Skip to main content

Layne Coppock

Department of Environment and Society

Research Highlights

Overview: A Global Perspective and My Shift from Ecology to People and Ecology

My professional goal has always been to address important problems related to the use and conservation of natural resources and make positive, meaningful contributions to society at-large. My scholarship is diverse and emphasizes applied work. Over the past 35 years I have gradually transitioned from an initial focus on rangeland ecology in my graduate studies to an emphasis on the human dimensions of rangelands and small-farm systems. “People problems” now get my full attention. This intellectual transition makes perfect sense to me.

The main places where I have worked are the dry rangelands of the temperate and subtropical world, from South Dakota to Kenya, Ethiopia, the Bolivian Andes, and Utah. I am attracted to these places because I find the landscapes remote and beautiful and the people and production systems interesting. Despite the beauty and ecological importance of rangelands, however, they hide an unfortunate secret—rangelands are home to many destitute and marginalized populations.  Below (left to right): Red-rock country of southern Utah; camels in Turkana, Kenya; the Bolivian altiplano.

The technical range and animal science professions have conducted decades of research with an eye towards improving the well-being of pastoralists, ranchers, and the like, but I think it is obvious we have struggled to make a positive impact on this clientele—especially overseas. Many rangeland dwellers seem to be in a more precarious situation today than they were a few decades ago. We have had a historical focus on production, with less attention to risk management, human welfare, and natural resource stewardship.
To me, the core of the problem is that scientists have not adequately included rangeland inhabitants as equal players in the research process. Including ranchers, pastoralists, and other stakeholders creates new sources of knowledge and opportunities for impact. My work—at least in a modest way—is an attempt to redress some of this imbalance. Things like poverty mitigation, drought management, and using collaborative processes to better manage scarce natural resources are prominent themes in my research agenda. I also strive to increasingly employ action-oriented methods to involve stakeholders and better engage society in the process of addressing complex problems. Some examples of my research involvements follow, with my most recent efforts described first.

It is notable that I am most proud of my achievements in southern Ethiopia, where I feel I have been able to make a real difference. This required a long-term commitment. It also would not have been possible without the assistance of many dedicated people. I was also lucky to be “in the right place at the right time.” The Pastoral Risk Management (PARIMA) project was conducted in East Africa from 1997-2009, and my most important Ethiopian work was conducted then. The project is described later.

A Brief Look at the Beginning (before Utah State University):
Wildlife Grazing Interactions, Livestock Nutritional Ecology, Systems Analysis

Some key publications are listed below that are based on work that preceded my employment at Utah State University in 1991. They illustrate my original background in rangeland ecology, animal science, and system dynamics, with some initial forays into the behavior of pastoralists. The work in South Dakota and Turkana, Kenya, was conducted when I was a graduate student at the Natural Resource Ecology Lab (NREL) at Colorado State University, while the Ethiopian work was conducted when I was a research staff member of the International Livestock Center for Africa (ILCA of the CGIAR) in Addis Ababa.  Below (clockwise): Wind Cave bison; Turkana pastoralists with me,1981; friends with me at ILCA, 1991, observing camels in Turkana, Kenya.

Some key publications:

Coppock, D. L., and S. Sovani. 1999. Is supplementation justified to compensate pastoral calves for milk restriction? Journal of Range Management 52:208-217.

Coppock, D. L.  1994. The Borana Plateau of Southern Ethiopia: Synthesis of Pastoral Research, Development and Change 1980 91. Systems Study No. 5. International Livestock Centre for Africa, Addis Ababa. 374 pp.

Coppock, D. L. 1992. Culture, environment, technology: Development interventions in pastoral Ethiopia. National Geographic Research & Exploration 8(3):296-307.

Holden, S. J., and D. L. Coppock. 1992. Effects of distance to market, season and family wealth on pastoral dairy marketing in Ethiopia. Journal of Arid Environments 23: 321-334.

Coppock, D. L., J. E. Ellis, and D. M. Swift. 1986. Livestock feeding ecology and resource utilization in a nomadic pastoral ecosystem. Journal of Applied Ecology 23(2): 573 584.

Coughenour, M. B., J. E. Ellis, D. M. Swift, D. L. Coppock, K. Galvin, J. T. McCabe, and T. C. Hart. 1985. Energy extraction and use in a nomadic pastoral ecosystem. Science 230 (4726): 619-625.

