaged learning occurs as participant learn new ideas and principles in the workshop setting and then observe and participate in the application of these principles during the tour.
Below is a list of collaborators and their roles.
- Extension/University: provide overall leadership, organization, research-based knowledge and presenters.
- Federal Land Agencies: provide current issues, tour locations and presenters.
- Private Landowners and Ranchers: provide current issues and help with program direction, tour locations and presenters.
- Agriculture Industry Groups: provide financial support and information on new products and technology.
- Environmental Groups/Concerned Citizens: provide current challenges and insight.
- Conservation Districts/Agencies: provide financial support, topics and program direction.
One innovative aspect of this workshop is inclusivity; represented by the diversity of the planning team and their view points. The planning team purposefully brings together groups with view points from opposite sides of the issues, thus facilitating enhanced learning, understanding and collaboration. In this large geographic area of over five million acres, agency personnel, producers and Extension agents know each other on a first name basis and work well together as a result of participation in this workshop. Improved working relations are especially noted in development of management plans. Ranchers and agency personnel now sit down together and develop the plan, rather than agency people developing the plan and then coercing the ranchers into adopting a plan that may be unfeasible from a livestock management perspective.
Workshop programming addresses controversial issues head on by evaluating both sides of the issues. In the last ten years, program topics included: micro-biotic crusts and grazing, wolf reintroduction, national monument designation, native vs. non-native plant materials, wildfire, and grazing annual grasses for fuels reduction. Other less controversial topics include: identifying meaningful inputs for federal planning determination, range conditions and trend, range nutrition, riparian health, range monitoring techniques, field exercises with plant identification, vegetation manipulation and management techniques.
Another of the committee’s innovative approaches is to include topics on livestock production and management. Ranchers have genuine interest in these programs and government agency personnel tolerate them. However, government agency personnel need to understand livestock production challenges and issues in the same manner that ranchers need to understand agency policies, regulation and management actions. Past livestock production and management topics include: heifer development, sire selection, Beef Quality Assurance, delayed castration, animal health, reproductive diseases, grazing behavior, mineral supplements, low stress livestock handling techniques, livestock marketing and risk management.
Industry sponsors show strong financial support of this program. Livestock handling equipment, veterinarian supply, ranch supply, and feed supplement companies, all support the workshop financially. Industry support provides a quality lunch, a printed proceedings and a chance to win door prizes at no cost to the participants.
Annual evaluation of the program is a key component of maintaining the excellent quality of the workshop. Since 2006, over 90% of the participants evaluated the overall quality of the workshop as “Excellent” or better. Not only is the overall quality evaluated, but the individual speakers, thus helping the planning committee select effective speakers.
One example of how the committee utilized the evaluations is as follows. In 2003, the evaluations showed that 64% of the participants were over 50 years old. The planning team realized that if the younger generation was not involved, the workshop would eventually fade way and the benefits of the workshop would soon follow. The planning team developed strategies to recruit younger participants including: inviting younger ranchers to be on the planning committee and offering incentives for younger participants to attend. Results are encouraging. In 2010, only 56% of the participants were over 50 years old.
Another question, asks participants how they learned of the workshop. The three major ways participants learned of the workshop are: mailed flyer, word of mouth and email. In 2005, less than 10% of all participants learned of the workshop through email. In 2010, over 50% of the participants learned of the workshop via email. Surprisingly, 26% of the full-time ranchers and 34% of the part-time rancher learned of the workshop via email. Word of mouth is still an important marketing tool. In 2010, over 20% of the participants learned of the workshop by word of mouth. However, 58% of full-time ranchers learned of the workshop from the mailed flyer. Current, marketing efforts focus on flyers, word of mouth and email.
The AZ/UT Range Livestock Workshop and Tour is a successful, regional Extension program. The program’s secrets of success include: diverse planning committee, excellent support from industry sponsors and conservation districts, science-based educational programs, and annual evaluations. These keys of success foster excellent working relationships between ranchers and federal land managers which in turn help resolve conflicts and provide a medium for relevant Extension education in the future.
United States General Accounting Office. (1991). Rangeland management: BLM’s hot desert grazing program merits reconsideration. GAO/RCED 92-12. Washington DC.
United States General Accounting Office. (2002). Endangered species: Research strategy and long-term monitoring needed for the Mojave desert tortoise recovery program. GAO-03-23. Washington DC.