How do land-use and climate combine to shape ecological change at different scales? Scientific research increasingly points to the role of human land use, especially livestock raising, in global climate change, but there are few long-term, empirical studies of the relationship between grazing, climate, and ecological change. The conservation literature had long assumed that grazing led to environmental decline, but it has become more contested with the addition of climate thinking. Some conservationists identify cattle as a primary producer of greenhouse gases, while others increasingly advocate retention of grazing within stable, working landscapes to mitigate climate change. Historians, too, have been inexact about the relationship between human activity and climate as drivers of change even as they allude to their importance. This gap in the scholarly literature is partly due to a lack of source materials—including detailed historical records—for studying the combined effects of land use and climate change at multiple spatial and temporal scales. Knowledge of these interactions is essential, however, not only for historical and ecological theory, but also for policy and planning that seeks to apply a transnational, historical approach to conservation decision-making.
This project is a deep historical analysis of grazing and climate on specific study sites in California and British Columbia. The project has three goals: (1) Develop a historical narrative that links local land use and climate histories to national and transnational trends. (2) Generalize from these cases a theoretical model of historical-ecological change to better explain the relationship between local climate conditions and the multiple shapers of land use decisions coming from many scales. (3) Develop a methodology for collecting and analyzing the historical evidence and data necessary to produce local land use and climate studies of this kind for rangelands all over the world, which will be valuable to local historians as well conservation managers who need to better understand the history of change on their specific sites.