Coppock, D. L., J. K. Detling, J. E. Ellis, and M. I. Dyer. 1983. Plant  herbivore interactions in a North American mixed grass prairie. I. Effects of black tailed prairie dogs on intraseasonal aboveground plant biomass and nutrient dynamics and plant species diversity. Oecologia 56: 1-9.

Coppock, D. L., J. E. Ellis, J. K. Detling, and M. I. Dyer. 1983. Plant herbivore interactions in a North American mixed grass prairie. II. Responses of bison to modification of vegetation by prairie dogs. Oecologia 56: 10-15.

Summaries of Research Projects Conducted While at Utah State University (most recent projects described first)

Can Ethiopian Pastoralists Adapt to Climate Change and Human Population Pressure?

Answer:  Maybe, but we need to find out how. 

The southern rangelands of Ethiopia are being subjected to warmer and drier climatic conditions.  The rangelands have also endured widespread bush encroachment that has resulted in more woody browse cover relative to that for grasses.

I am the lead PI on a new, 3-year project funded by the USAID Livestock and Climate Change Collaborative Research Support Program (LCC-CRSP).  The project will run from 2012 to 2015.   It will have several research components.

Several ideas have been forwarded to help the Boran pastoralists better adapt to this situation.  One idea is to facilitate the species diversification of Boran livestock herds—traditionally dominated by grazing cattle—to include more browsing camels and goats.  There are also concerns that several decades of heavy grazing pressure have reduced the productivity of the herbaceous vegetation and thus the production system is no longer sustainable.

Part of this negative condition-and-trend dilemma for the rangelands is due to the traditional, common- property management system.  While this system has been suitable for sustaining the pastoralists and the vegetation for many generations, this was only true as long as human populations were low and dry-season water for livestock was limiting.  Today, however, human populations often exceed the carrying capacity for arid areas and water is less limiting due to water development.

The pastoralists are reportedly attempting to alter their traditional system by changing some of the customary rules for grazing access and by seeking ways to diversify livelihoods that allow people to either leave the pastoral system or at least reduce their dependency on livestock production.  Some pastoralists are also actively engaged in a process of rangeland enclosure using bush fencing.

In this project we will investigate the opportunities to diversify herds and better manage the rangelands. Our approach will involve both top-down and bottom-up elements. The top-down element will include social survey as well as technical observations of plants and animals and
analytical modeling work. The bottom-up elements will include Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) and focus groups to reveal recent pastoral management innovations and whether such Innovations could be used more effectively to improve the trajectory of livestock production.   A stakeholder network will be created to help guide the effort. Attention will be given to building capacity among Ethiopian researchers, policy makers, and the pastoralists themselves to promote sustainability of range livestock systems. Below (left and right): Images from the Borana Plateau of southern Ethiopia.

Can Nepalese Small-Farm Communities Adapt to Climate Change?

Answer: Maybe, but we need to find out how. The western region of Nepal is expected to suffer from increasing risk of drought in the coming years as one effect of global climate change. This area is home to high-density, small-farm systems on the foot slopes of the Himalayas.

I am a co-principal investigator on a new, 3-year project funded by the USAID Livestock and Climate Change Collaborative Research Support Program (LCC-CRSP). The project will run from 2012 to 2015 and will have several research components. It is led by a climatologist who studies how global climate change affects local-level communities worldwide. I have a small component of this project that is focused on understanding the opportunities and constraints for small-farm communities to adapt to increasing dryness. I will collaborate with a local NGO—Helen Keller International—in this effort. We will employ participatory methods to help communities undergo self-diagnosis and identify sustainable adaptation pathways. Some adaptation options may include collective action, livelihood diversification, and other capacity-building processes that I helped implement to build drought resilience in southern Ethiopia as part of the Pastoral Risk Management (aka PARIMA) project from 1997-2009. The PARIMA project is described later in this section. Below (left and right): Small-farm images from Nepal.

Can Utah Communities Mobilize to Control Invasive Weeds?

Answer: Maybe, but we need to find out. Invasive, noxious weeds are an important problem world-wide. They can rapidly take-over landscapes, poison livestock, and create other problems. Weeds are an example of a slow-onset, creeping hazard. At first people do not realize weeds are present, and efforts to eradicate weeds are often delayed until the plants are well-established and clearly recognized as a threat. By then weed control can become time consuming and expensive.

