Rangelands are the largest terrestrial ecosystems on the Earth. They are comprised of natural grasslands, savannas, shrublands, deserts, tundra, alpine communities, coastal marshes, and wet meadows (BLM, 2007). They cover close to 40% of the world’s landscape, of which more than 80% are located in arid and semi-arid areas. They are found from the Asian steppes to the Andean regions of South America and from the mountains of Western Europe to the African savannas (Branson et al., 1981).
Ship farming by a group of women in Qashqai land around Shiraz 1980.
At least 40 million pastoralists’ livelihoods depend on grazing of their livestock on rangelands worldwide. Most are subsistence herders and more than half live in Africa. During this century, rapid increases in human population and livestock have contributed to increasing grazing pressures, particularly in arid and semi-arid environments ( Amiri and Shariff, 2012).
A nomadic herd along with their summer camp in Koohrang, Bakhtiari, 1976.
According to Asadian et al. (2016), there are 5.3 billion hectares of rangeland in the world, of which 903 million hectares are located in Asia (excluding the Middle East). The rangelands of the Middle East cover 303 million hectares, of which 86.1 million hectares are located in Iran.
A high altitude plant community in Northern slope of Elburz, 1976.
Rangelands are wilderness areas providing habitats for millions of wild animals, plants, and fish. They are increasingly used as an immense recreational resource by millions of visitors each year. Whether publicly or privately owned, rangelands produce tangible products, such as forage, wildlife habitat, water, minerals, energy, plant and animal gene pools, recreational opportunities, and some wood products. The chief commercial use of rangelands in the United States and most of the world is livestock grazing to produce food, fiber, and draft animals. These are referred to as commodities. Rangelands also produce intangible products, often referred to as values, such as natural beauty, open spaces, and the opportunity for the ecological study of natural ecosystems (Chornesky,et al., 2015; NRC,1994).
A protected rangeland in Northern slope of Kandavan, Elburz Kooh, 1976.
Rangeland watersheds are quantitively and qualitatively important regulators of water in streams, lakes, and aquifers. Management of rangeland watersheds to increase the amount of clean water available for use by irrigators, municipalities, industries, and for recreational purposes are becoming increasingly important. Federal and private rangelands provide grazing areas for wild herbivores, such as deer, antelope, and elk. Many species of fish and wildlife depend on rangelands and their associated streams and lakes for habitat. Rangeland ecosystems are respectively associated with 84% total number of mammalian and 74% of the avian species during some part of the year found in the United States (NRC,1994).
An alpine range sample in a protected area in Elburz mountain area, 1976.
Livestock farming is the most widespread human activity and the dominant land use in rangeland ecosystems. Rangelands provide 10% of the global meat supply and support an estimated 200 million pastoralists and the herds of nearly one billion camelids, cattle, and smaller livestock, in addition to yaks, horses, reindeer, and other ungulates (Alkemade et al., 2013). Rangelands have an interdisciplinary nature and are associated with biodiversity, biogeochemical cycling, hydrology, and human health and social sciences. Rangeland ecosystems are capable of providing an array of ecosystem services important to the wellbeing of society. Some of these services (meat and fibre) are transported to markets and their quantity, quality, and value are established via a set of widely accepted standards. Other services (climate mitigation, water quality, wildlife habitat) do not leave the land, but are, in fact, most valuable when they remain in situ. Determining quantity, quality, and accessible ecosystem services market value of rangeland present a challenge that must be met if there is to be a credible calculation (Brown and MacLeod, 2011).
Ships grazing on a dry farming collected wheat field in Qashqai land Shiraz, 1980.
Rangelands have undergone and continue to undergo rapid transformations as a result of various factors, such as overgrazing, deforestation, woody-plant encroachment, and invasion of non-native plant species in recent years (Wilcox and Thurow, 2006). Each of these factors have led to a reduction in the quantity and/or nutritional quality of the vegetation available for grazing; this is known as “rangeland degradation” (IFAD, 2003).
Conversion of rangeland to a dry farming wheat field in Qashqai land, Shiraz, 1980.
