Understanding Why Land Managers Adopt New Practices

Behavioral Adaptation and Innovation

This aspect of the BEHAVE program explores what makes land managers more likely to change behaviors to adopt new practices.  This year our activities focused on synthesis and presentation of findings from data gathered in 2004 via interviews and surveys in western Colorado and northeastern Utah.

Research in Colorado originally focused on ranchers who attended a range management school because we felt the school was a catalyst for behavioral and management changes. In fact the school is one of several activities that creates a climate conducive to innovation in ranching. Re-creating such a climate elsewhere will require cooperative efforts by multiple organizations – universities, extension, NRCS, and private groups – along with flexible approaches by public land agencies (FS, BLM). Our findings have led us to rethink innovation in range livestock production to focus on the nature of change and to emphasize adaptation rather than adoption. Change should not be seen as either it occurs or doesn’t occur but should be viewed along a continuum from minor corrective actions to major changes in goals or activities. The adaptation process requires continued interaction between managers and educators in a way that is uncommon in most of the rural West but occurs in western Colorado due to cooperation among varied groups and individuals. For more information about the study read: Creating a culture of innovation in ranching: A study of outreach and cooperation in West Central Colorado.

Research in Utah assessed progress of a Coordinated Resource Management (CRM) process that seeks to promote new management practices for private lands and BLM allotments. Such “novel” groups differ from traditional cooperative efforts in ranching areas (e.g., grazing associations) in their organizational structure, ties to government organizations, and participation required by individual members. The CRM process appears to promote exchange of information that leads to innovation even outside the auspices of the CRM activity itself. Furthermore, participants believe it can enhance their political power to counteract outside forces such as environmental groups. However its downside is that many participants feel it requires too much time in meetings away from the ranch, and they hesitate to take such time without clear evidence that the outside “threat” can be avoided.

Publications and Presentations

  • Kennedy, Carrie A. 2005. Learning and Adoption of Range Management Innovations among Ranchers in West-Central Colorado. M.S. Thesis, Range Science, Utah State University.
  • Brunson, M.W. 2005. Understanding and Applying “People Processes” in Range Management, annual meeting, Colorado Section, Society for Range Management, Fort Collins, CO, Dec. 7-9, 2005.
  • Brunson, M.W. 2005. Creating a Culture of Range Management Innovation. Annual meeting, Utah Section, Society for Range Management, Midway, UT, Nov. 3-4, 2005.
  • Brunson, M.W. 2005. Understanding and Encouraging Change in Land Management: A Few Observations, 3rd biannual conference on Human Dimensions of Natural Resources in the Western United States, Park City, UT, Oct. 27-29, 2005.
  • Brunson, M.W. 2005. Social Dimensions of Change in Rangeland Ecosystems, 15th annual Jornada Symposium, Las Cruces, NV, July 14, 2005.
  • Brunson, M.W. 2005. “I’ll Wait Till the Movie Comes Out” – Factors Affecting Adoption of Managed Grazing Systems, Annual meeting, WCC-1002: Managed Grazing Systems for the Intermountain West, Salt Lake City, UT, Jan. 7, 2005.
  • Wilmot, Susan R., and M.W. Brunson. 2005. Collaborative ranching: Oxymoron or strategy for success? Annual meeting, Society for Range Management, Fort Worth, TX, Feb. 5-11, 2005.


Mark Brunson
Utah State University
Professor, Social Dimensions