Grazinglands support the livelihoods of millions of people around the world, as well as supply critical ecosystem services. Communities reliant on rain-fed rangelands are potentially the most vulnerable to increasing climate variability given their dependence on highly climate-sensitive resources. Droughts, which are gradual natural hazards, pose substantial and recurrent economic and ecological stresses to these systems. This study examined management decision-making based on survey responses of 479 California ranchers to: (1) identify the types of drought strategies in-place across California’s rangelands and the operation variables driving strategy selection; and (2) examine how individual drought adaptation is enhanced by decision-making factors. Four types of in-place drought strategies were identified and ordered along a gradient of increasing intensity (number) of practices used. Significant background variables driving strategy selection were operation experience with drought, type of livestock operation, grazing system, and land ownership types. Information resource networks, goal setting for sustainable natural resources, and management capacity all acted to enhance individual drought adaptation—defined here by active drought planning and the number of both reactive and proactive drought practices used. Overall, analyses revealed that flexibility in management is a key component of adapting to and coping with drought. Climate policy planning should take into account the diversity of strategies that have been developed by ranchers for multiple generations and within the context of their unique operations, as well as support these working landscapes via a range of adaptation and mitigation options to reduce vulnerability across all types of operations.
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