Changing perceptions about the important value of rangeland ecosystems have generated new debates over whether these lands should be used to produce livestock, to support wildlife, to improve water quality, or for recreational purposes, and how much of each of these uses are appropriate. The normal functioning of most ecosystems provides many tangible benefits to human well-being that are usually taken for granted by the general public, unless, they become obvious by a sudden disruption or threatened failure. Most ecosystem services cannot be privately owned, so are appropriately treated as “public goods’’, which adds to their risk of being ignored or inadvertently threatened. In addition, disturbing an ecosystem in a particular location often causes effects elsewhere (Mark et al., 2013).
A Ferula communis predominantly covered of rangeland in Taleqan Valley, 1977.
Rangelands indeed produce a wide variety and diverse provisioning, supporting, regulating, and cultural services. As such, rangelands are ideal for analyzing the balance between supply and demand for different types of services. In contrast, hyper-arid ecosystems provide supporting, cultural and regulating services but few, if any, provisioning services and humid ecosystems are generally transformed into crop and wood production landscapes at the expense of cultural, including recreation services. Thus, rangelands offer a wide variety of ecosystem services that are valuable to many different stakeholders. In addition, rangelands are broadly threatened ecosystems and are often undervalued as providers of ecosystem services. For instance, in a study of sociocultural preferences toward services delivered by different types of ecosystems, rivers and streams scored higher. Drylands and urban systems scored significantly lower than forests, wetlands, and coasts in terms of their capacity to supply services. Some semi-arid ecosystems are particularly susceptible to overexploitation because of recent increases in intensive agriculture and tourism activities (Yahdjian et al. 2015).
Salvia sp., which is used as a medicinal plant in various parts of Iran, 1980.
Range experts have unanimously announced overgrazing is a major cause of rangeland degradation in drylands leading to desertification, as it has been proved by different studies and observations in the world. Overgrazing results when livestock density becomes excessive and too many animals are grazed on the same area of rangeland, leading to the degradation of vegetation, soil compaction, and soil loss, as well as wind and water erosion. When there is heavy pressure on rangelands, the animals consume palatable vegetation faster than it can regenerate, and eventually only inedible or no vegetation remains. With degraded plant cover, soil erosion becomes serious and any chance of restoring the range becomes remote because of massive top soil loss (FAO, 1993).
An extremely overgrazed and degraded range in Yazd province, 1975.
Rangelands degradation is defined as a decrease in plant species diversity, plant height, vegetation cover, and plant productivity. Recently, degradation has also come to mean deterioration in ecosystem services and functions, such as decreased water and soil conservation, recreational values, carbon imbalance, and so on (Han et al., 2008).
Another degraded range around Zanjan: Man can observe traces of soil compaction.
Bedunah and Angerer (2012) have stated that rangeland degradation is of concern for a vast area of the world’s rangelands and their value for ecosystem services, including food, water, and livelihoods for many of the world’s poor. For example, dry-land biomes, encompassing much of the area where pastoral livestock production is a major land use, covers 51% of the earth’s land area but supports 78% of the global grazing area. Pastoralists utilizing degraded rangelands generally suffer from poverty and food insecurity. These poor communities often lack medical, education, and market opportunities, leading to more isolated conditions and discontent. The causes of rangeland degradation in many developing countries are complex, but it could be stressed that it can be both a cause and the result of open conflicts. The causes of rangeland degradation are complex in time and space, and associated with interactions between pastoralists, governance, policy, and environmental factors. The extent is often debatable, as are the causes and potential solutions for improvement as well. The interaction between climate and human induced decline is often difficult to separate. There is little doubt that instances have occurred in the past where rangeland scientists or policymakers considered livestock to be the primary cause of degradation, when severe droughts were actually the cause. In fact, it has been hypothesized that the productivity of arid and semiarid vegetation is controlled primarily by the highly variable rainfall that exists in these regions and that vegetation is rarely affected by livestock grazing and rangeland management.
A mountain range consisting mainly of Artemisia sp. and Amygdalus trees in Bafq, Yazd province, 1980.
The proximate causes of rangeland degradation include overgrazing, unsustainable fuel wood, including shrubs and perennials use, mining, and plowing of rangelands with subsequent loss of soil productivity. The ultimate drivers, however, are typically associated with policies, socio-economic changes, or interactions of socio-economic and governance factors with climatic stressors, such as drought. Experiences have shown that poverty and rangeland degradation are often associated with societies in transition, especially where land tenure/land use has been significantly altered. For example, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, rangelands in Mongolia, as well as other Central Asian states, became mostly ‘‘free-access’’ with a loss of controls over timing of grazing or animal numbers (Bedunah and Angerer, 2012).
