Western Ranchers' Perspectives on Enablers and Constraints to Flood Irrigation
Dayer, Ashley A.
Metcalf, Alexander L.
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Flood irrigation on western rangelands is important for diverse social and ecological reasons, providing forage for many agricultural operations and maintaining many critical wetlands across the region. However, recent debate over the efficiency of flood irrigation and resulting transition to other "more efficient" types of irrigation has put many of the working wet meadows sustained by flood irrigation at risk. As the sustainability of these landscapes is primarily dependent on ranchers' management decisions, we sought to gain a deeper understanding of factors influencing ranchers who flood irrigate and how these factors interrelate. We applied the Community Capitals Framework to explore what considerations act as enablers and constraints to maintaining flood irrigation and to evaluate the role of each type of capital in enabling and constraining the coproduction of working wet meadows for ranchers and the environment. Our qualitative analysis of facilitated workshop transcripts and observation notes from two study areas within the Intermountain West showed that ranchers perceived constraining and enabling factors of flood irrigation related to all seven types of community capitals: natural, financial, built, cultural, human, social, and political. The irrigation methods used by ranchers were heavily influenced by environmental components of the landscape rather than reflecting a choice among alternative methods. Other prominent enablers included a commitment toward maintaining the natural history of the landscape and the ranching lifestyle. Primary constraints included the impact of public misperception and the ability to pass their operation on to the next generation. Ranchers weighed multiple considerations simultaneously in a holistic, community-scale approach to management decisions and described how diverse enablers and constraints interacted to determine the viability of flood irrigation and ranching. These results indicate rancher decisions are driven by complex social-ecological considerations and demonstrate the importance of each capital type to rangeland conservation. (C) 2019 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier Inc. on behalf of The Society for Range Management.