Tipton Hudson, Professor – Rangeland & Livestock Management, Washington State University Extension   Email: hudsont@wsu.edu


Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

(The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost)

Yellow woods, diverging roads, bent grass requiring investigation, and the path less traveled – these are the mutual interests of rangeland lovers worldwide. Way leads on to way, and the going is more pleasant when we walk together. I had the distinct pleasure of walking with some of you for a very short time during your conference in Broome a few months ago, representing the international Society for Range Management and presenting as a faculty member of Washington State University. This was my first visit to Australia and I was surprised at the similarities in organizational culture, ecological interests and challenges, and future needs relative to ours in the United States.

I have worked as an Extension professor in rangeland and livestock management for exactly 20 years now . . . I am 46 years old . . . and half of my children are now adults and half still preparing to leave the greenhouse. I am solidly midway upon the journey of my life, I now have enough experience to know how much I don’t know, to have fewer ‘easy’ answers than when I was fresh out of uni. And I have seen that innovative solutions to big problems often come from getting outside one’s own sandbox.

Australia was a new sandbox for me. Australia has more than twice the rangeland of the U.S. both because we plowed half of ours under, running nearly to extinction one of the most complex and productive grassland ecosystems in the world (the American tallgrass prairie) and because our Eastern third is now forest (but there’s good evidence indigenous peoples kept it more like savanna for much of the previous millennium). We have so many common problems, common areas of study, and common land care goals that I find myself surprised the two societies have so little common effort today.


Dampier Peninsula tour group, ARS 2023. Photo by Tip Hudson.


The commonalities are many. How do we transfer property management, cultural values, and the profession of applied rangeland ecology to the next generation? What grazing principles and practices will promote ecosystem health, which includes people and animals? What are the ecological functions of biocrusts? How does carbon cycle in soils? How do we measure it? Is it even possible to expedite carbon into the sinks while we slow down carbon release from the sources?  We strive to balance environmental needs and profit as we learn more about real symbiosis between the two. We work with the (I think) productive tension between scientists and graziers regarding what works and why. We deal with species at risk of extinction, species often declining for reasons not clearly known. How do we properly use fancy technologies that threaten to replace real thinking and synthetic decision-making, a uniquely human act, for enhancing human decisions? Both Australia and the U.S. experience declining funding for the existentially important work of managing “country” while the government spends a lot of money on efforts much less valuable to humanity. (I like your term ‘country’; it has thicker meaning than ‘land’).

How do we respectfully and properly interact with the peoples displaced when Europeans arrived, peoples often exploited in awful ways? Do we learn from their provisioning practices, the ways they maintained maru buru, and find ways to live together or just apologize for the past for the next century or two?

How do we value ecosystems at the macro scale— whole landscapes —not as a collection of components to be commodified and assigned monetary value, but as a whole that is much more than the sum of the parts? It is “country”, not an asset list. And yet the people who are the current custodians may only persist as custodians in a 21st century economy if they can sell some of the fruit of the land, those assets, or receive other kinds of compensation for providing sustained ecosystem services. In the United States, the cost of not finding ways to value this is loss of country to housing development, from which there is no return. Hence this somewhat cynical socioeconomic definition of rangeland from Nathan Sayre, a geographer at University of California-Berkeley, in his book Politics of Scale: A History of Rangeland Science, which is worth reading: “Rangelands [are] . . . non-forested places where intensive economic activities have not (yet) taken root.”

I’ve been hosting a podcast called The Art of Range for five years with the idea that your ideas need to be shared in conversation to achieve conservation; these can be shared with a larger audience through the podcasting medium. The title comes from the old saying that land management is both art and science, but many people are not aware that the term ‘art’ historically did not primarily mean creative expression but the application of knowledge. One practices law, practices the art of medicine; those examples speak to the fact that land and livestock and people management is not mere mathematics (like rocket science) but involves applying oneself to synthesizing ideas and contextual learning to make decisions in very complex systems. Rangeland management is the queen of synthetic disciplines.

I’ll make a second book recommendation here. “RANGE: Why Generalists Thrive in a Specialized World” by David Epstein has nothing to do (on paper) with rangelands but is about how breadth is more important than depth in complex decision making in wicked learning environments where patterns don’t always repeat, where problems of scale make extrapolation dangerous. We need specialists, and I use the title myself, but a rangeland specialist is no good unless she is a strong generalist. We represent the largely unknown conclusion of Shakespeare’s quote, which means exactly the opposite of what it’s usually used for: “A jack of all trades but master of none . . . is oftentimes better than a master of one.”

The Society for Range Management and, I have seen, the Australian Rangeland Society, are places for jacks and jennies of all trades coming together to learn from one another, from quantitative scientists to government wildlife managers to graziers and pastoralists and, at the bottom of the heap, uni professors and Extension officers.

On behalf of the SRM, I want to extend a warm welcome to you to participate in the international annual meeting in Nevada from 28 January to 1 February, 2024. Last year we had nearly 2000 attendees for the first real meeting in Idaho after the years that shall not be named. That meeting also had high virtual participation, and in 2024 most sessions will be broadcasted for remote participation for reduced registration of $150 USD. And I will be promoting strong SRM participation in the Int’l Rangelands Congress in Australia in 2025, which I hope will be a fresh start for collaboration among rangeland societies.

Together we can create Maru buru, but it takes real conversation aimed at conservation. Thank you again for your tremendous hospitality and I look forward to learning more from all of you.

Listen to an interview with Dave Voth and Meghan Brown about the upcoming annual meeting at https://artofrange.com/episodes. And be sure to subscribe to the podcast through Apple Podcasts or Stitcher so you don’t miss an episode!

Review the schedule of topics and register for the 2024 SRM annual meeting at https://rangelands.org/annual-meeting-2024/. And you can register for virtual participation at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/2024-srm-annual-meeting-virtual-registration-tickets-768690081727?aff=oddtdtcreator.