Combination of overgrazing and dry farming on a slope which results in severe soil loss as one could see in far end, in Taleqan Valeyy, 1976.
Mansour et al. (2012) have pointed out that rangeland degradation can be defined as a loss of quantity and quality of the material produced for grazing for a particular livestock species in arid and semi-arid areas as a result of human activities and natural factors. Human causes of rangeland degradation are: overstocking, the expansion of cropped areas, uprooting of range shrubs, off-road driving, increased fires, water scarcity, and poor land use management and planning. Natural causes include changes in climatic elements and soil properties. Rangeland degradation can usefully be considered in terms of types of plant communities and the production characteristics of different plant spices, particularly the ones of grazing value. Rangeland plant quality and quantity have been successfully used as indicators for mapping, monitoring, and classifying rangeland degradation. This is because some plant species are well adapted to specific growth conditions and their quality and quantity characteristics may change dramatically if these conditions change. Forage plants species are classified into three categories (increasers, decreasers, and invaders) based on the grazing value and the changes in their relative abundance in the presence or absence of grazing. Decreaser species are the dominant species in flourishing rangelands, but they diminish when rangeland deteriorates through over-utilization or underutilization. Increaser species, by contrast, flourish in rangelands that are overgrazed or underutilized, and the abundance of these species is therefore an indicator of the poor condition of rangeland. The assessment of rangeland degradation based on the abundance and distribution of decreaser and increaser species has successfully been evaluated and classified.
As can be seen in this picture, this situation was caused by overgrazing and destruction of nature that once has been forest, Taleqan Valley, 1975.
Ahmad et al. (2012) had reported many factors, such as climate, humans, and animals are causing degradation of rangelands. The indicators of rangeland degradation may vary from region to region, but the common ones are elimination of preferred species, reduction in plant cover, biodiversity decrease, reduction in forage production, increased soil erosion, and runoff of rain water with little or no infiltration. Above investigators reported that all these factors are leading towards desertification of rangelands of Baluchistan (79% of total land area) in Pakistan.
Rangelands degradation follows same pattern in all developing countries of the world. Grazing is the most important factor affecting vegetation and soil in all rangelands of the world, having a critical impact on rangeland biodiversity and species composition.
Extreme devastation due to overgrazing and plowing in Qashqai land, Shiraz, 1980.
In order to identify and plan for proper management and use of natural resources, one needs in general to pay serious attention to all ecosystem components. In a sustainable use of rangelands, it is necessary to recognize locations of water resources, soil and vegetation types, and analyses of their relationships. Proper soil physical, chemical, and biological factors, humidity and temperature are necessary for the optimum vegetation growth and distribution in rangelands. Planning is impossible for the use of rangeland ecosystems, particularly in fragile rangeland ecosystems of arid regions without a consideration of soil properties (Rostami et al., 2015).
It is certainly believed that livestock grazing is associated with rangelands degradation in Iran as well. Overgrazing is common on rangelands, often because of land tenure ambiguities. A considerable portion of the rangelands has been converted into farmland for rain-fed grain production. As a result, these rangelands are experiencing increasing pressure and become degraded to support a growing population and livestock. Land tenure reform is perceived as one approach to improving the use and condition of Iranian rangelands. Changes in land tenure involve very complex decision-making that should lead to sustainable use of the land and contribute to the sustainable livelihood of present and future generations (Farahpour et al.,2004).
About 86 million hectares of rangelands have been reported in Iran (Arzani et al., 2014). These rangelands can support feeding of only 37 million animal units for a period of 7 seven months, while 83 million animal units rely on them. Both range managers and range experts believe that rangelands of the world are being degraded due to overgrazing, hence a balance between livestock and rangeland is essential in range management (Eftekhari et al.,2012).
According to Shahraki et al. (2015), Iran’s rangelands produce a diverse array of non-forage products, including medicinal plants and industrial products, such as Galbanum, tragacanth, and asafetida, are commodities for export. The average value of rangeland in Iran stood at $232 per hectare for a year and 25% of this amount belonged to fodder and remained 75% belonging to environmental values. In other words, in addition to 10.7 million tons of forage production, its indirect values stood for approximately 4 times the average price of forage produced in Iranian rangelands that are usually ignored in the economic calculations.
