Rangelands: Uses and Degradation

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  • 0:06 The Range
  • 0:40 What is Rangeland?
  • 1:50 Rangeland Uses
  • 3:47 Rangeland Degredation
  • 5:27 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

Rangeland covers much of the land area of the world. The lack of rainfall in these areas makes it useful land for grazing livestock and provides environmental benefits. Learn about the uses of rangeland and the potential for rangeland degradation.

The Range

'Home, home on the range where the deer and the antelope play; where seldom is heard a discouraging word, and the skies are not cloudy all day.'

These are some of the lyrics to the unofficial anthem of the American West, and if you are wondering why the skies are not cloudy all day, it is because there is seldom rainfall on the range. In this lesson, you will get introduced to rangeland and its general uses. You will also discover how rangeland is vulnerable to degradation.


Rangeland is the term used to describe arid or semi-arid land that is well suited for grazing. Vegetation found on rangeland can be varied, but because the area does not receive much rainfall, the vegetation often consists of native grasses, grass-like plants, shrubs and broad-leaved herbs, such as forbs. These forms of vegetation are eaten by grazing livestock.

The arid conditions along with poor soil quality make rangelands unfit for growing crops, which require nutrient-rich soil and proper irrigation. Rangeland makes up approximately 50% of the land area around the world, making it the largest ecosystem.

It is called different names around the world and has varied characteristics. Some rangeland is dominated by grasses, others by shrubs or low-growing trees, while the driest rangelands are deserts. You might find it helpful to think of rangeland as the wide-open spaces of the world or to consider what it is not. Rangeland is not farmland, and it is not forested.

Rangeland Uses

While these lands may appear barren and useless at first glance, there are a number of valuable uses of rangeland. Rangeland is largely used for grazing livestock. The grasses and forage plants that grow in these climates are well-suited for grazing, and the majority of cattle ranching that occurs in the United States and world-wide takes place on rangeland. Therefore, these lands are economically important to many regions of the world. Because vegetation can be sparse and an area can be overgrazed if it is too small, cattle ranches are often very large and may consist of hundreds, if not thousands of acres.

Rangelands also provide habitats for wildlife. Well-established habitats boost the biodiversity of a region and bring stability to the ecosystem; and the wildlife supported by the rangeland ecosystem can be hunted for food.

Rangelands also provide watersheds for use by surrounding communities. A watershed is an area of land that delivers rainwater or snowmelt into waterways. Watersheds are important because the water bodies they drain into provide drinking water and other benefits to humans. Properly managed rangelands protect watersheds from erosion and pollutant runoff that can contaminate waterways.

Another important use of rangeland is for recreation. The open spaces and natural beauty make it ideal for outdoor activities, including hiking, fishing, hunting, biking, and driving off-road vehicles. Also, this vast land, with rolling landscapes and little vegetation to break up wind or shade the sun, provides a great location for renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power.

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