Stanford University
Briana Swette

E-IPER Dissertation Defense - Briana Swette "Changing Land and People Across the High Divide: A Land Use Transition Analysis of the Rural American West"

Affiliates, Alumni, Faculty, Staff, Students
Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment & Resources

Virtual: Zoom Webinar


Rangelands are the most extensive land type on the planet and are also arguably the most transformed. Land use change, climate change, invasive species, and tree and shrub encroachment together create novel rangeland ecosystems that threaten the many services provided by these landscapes. In the American West, an important facet of change is the declining use of rangelands for ranching as exurban development expands. While it is tempting to view the removal of livestock from rangelands as a form of rewilding, the impacts of changing grazing regimes as part of a multi-faceted land use transition are uncertain. One response to rural change has been the emergence of collaborative governance processes to maintain working landscapes, but the possibility of these approaches to resolve conflicts on rangelands and guide rural transitions is still being tested.

Across three chapters, this dissertation seeks to understand the drivers, ecological impacts, and social responses of a multi-faceted land use transition on rangelands in the High Divide of the Northern Rocky Mountains. The first chapter uses historic US Forest Service management records to ask how and why public lands grazing has changed in Idaho’s High Divide since 1940. In the second chapter, I investigate how long-term changes in grazing regimes impacted conifer encroachment into rangelands through image analysis of very high-resolution aerial photos and a natural experimental approach. In the third chapter, I present a single case study of multi-stakeholder collaboration for public land planning in a context of political polarization and identify trade-offs that inform the design of collaborative governance efforts. The research together characterizes the complex social-ecological dynamics of a rural land use transition and provides insights to promote sustainable rangeland landscapes in an uncertain future.

IconsList of icons used on the sitemaillinkedindouble carrot leftarrow leftdouble carrotplayerinstagramclosecarrotquotefacebooktwitterplusminussearchmenuarrowcloudclock