The vegetation cover of most of Iranian rangelands has been overgrazed for many years and has become a threat for animal production and its byproducts, as well as soil stability. Reduction of vegetation canopy, destruction of soil surface structure and soil compaction are result of overgrazing. Altering plant community and soil properties by severe overgrazing leads to rangeland degradation and desertification (Souri et al., 2015).
Because of livestock overgrazing, species diversity has currently decreased in Iran’s rangelands. Most of the rangeland of Urmia is degraded and will require considerable reclamation to achieve a desirable state (Mofidi et al., 2013).
Hosseini et al. (2012) has reported rangelands degradation in Golestan province with an approximately 860,000-hectare rangelands. He reported that these hectares were once, one of the best winter rangelands in Iran, which are now being exploited all year long. A growing population and the severe economic dependence on natural resources of such rangelands has lead into retrogradation of vegetation. Therefore, serious plans to deal with these vast and valuable resources are essential and undeniable. Many attempts have been made by the experts in the province to prevent the rangelands’ degradation and destruction in recent years. Unfortunately, due to complex political, social, and economic issues, the trends are still negative.
Hassani et al., (2008) have pointed out that climatic conditions and grazing history are two important factors affecting species composition and biodiversity in rangelands in semi-arid ecosystems. Overgrazing changes vegetation structure and composition because of which some species’ abundance increase and others decrease. Research has revealed that heavy grazing can change the composition of plant communities. Based on the studies of vegetation in semi-arid rangelands of Damghan and Khorasan provinces (north-east of Iran), increase of ruderal species and decrease of palatable plant species were entirely obvious toward the center of the critical areas, especially in the permanent residences of livestock and in the watering points. Abundance of watering points and shepherd activities are among the effective factors for proper distribution of livestock in rangeland, and consequently, decrease of overgrazing and increase of grazing efficiency.
Most ranges are gazed due to shortage of winter fodder too early in the spring before the forage plants have had a chance to build up food reserve or the soil has become firm enough to maintain its structure under the effects of trampling. Many ranges are additionally grazed in the wrong season (Nemati, 1977).
Proper management of natural resources require knowledge of ecological sites, such as flora and its dynamics. Understanding the relationship between plants and the influencing environmental elements are essential. Determining those factors affecting vegetation composition are important issues. Also, rangeland productivity cannot be precisely quantified without a historical record of differences in yields (Asadian et al., 2016).
Pyke et al. (2002) have reported rangeland health as the degree to which the integrity of the soil, vegetation, water, and air, as well as the ecological processes of the rangeland ecosystem, are balanced and sustained. Integrity was defined as the maintenance of the functional attributes characteristic of a locale, including normal variability. Although there are a number of problems associated with applying the term “health” to natural ecosystems. Three overlapping subsets of indicators are used to assess three attributes of an ecological site: soil and site stability, hydrologic function, and biotic integrity. Indicators further include rills, water flow patterns, pedestals and small terraces, bare ground, gullies, wind scour and depositional areas, litter movement, soil resistance to erosion, soil surface loss or degradation, plant composition relative to infiltration, soil compaction, plant functional/structural groups, plant mortality, litter amount, annual production, invasive plants, and reproductive capability.
Shaw and Bastin (1981) pointed to the fact that if permanent damage to rangelands in the form of accelerated erosion and pasture degradation is to be avoided early in drought periods in arid and semi-arid pastoral areas, it is necessary to rapidly reduce stocking pressure in accordance with forage availability. After drought has broken, pastures should only be lightly stocked until palatable annual and perennial species have established and attained normal vigor.
Since, range ecosystems are considered as one of the most complex ones and precise relationships are found between the components. Therefore, available range resources in each region should be properly evaluated for a variety of utilizations and lands’ suitability. Correct programming for suitable utilization not only decreases rangeland degradation, but also causes the conservation and improvement of them. Thus, one of the most important and also difficult factors in the analyses and evaluation of rangelands are their utilization based on the potentials and capabilities. Recognition of the effects of those factors are of most importance to desirable use and suitable management of rangeland (Ariapour et al., 2013).
Historical evidences have shown that rangelands were misused in the past and those trends have continued to the present time, and those actions have resulted in the destruction of ranges in Iran. Nowadays, rangelands have been routinely utilized regardless of their capabilities and actual potentials. Now, many rangelands have been widely destroyed, regardless of other available capabilities and resources, relying just on a single-use (Mohtashamnia, 2000).
