Rangeland acreage in California and globally

How many acres of rangeland are there in CA? (compiled by Point Blue staff)

Spiegal, S., Huntsinger, L., Hopkinson, P. and Bartolome, J., 2016. Range Ecosystems.  Pages 835-864 in Mooney, H., & Zavaleta, E. (Eds.). Ecosystems of California, University of California Press.

“Terms describing grazing and its land base can be confusing and are often inconsistently applied. Although range managers commonly use “rangeland” and “range” interchangeably, a useful distinction exists between the two terms. “Rangeland” is a type of land, generally delineated by vegetation. “Range,” in contrast, is land grazed by livestock. The term “pasture” is also used for lands grazed by livestock, and “range” is usually but not always synonymous with open or unfenced pasture (von Richthofen 1885).

A typical definition for rangeland is: Land on which the vegetation is predominately grasses, grasslike plants, forbs (herbaceous dicots), or shrubs, and which is managed as a natural ecosystem, even if the dominant plants are non-native. The vegetation may include scattered trees (canopy cover ≤30%). Rangelands include natural grasslands, savannas, shrublands, many deserts, tundras, alpine communities, marshes, and meadows (modified from Society for Range Management 1998).

One outcome from inconsistent definitions has been inaccurate numbers for both the extent of grazed lands and count of grazing livestock (Lund 2007), but range is estimated to cover between 50% to 70% of the earth’s land surface and 40% to 50% of the United States (Holechek et al. 2011). In California, rangelands cover approximately 60% of the land (23 million hectares [57 million acres]), while range covers about 33% (13.8 million ha [34 million acres]; Heady and Child 1994, FRAP 2010).”

Brown et al. (2004; attached) cites 56% of CA’s 100 million acres as rangeland.  Estimates vary, around half of the state can be considered rangeland.

Anywhere from 18 to 80% of terrestrial surface according to the published literature!  The author says this disagreement in accounting is due to different data sources, different considerations of the terrestrial surface (ice free, etc), and different definitions of rangeland.


This classification results in a total rangeland acreage of 62.9 million acres for California. The figure of 40 million acres of rangeland is often used, however that is not correct. California has about 40 million acres of grazed land. In 1988 the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection reported that about 41 million acres of California land was grazed and 17.9 million of those acres were privately owned and provided more than 90 percent of the state’s grazed forage (CDFF 1988).


California has more than 100 million acres of land, 38 million of which are range and pasture lands. Of these 38 million acres, approximately half are owned by the federal government, making many California ranchers heavily dependent on the availability of federal grazing permits.


California’s 41 million acres of precious rangelands is an economic, ecological and cultural resource that all Californians cannot afford to lose. The California Rangeland Trust works closely with landowners and the public to conserve and enhance the millions of acres of rangeland in California now and for future generations.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *