Rangeland degradation assessment: a new strategy based on the ecological knowledge of indigenous pastoralists
Abstract. In a changing world, the prevalence of land degradation is becoming a serious problem, especially in countries with arid and semi-arid rangelands. There are many techniques to assess rangeland degradation that rely on scientific knowledge but ignore indigenous people. Indigenous people have accumulated precious knowledge about land management through generations of experience. Therefore, a study was conducted to find out how indigenous people assess rangeland degradation and how their ecological knowledge can be used for rangeland degradation assessment. Interviews were conducted with the pastoralists of two sites (Dasht and Mirza Baylu), where part of both areas is located in Golestan National Park (north-eastern Iran). A structured questionnaire was designed based on 17 indicators taken from literature and also primary discussions with pastoralists in order to evaluate land degradation. A qualitative Likert five-point scale was used for scoring rangeland degradation indicators. The results revealed that pastoralists pay more attention to edaphic indicators than to vegetative and other indicators. There were significant differences between the inside and outside of the park in terms of rangeland degradation indicators for both sites. The results show that the rangelands outside of the park in both sites were degraded compared to those inside of the park, especially in the areas close to villages. It can be concluded that pastoralists have a wealth of knowledge about the vegetation and grazing animal habits that can be used in rangeland degradation assessment. It is therefore necessary to document their ecological indigenous knowledge and involve them in the process of rangeland-degradation assessment.