I am a co-principal investigator on a new project funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to conduct a case study concerning how the rural community of Paradise, Utah, perceives the risk of invasion from weeds such as Medusahead and the measures residents are willing to undertake to control them. Such information will help in the design of community outreach programs concerning weed management. I am working with a USU team of animal scientists, extension personnel, and economists on this project. There are no publications yet from this effort.  Below (left to right): noxious weeds; Paradise, Utah.

Could Carbon Sequestration Programs be Viable Options for Utah Ranchers?

Answer: Maybe, but for now it looks difficult. Climate change is upon us, and world-wide research confirms that human society is the major cause. Efforts are thus underway in many agro-ecosystems to promote carbon sequestration to help offset greenhouse gas emissions. Farming systems have received the most attention in this regard, and rangelands have tended to be left out of the loop.

I recently received funding from the Utah Agricultural Experiment Station as a principlal investigator to come up with some preliminary estimates of carbon budgets for Utah ranches and assess the trade-offs between enhanced carbon sequestration and the likely changes that would need to occur in terms of land management. For this work we are relying on analytical modeling and literature review, involving a small team of social scientists and ecologists. We are also interested in the level of awareness and prevailing attitudes that Utah ranchers have towards climate change issues and possible carbon-sequestration initiatives. For this latter effort another state-wide social survey has been used to generate preliminary findings.  Below (left to right): sagebrush maybe an important means to store carbon; cattle grazing may need to be lessened to enhance carbon sequestration. 

We currently have no publications from this project, but one manuscript on rancher awareness/attitudes will be submitted to a journal soon. A non-copyrighted conference abstract by Coppock et al. (2011) can be found in my Selected Works at

Are Utah Ranchers Prepared for Big Droughts? 

Answer: They are improving, but the margin for error is getting smaller. I am also funded by the Utah Agricultural Experiment Station as a principal investigator on a study of drought management behavior among Utah ranchers. Recurrent drought is a serious problem in the western USA, but little is known as to how ranching communities cope with drought effects. Are ranchers actively improving their level of drought preparedness over time, or are do they passively deal with what comes, and hope for a government bailout?

Using the last major drought from 1999-2004 as a focal point for analysis, state-wide surveys have been conducted in 2009 and 2010 to assess the production impacts of drought, the types of assistance received by ranchers in the past, and how ranchers are altering their preparedness for future drought. The impacts of the 1999-2004 drought were indeed severe, with 75% of survey respondents reporting major financial losses. Those unscathed by drought typically had access to permanent water sources. Ranchers used a wide variety of emergency options to cope with the 1999-2204 drought, and they largely felt they were unprepared.

In recent years, however, the situation has reportedly changed. My research has documented a significant shift in the population with respect to drought preparedness. About 40% of ranchers now self-score themselves as “better prepared” than before, thanks in part to their enrollment in a growing array of government-sponsored, risk-management initiatives. Many have also engaged in pro-active behaviors such as stocking-rate reduction and livelihood diversification plans. In contrast to some prevailing thought, there is little evidence that ranchers are waiting for a crisis bailout.  Below (left to right): rancher and drought, U.S. drought monitor map on the internet.

Challenges still remain, as the ranching population tends to be elderly with low incomes. The financial consequences of being a poor manager are becoming more severe. Another survey indicates that attempts to spur further adoption of drought-preparedness interventions may be difficult. What is needed most—of course—are better climatology tools to predict the onset and duration of drought periods. 

I currently have two publications listed below on this project. Two non-copyrighted conference abstracts/posters by Coppock (2010) and Coppock (2011) can be found in my Selected Works at 

Coppock, D.L. (2011). Ranching and multi-year droughts in Utah: Production impacts, risk perceptions, and changes in preparedness. Rangeland Ecology and Management 64:607:618.

Coppock, D.L., D. Snyder, L. Sainsbury, M. Amin, and T. McNiven. 2009. Intensifying beef production on Utah private land: Productivity, profitability, and risk. Rangeland Ecology and Management 62:253-267.

How do Small Farmers and Pastoralists Cope with Dwindling Natural Resources in Eastern Africa? 

Answer: They often cope better than you might expect, but some interventions are needed. Between 2009 and 2010 I had three doctoral students complete their studies that variously dealt with how East Africans in rural areas cope with an increasing scarcity of key resources and manage social and environmental change. The studies also investigated resilience dynamics of households.

The student working in Tanzania was supported from several sources including the Walton Family Foundation, the International Community Foundation, and the Global Livestock Collaborative Research Support Program (GL-CRSP) of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The Kenya study was largely supported by the  SUMAWA project of the GL-CRSP. The Ethiopian research was supported by the Wildlife Trust, the African Wildlife Foundation, and the GL-CRSP. Publications from the dissertations are in preparation. Dissertation titles listed below provide some background detail.