In the past, rangelands were used for livestock grazing, but with people’s increased awareness and environmental knowledge, various aspects of rangelands’ usefulness have been taken into consideration. Hence, contrary to the range public record with the aim of being an informational resource on how to have a stable harvest and ranges’ good yield by livestock, four issues have been raised, including the maintenance and protection of basic resources, multi-purpose use, the importance of social and economic processes in the management of resources, and their interactions (Fadaie et al., 2014).
Range suitability is customarily defined as rangeland that can be used for livestock grazing for many years without destructing its vegetation and soil as well as the adjacent areas and this does not limit the range use in the coming years. The kind of animals using a rangeland can be modified according to physical factors, such as slope, dimension of range, natural barriers, water resource locations, soil properties, soil sustainability, soil sensitivity to erosion, percent of plant coverage, soil coverage, and forage production (Rouhi-Moghadam et al. 2017).
Proper range management requires co-operation of range users. Nomadic knowledge of rangelands is invaluable. Therefore, involvement of pastoralists is absolutely essential. Documenting their knowledge on rangelands can provide useful bases for the sustainable utilization and conservation of natural resources of rangelands. Behmanesh et al. (2016) stating that their investigation results have indicated that pastoralists have a broad knowledge base from rangelands vegetation to soil and climate changes. This indigenous ecological knowledge may represent a powerful tool to evaluate rangeland degradation and develop new plans and strategies for restoring degraded rangelands. It can be said that such plans that are based on indigenous knowledge can be easily accepted by local people.
The fundamental challenge of grazing management is simultaneously to optimize the interception and conversion of solar energy into primary production and the efficient harvest of primary production by livestock. The managerial task of optimizing primary production and efficient forage harvest is further complicated by climatically induced variation in plant production and the widespread plant distribution (Briske and Heitschmidt, 1991).
Grazing management involves the manipulation many kinds and classes of livestock, stocking rate, grazing season and grazing intensity to optimize these two opposing processes and maximizing livestock production per unit area on a sustainable basis (Amiri, 2009a).
Diet selection of the herbivores is influenced by many different factors including quality and quantity of forages, rangeland and climate conditions, distance from water resources, conditions of the herbivore physiology and health, and livestock age and race. Growth stages of plants are the most important factor for the diet composition of rangeland forage that changes with phenological stages. Knowing of diet value in each plant organs (leaf, stem, and flower) in different phenological stages also helps the rangers to select desirable time of grazing in order to reach to worthwhile yield of the animals without damaging the plants (Askarizadeh and Heshmati, 2011).
Forage species have different nutritional values and qualities. Nutritional value and food quality are directly related to the growth and development of plants. Thus, knowing these changes can help to adjust the livestock entry and exit time of the rangeland. This action not only carries out an optimal utilization of forage by livestock grazing, but also maintains the plant survival and lessens the damage to growth and regeneration of the plant species (Naseri et al., 2017).
History of Range Management in Iran: For the first time in 1967, rangeland management was taken into account in the governmental sector and the structure of forest organization expanded to several offices, including the rangeland office to deal with the previously mentioned issues (Badripour, Eskandari et al. 2006). To improve the condition of the rangelands, Iranian government has launched a national policy for regulating the use of the rangeland resources. The Rangeland Management Plans (RMP), is designed on the principles of plant ecology, and is based on the range succession model. According to this model, a given rangeland has an ecologically tenacious status in the absent of grazing. The model indicates that ecological changes in the stable status of the rangelands due to grazing pressure are again stabilized by successional tendency of vegetation. Therefore, based on this model, the main approach to effectively manage the rangelands is to select a stocking rate that creates a long-term balance between the grazing pressure and the successional tendency (Westoby, Walker et al. 1989; Azadi, Shahvali et al. 2007).
Boundaries of the rangeland, grazing capacity and grazing seasons are made the main structure of the RMP; however, the instruction becomes broader in management strategies. For instance, range management plan defines the grazing system, rotational or paddock, and rehabilitation programs that are supposed to be implemented for a specific area (Badripour, Eskandari et al. 2006).
Despite nearly 25 years of implementation of the RMPs, the population of livestock is still about 2.5 times more than the carrying capacity defined by the plans (Badripour, Eskandari et al. 2006).
Although the ecological benefits of implementing the defined plans to the rangeland vegetation have been highlighted (Arzani, Azarnivand et al. 2007); evidence illustrates that many landholders have not gone through the sustainable management system defined by the government (Hedjazi 2007).
The formal rules defined by the government are the same for almost all groups of landholders. However, some groups have already established their own rules to manage their common lands. The local rules hypothetically play a very important role in following the defined regulations on rangeland management by the rangeland holders. Nonetheless, some characteristics of the society, as well as rangeland resources, may contribute to establishing the local rules and regulations.
Range Management Plans (RMP) in Iran also has been known as a suitable way to reduce grazing pressure and to practice effective management on rangelands since 1968. An RMP is defined as a compiled program through which soil and water resources are preserved and sustainability of the production with maximum production possible based on potential of the region is guaranteed. In fact, all measurements applied for range management, range improvement, and suitable utilization in certain areas of the rangelands are considered in an RMP allocated to the stakeholders for a period of 30 years by the Forests, Rangelands and Watershed Management Organization (Eftekhari et al. 2012).
One of the basic principles of rangeland management is to determine grazing capacity to achieve the optimum performance of livestock to manage the stability of range ecosystem. Also, one of the most important factors in determining the grazing capacity is the preference values, which means the livestock preferring to eat a specific plant to the others. The preference value is detected by two factors: the factor related to livestock and other one related to the plant (Rashvand et al., 2016).
The increase in intensity of management practices over recent decades has had a strong impact on the landscape while affecting the quality of natural or pseudo natural habitats. The direct effect of management on vegetation cover and soil properties can vary depending on the practices. Evaluation of rangelands in response to management is important for land managers at public or private ownerships, especially when the output has a direct relevance for decision making management. The procedure seeking evidence of landscape degradation or rehabilitation needs to have equal possibilities to deal with these scenarios (Khosravi et al. 2016).
Sustainable rangelands management needs a database on annual forage production, species composition, and population of grazing livestock based on an RMP, so that the balance between livestock number and grazing capacity can always be monitored. RMP alters the sustainability indicators of rangeland. In some of the ongoing RMPs, grazing capacity [balance between forage production and livestock population], grazing season, and period are not clearly observed while range condition and grazing capacity of the rangelands, in which technical principles of the RMP are considered, have been improved. (NMSU, 2007).
Azimi and Mozafari (2016) have pointed out that grazing systems can help maintain the rangelands in an ecologically sustainable state and are also useful in repairing the damages created by past inappropriate grazing browsing practices by either livestock or wild ungulates.
However, there is also evidence that grazing-management activities, not grazing, are the main cause of rangeland degradation in arid and semi-arid environments (Gulelat, 2002). Pastoralism is a traditional range management activity that focuses mostly on natural forage rather than on cultivated fodder (Sandford, 1983). Their historical memories about rangelands management must be heard by range specialists and their experiences and ideas be taken into serious consideration in any RMP.
As Kohestani and Yeganeh (2016) pointed out, many studies have shown that socio-economic issues and divergent management were the main factors of natural resources degradation. The governmental sector should pay more attention to the traditional husbandry system and its positive or negative impacts on natural resources.
The priority of programs, such as water resources development, grazing management, and grazing system implementation in the degraded rangelands, were suggested with respect to common programs in RMPs, along with ecological issues of studied rangelands. Iranian northern rangelands are commonly summer ranges and the lack of winter ranges causes early grazing of most of them. So, it is evident that grazing management and control are the essential factors for management strategies. Although, application of RMPs have increased canopy cover percentage of most range sites, but there was no significant effect on other factors. Thus, the execution of range management plans has relatively improved the range condition, but their positive effects were not clear for many RMPs. The base of predictions after RMPs increase the forage production, canopy cover percent, and range condition and trend. While in the study area, the increased indices were much less than the predictions. One of the reasons for the predictions not being fulfilled is more likely to be related to climate changes, especially droughts.
Many of the world’s rangelands are degraded due to either natural or anthropogenic causes (Gibbs and Salmon, 2015). As Stavi (2012) pointed out, one of the main indicators of the degradation process is the depletion of the organic carbon stocks in the soil. The organic carbon plays a crucial role in supporting the soil microbial community, maintaining the soil structure formation and stability, and retaining water and nutrients in the uppermost soil layers.
