A special issue of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment looks for new 
solutions to old problems by pooling the knowledge of scientists, ranchers, 
feds, community groups, and tribes
Read this story online: 
Go to the ESA Frontiers special issue on Social-ecological systems in mountain 

Tension between the needs of cattle and fish is a source decades of controversy 
in northeast Oregon's Blue Mountains. Endangered bull trout, steelhead trout, 
Chinook salmon, and sockeye salmon require cold, clear water in mountain 
streams to thrive and reproduce. Cattle need these same streams for water, heat 
relief, and valuable streamside browse. But grazing cattle can muddy the water 
and trample eggs. Divisive, sometimes acrimonious, contention over livestock 
grazing on public lands has smoldered since the listing of salmon and trout 
species under the Endangered Species Act in the 1990s.

To tackle complex problems like improving the compatibility of cattle and fish, 
the social and ecological systems of mountains and their river basins must be 
approached holistically, say ecologists working with the Mountain Social 
Ecological Observatory Network<http://webpages.uidaho.edu/mtnseon/index.html> 
(MntSEON), a National Science Foundation funded initiative designed to build 
knowledge networks and foster resiliency in vulnerable mountain communities. 
Even defining problems to be solved, they argue, requires perspectives from 
ranching, community, and tribal groups, as well as insight from ecological 

The Blue Mountains case 
study<http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/fee.1751/full> is part of an 
open access special issue on "Social-ecological systems in mountain 
 published online in the Ecological Society of America's journal Frontiers in 
Ecology and the Environment.

"Socioecological Systems Science is the understanding and perspective of people 
on the landscape. Traditional ecology is focused on everything in the 
environment except for people-but that's changing. Landscape ecology is one 
sub-discipline that has seen the need to change. We need to look at 
relationships and the dynamic interplay between people, the environment, and 
ecosystems," said Andrew Kliskey, a professor at the University of Idaho.

Kliskey co-edited the special issue with his co-director at the University of 
Idaho's Center for Resilient Communities, Lilian Alessa, and Jim Gosz, emeritus 
professor at the University of Idaho.

"When you talk about people and the environment, it gets contentious. You have 
polarized views. We try to bring together different perspectives. Sometimes 
that leads you to having to do conflict resolution," Kliskey said. MtnSEON 
responded to the need to cope with discord by developing a curriculum for 
conflict management, which has grown into a popular course for middle managers 
within federal land management agencies.

The mountain landscapes of the American West are rich in fossil fuels, timber, 
fish, wildlife, and natural beauty, and host some the largest and most famous 
national parks, monuments, and protected wilderness. They are home to sizeable 
communities of Native Americans. Federal agencies govern large tracts of land 
in a part of the country where human inhabitants have long been few and far 

But change is coming with rapidly growing populations and increasing 
conversions of agricultural land to residential areas. In recent years, 
popularity with wealthy home buyers from outside these communities has shaken 
local economies. Booming energy sector speculation, combined with rising 
demands from growing urban centers and diversions to the Southwest, has put 
pressure on water sources. Wildfires are larger and more frequent, and warm 
winters have brought dramatic outbreaks of bark beetles.

Current strategies to protect fish habitat are imposed top-down by the 
government and present some serious disadvantages for ranchers, while benefits 
for fish are unclear. To break the deadlock, the MntSEON Blue Mountains working 
group talked in depth with stakeholders to develop new approaches, outlining 
potential benefits and barriers. They held meetings and interviews with with 
permit holders for the Umatilla, Wallowa-Whitman, and Malheur National Forests, 
where 70 percent of the land is allocated to grazing allotments, and with the 
US Forest Service personnel who manage the land, as well as community 
representatives and university extension agents. From these conversations, 
ideas like the use of range riders, flexible on and off dates for livestock, 
and redrawing or sharing across allotment boundaries emerged.

Upland watershed management decisions and economic activity can have outsized 
consequences for communities and ecosystems downstream. The Blue Mountains are 
part of the extensive Columbia River Basin, and the survival of salmon and 
trout is of great concern to the people who make their living from recreation 
centered on popular fish.

The Columbia is one of the most heavily managed river basins in the world. Its 
668,000 square kilometers sprawl over state and international borders between 
British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Nevada. Fifty-six 
hydroelectric dams span the Columbia, Snake, and other major tributaries in the 
basin. These barriers, combined with fishing, logging, and the effects of 
development have pushed several formerly abundant salmon and steelhead stocks 
to severe decline or disappearance. The US spends more than $1 billion annually 
on habitat restoration, primarily concentrated on fish.

Though grazing has been a focus for decades, habitat may not be the critical 
factor currently limiting recovery of these commercially valuable species. 
Release of hatchery fish, overfishing, and natural migrations stymied by dams 
may be undermining restoration efforts. The authors discuss the social and 
economic factors that complicate changes to management practices in the river 
basin. They revisit past successes, such as a controversial end to trout 
stocking in Montana in 1974 that succeeded in boosting trout abundance by 213 
percent within four years.

"You really can bring together people with polarized views if you do it 
carefully," Kliskey said. "But it takes time. You have to listen."

Liza Lester
Public Information Manager
Ecological Society of America
Washington, DC
(202) 833-8773 ext. 211

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