The Three Rivers Source Region of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is a key area that has extensive impacts on much of the population and economy of China as well as several Southeast Asian countries. The rangeland in this area has undergone degradation, the driving factors of which have been extensively investigated in previous studies. However, the effect of policy on rangeland was not analyzed by subdividing the study period according to the timing of the rangeland policies. The role of dry conditions during the process of degradation has not been studied. Therefore, the period from 1984 to 2009 was subdivided into five periods according to the timing of the relevant government policies based on long-term field investigation. The mean annual normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) and its relationship to dry conditions, policy, temperature, precipitation, and moisture index were analyzed for the five periods. According to our analysis, dry conditions mainly occurred in non-vegetation-growing months, and they did not affect the status of the rangeland. The privatization of rangeland and livestock caused the number of livestock to increase, resulting in a decrease in the mean annual NDVI from 1984 to 1993. The policies of “Green-to-Grain” and eco-migration caused livestock numbers to decrease and the NDVI to increase after 1994. Physical factors such as temperature, precipitation, and moisture also affected the status of the rangeland. Increased temperature had positive effects on rangeland in most areas, but its effect was offset by increased numbers of livestock from 1984 to 1993. Precipitation had positive effects only in drier areas in which the precipitation in the vegetation-growing months was less than 400 mm. In general, the policies of “Green-to-Grain” and eco-migration improved the status of rangeland, and helped improve sustainable use of the rangeland. The methods used in this study could be applied to other case studies of rangeland. Governments should continue to implement compensation policies to maintain the improved condition of rangeland in the area and expand those policies to other rangeland areas.
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