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Nebraska has about 22.7 million acres (46% of land area) of native grassland including tallgrass, mixed and shortgrass communities. About one-half of Nebraska's grassland is the unique Sandhills, which is the largest stabilized sand-dune complex in the Western Hemisphere and one of the best cattle producing areas of the world. Native grasslands combined with the two million acres of seeded pastureland account for 50% of the total land area in the state. Including cropland harvested for hay or silage, more than 57% of Nebraska is devoted directly to grasslands and forage crops. The principal use of Nebraska's grasslands has been livestock production. The forage resources found on Nebraska's grasslands are the basis for the state's $6.5 billion cattle industry. The importance of other uses of Nebraska's grasslands (wildlife habitat, recreation, ecotourism and aquifer recharge) is being increasingly recognized and emphasized by a broad audience across the state.
The interdisciplinary undergraduate degree in Grassland Systems provides students with an interdisciplinary, holistic approach to the study of grasslands. Grasslands support a diversity of ecotypes, plant and animal communities, livestock production enterprises, recreational activities and many other uses. Students learn to integrate their knowledge of soil, water and vegetation attributes as well as economics and policy considerations into management of grasslands for a diversity of uses—from ranching to wildlife habitat to aquifer recharge. Grassland Systems has two options which provide students with the opportunity to focus on cattle management on grasslands (Grazing Livestock Systems) or to study more broadly the multiple ecosystem services on grasslands (Grassland Ecology and Management).
Grazing Livestock Systems Option
The Grazing Livestock Systems (or GLS) degree option was developed for students interested in the management of forage/livestock production operations or for those working in educational or industry roles with grazing livestock. The GLS option effectively integrates animal science, forage and range sciences and agricultural economics through a carefully designed curriculum, seminars, a required hands-on internship and a senior capstone experience. This option allows specialization in ruminant livestock, forage and range management or economics while preserving the systems orientation. The GLS faculty team is composed of two animal scientists, two forage and range scientists and one agricultural economist. An advisory group of industry professionals provide guidance for the program to stay up-to-date and relevant to real-world needs and trends.
Grassland Ecology & Management Option
The Grassland Ecology & Management (or GECM) degree option was developed for students interested in the management of rangeland, the world's most abundant type of land. About 45% of the world's land area and half of Nebraska's is classified as rangeland. These are ecosystems made up primarily of grassland that involve complex relationships among plants, animals, microorganisms and nonliving factors such as soil, water and climate. Students will study basic sciences, natural resources and range science. Rangelands have many uses, most commonly as a forage base for the large livestock industry. Proper range management is essential for sustaining livestock systems, biodiversity, wildlife habitat, quality recreation areas and watershed integrity. Effective range management conserves renewable resources and is a promising career dedicated to the sustenance of a crucial ecological system.