CR 21:271-281 (2002)  -  doi:10.3354/cr021271

Climate variability and the vulnerability of ranching in southeastern Arizona: a pilot study

Hallie Eakin1,*, Julie Conley2

1Department of Geography and Regional Development, and
2School of Renewable Natural Resources, The University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona 85721, USA

ABSTRACT: For ranchers in the Southwest, unanticipated droughts pose serious management challenges. Social and economic factors combine with the physical impacts of drought to render ranchers more vulnerable to climate variability. Using agricultural census data and interviews with ranchers, we analyze ranchers┬╣ responses to drought events in 1996 and 1999. From this analysis we develop an initial assessment of the principal factors contributing to the vulnerability of ranching in southeastern Arizona to climatic variability, and we make some preliminary determinations regarding the potential use of climate information in mitigating this vulnerability. During drought, climatic conditions can combine with poor cattle prices and high feed costs to strain ranchers┬╣ resources. The ability to cope with drought is further complicated by changes in environmental policy and pressure from urban growth. In these circumstances, ranchers reported being tempted to sell their private ranch property to development interests. Although our pilot study identified smaller operations as the most vulnerable to climatic variability in the context of policy and economic uncertainty, these operations reported less utility in climate information. The multidimensional nature of vulnerability suggests that climate information will be most useful to ranching operations of all sizes if it is integrated with market, policy and other economic information and if existing information distribution channels are used to reach ranchers.

KEY WORDS: Vulnerability · Ranching · Drought · Rangeland management

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