Combating land degradation is essential to ensure long-term productivity of arid and semi-arid environments (Mureithi et al, 2014). The persistent menace of recurrent droughts, floods, disease outbreaks leading to large livestock losses, and crop failure is commonplace. Increasing food insecurity and poverty pose a major threat to the pastoral livelihoods and the local biodiversity (FAO, 2018). Revegetation through ripping and grass reseeding has the potential to restore degraded rangelands and improve their potential for livestock production and wildlife conservation. Revegetation also has the potential to provide direct economic benefit as a source of income through the pasture-related income-generating activities (Kariuki et al, 2018).
Rangeland degradation is of concern for a vast area of the world’s rangelands and their value for ecosystem services, including food, water, and livelihoods for many of the world’s poor. Drylands biomes are encompassing much of the area where pastoral livestock production is a major land use, covers 51% of the earth’s land area but supports 78% of the global grazing area (Bedunah and Angerer, 2012). The extent of degradation in developing countries is difficult to quantify due to the lack of a monitoring system, but certainly, concern exists that the human population is exerting significant pressure on rangeland ecosystems (Mussa et al, 2016). It should be also stressed that no general concept of land degradation exists that could be uniformly applicable to all situations. It is necessary to define which environment element is being degraded.
Degraded rangelands are characterized by sustained reduced biological and economic productivity, often associated with improper or unsustainable human land uses and the impact of this unsustainable use on hydrology, soil processes, and vegetation composition. The causes of rangeland degradation are complex in time and space and associated with interactions between pastoralists, governance and policy, and environmental factors. The extent is often debatable, as the causes and potential solutions for improvement are different. The interaction between climate- and human-induced decline is often difficult to separate (Barbier and Hochard, 2016).
The proximate causes of rangeland degradation include overgrazing, unsustainable fuel wood (including shrubs) use, mining, and plowing of rangelands with subsequent loss of soil productivity. The ultimate drivers, however, are typically associated with policies, socio-economic changes, or interactions of socio-economic and governance factors with climatic stressors such as drought. It is not possible to review here every instance where policies associated with changing land use and tenure resulted in dramatic changes to pastoral systems, but in general, these changes result in a loss of resource rich grazing areas or a loss in the ability to access pastures that provided pastoralists with different grazing resources. The complexity of these problems has often limited development successes in countries with poverty, and poor or corrupt governance ( Bedunah and Angerer, 2012).
The rangelands problems of Iran at this time are too many livestock, grazing too intensively, and for too long. The proposed solutions for gaining control of the open rangeland, which include proper classification of capacities of different land types for livestock use, and identification of conservation principles by rangeland scientists, falls on the deaf ears of the government. Control means several things: government retention of public rangelands (rather than disposal), control of livestock numbers, allocation of the range to public controlled councils, and ongoing government administration and management in collaboration with stakeholders having interest in land use. Range science must support these interlocking policy endeavors, and its first task is “the careful classification of the lands, with definite information as to carrying capacity of the rangelands, the character of the forage, climatic, and other conditions, which likely affect their value.” This is necessary for inform decision making about how large the grazing area should be: because the policy goal must be to maximize the number of livestock. At the same time, extreme care must be giving for improvement and protection of rangelands. Conservation means both preventing further deterioration and also restoring past conditions. Restoration, it was believed, would result from accurate classification of livestock carrying capacity and proper control of stocking rates because the ecological paradigm of the time is that the range would recover on its own if overgrazing could be avoided.
Range science is seen as necessary tool to identify principles and develop practices that agricultural extension offices would use to educate livestock producers about how rangelands function. The whole plan’s goal is based upon the idea of making the public grazing lands more productive. This is seen as benefiting not only livestock producers, but everyone as well.
Rangelands in Iran have been subject to corruption and mis-management, similar to other sectors of economy. They have been neglected and, therefore, they became more degraded. The issue of conservation is either a luxurious term or an advertisement. Numerous flooding events each year are an indication of rangelands deterioration. If one attempts to sum up the Islamic government’s efforts toward environment, soil conservation, watershed management, erosion control, preservation of forests, management of rangelands, water resources management, and Iran’s natural ecosystem, one will arrive at word “disastrous” only. It has committed a crime towards the environment, which will take serious work over many generations to overcome. This harsh fact is not only an Iranian problem, but it is an international one.
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