KENYA — The vast, arid expanse of northern Kenya suits the capacity of the US Forest Service well. The landscape is not dissimilar from much of the American west and, appropriately enough, neither are the natural resource management challenges, most of which are inextricable from the region’s defining economic activity – livestock grazing. The landscape is home to the Northern Rangelands Trust, a homegrown, community-based organization that uses conservation to improve lives and secure peace and stability in a notoriously volatile environment. With support from USAID Kenya & East Africa, the US Forest Service partners with the NRT in a spirit of technical cooperation. Through this budding partnership, the US Forest Service contributes expertise to a suite of NRT priorities in natural resource management and capacity building.
A large team of USDA Forest Service specialists traveled to the NRT in April to advance this partnership across three themes: develop a novel, locally relevant curriculum for improved rangeland management at the grassroots level; advise on the management of invasive species that are compromising grazing lands; and analyze elephant movements in the interest of reducing human-wildlife conflict. The rangeland team included Boyd Hatch, rangeland management specialist on the Santa Rosa ranger district in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forests; Vicky Erickson, regional geneticist & native plant program manager in Pacific Northwest Region; and retiree Rick Forsman, former rangeland program leader for the Intermountain Region. Ramona Butz, Ph.D., Northern Province ecologist in Region 5 and Becky Estes, Ph.D., Central Sierra Province ecologist in Region 5, worked with NRT partners on management options to reduce the spread of Opuntia stricta (Prickly Pear), a rapidly spreading invasive that outcompetes native grasses. Mary Rowland, PhD., research wildlife biologist at La Grande Forestry & Range Sciences Laboratory, and Alan Ager, Ph.D., research forester at the Rocky Mountain Research Station, crunched data and interviewed close to 100 community members to better appreciate the dynamics of growing conflict between elephants and people in the agricultural lands around Marsabit National Park.