By Tabitha Mishra
Last updated: August 3, 2022

What Does Rangeland Mean?

A rangeland is an open area that is suitable for grazing lifetstock. Rangelands are home to grass and grass-like plants, shrubs, and scattered trees. They are, however, unfit for growing crops due to their aridity and poor soil quality.

Safeopedia Explains Rangeland

Rangelands encompass about 50% of land area around the world and about 30% of all land in the United States (approximately 770 million acres).

Rangeland Ecosystems

The native vegetation of rangelands includes grasses, shrubs, forbs, and trees, but may also include plants introduced either naturally or artificially. Rangelands are managed naturally by ecological processes such as grazing by livestock and wildlife, and sometimes by fires and extreme weather conditions.

The diversity of ecosystems in rangelands is vitally important for the communities around them. They are, for instance, a major source of livestock feed and, by extension, essential to the livelihood of herders and stock raisers. They also provide clean air, water, and habitats for native flora and fauna.

Uses of Rangelands

While at first glance, rangelands may look barren, that is far from the case. Some uses of rangelands include:

  • Grazing for livestock and wildlife
  • Habitats for wildlife
  • Providing watersheds for surrounding communities
  • Outdoor recreation like hiking, biking, and fishing
  • Vast open areas from which to derive renewable energy like wind and solar

Types of Rangelands

The different rangeland types have unique plant and animal habitats depending on climate, soil and human influence. Management activities for rangelands depend on the type and region.

Types of rangeland include:

  • Grasslands dominated by grasses and mostly free from woody plants. These areas are ideal for providing forage for wild and domestic animals. They receive between 250 to 900 mm of precipitation annually.
  • Desert shrublands, the driest of the rangelands. These areas receive less than 250 mm of annual precipitation.
  • Savanna woodlands with a herbaceous understory and trees less than 12 meters tall. They occur as transition zones between forests and grassland, and can shift to either one as a result of grazing, fire, drought, or other factors.
  • Forests with tall trees that crowd closely together, preventing the development of an understory for grazing. They occur in high-rainfall areas that receive greater than 500 mm of precipitation annually.
  • Tundra in arctic or high-elevation regions, with vegetation that consists primarily of low-growing, tufted, perennial plants and lichens. Due to its cold climate, tundras are frozen for seven months a year, restricting tree growth.

There are 15 basic rangeland subtypes in the United States that are economically important:

  • Tallgrass prairie
  • Southern mixed prairie
  • Northern mixed prairie
  • Shortgrass prairie
  • California annual grassland
  • Palouse prairie
  • Hot desert
  • Cold desert
  • Pinyon-Juniper woodland
  • Mountain browse
  • Western coniferous forest
  • Southern pine forest
  • Eastern deciduous forest
  • Oak woodland
  • Alpine tundra

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