Fubusa, Yared. 2010. Conservation from the bottom-up: Human, financial, and natural capital as determinants of resilient livelihoods in Kigoma Rural, Tanzania. Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Environment and Society, Utah State University. 439 pp.  Below (left to right): Kigoma landscape, focus group discussion.

Huckett, Stephen. 2010. A comparative study to identify factors affecting adoption of soil and water conservation practices among smallhold farmers in the Njoro river watershed of Kenya. Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Environment and Society, Utah State University.  278 pp.  Below (left to right): Njoro watershed landscape, Huckett and field staff.

Kebede, Almaz. 2009. Sustaining the Allideghi grasslands of Ethiopia: Influences of pastoralism and vegetation change. Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Wildland Resources, Utah State Univeristy. 318 pp.  Below (left to right): Pastoral women clearing invasive Prosopis, the endangered Grevy's zebra at Allideghi.

Can Risk Management be Improved for East African Pastoralists?

Answer: Yes, especially via livelihood diversification, capacity building, and livestock market development. I served as the lead principal investigator of the Pastoral Risk Management (PARIMA) project from 1997 to 2009. The project operated in southern Ethiopia and north-central Kenya. It was conducted under the auspices of the Global Livestock Collaborative Research Support Program (GL-CRSP) of USAID. The management entity for the GL-CRSP was at the University of California, Davis. I spearheaded the initial proposals and helped oversee a variety of research, training, and outreach activities as conducted by four US universities, one Kenyan university, and two government research agencies in Ethiopia and Kenya.

The project was very large—essentially a consortium—with many “moving parts.” We obtained about six million dollars in funding support overall, including core and leveraged resources. Over 20 workshops were held. Dozens of peer-reviewed papers (and several books) have been published. Dozens of students received advanced degrees. And many thousands of local people—pastoralists, policy makers, and development agency staff—benefitted from outreach and capacity-building opportunities. Here I focus on the core research that I led or collaborated most heavily in. This work was conducted in direct partnership with African team members of the PARIMA project, researchers from national organizations, and local stakeholders.  Below (left to right): PARIMA team meeting in Ethiopia, 1998; Boran community meeting in Ethiopia, 2002.

My work on the PARIMA project facilitated my personal transition from being a more conventional, “top-down” scientist to one who now strongly values more “bottom-up, engaged research.” Engaged research is participatory and problem oriented. It involves multiple stakeholders. It is founded on knowledge sharing among equals—in this case scientists, pastoralists, development agents, and policy makers.

The goal of the project was to determine ways to help rangeland dwellers in East Africa reduce poverty and improve lives via better risk management. It had long been known that East African rangelands have been challenged by high populations of people and livestock; they are also typically ecologically degraded. Opportunities to boost forage and livestock productivity are few. Variable rainfall and heavy stocking rates have considerable effects on primary production, thus attempts to introduce new plants or animal breeds face many obstacles. Recurrent drought decimates livestock numbers, and this magnifies poverty by reducing per capita assets and increasing the risk of food shortages and famine. Instead of attempting to boost productivity, we wanted to find ways to help local people diversify their livelihoods and hence reduce their vulnerability. 

For nearly a decade we undertook a novel, exploratory process that resulted in livelihood diversification and empowerment of upwards of 14,000 pastoralists on Ethiopia’s Borana Plateau. The emerging leaders in all this were pastoral women who had been previously marginalized. Given an opportunity and vision to excel, they responded in an amazing fashion. The process we followed had several steps: (1) Determining local problems and solution pathways via participatory rural assessment (PRA) techniques; (2) having Ethiopian women leaders meet successful peers from northern Kenya; and (3) engaging in stepwise, stakeholder-directed efforts to build human capacity in practical ways via short courses, regional tours, and other experiences. This was focused on building human and social capital. The key ingredients of capacity building included: peer inspiration, collective action, non-formal (adult) education, microfinance, and livestock marketing. We later conducted careful research to assess the impact of capacity building on many aspects of human welfare including drought management, livelihood diversification, use of innovative technology, and the like.  Below (left to right): Boran women's group;  PARIMA outreach team awarded an ESAP gold medal in 2007; me at the 2011 International Rangeland Congress in Rosario, Argentina, speaking about the project.    

Below a few key (copyrighted) publications are listed, and those from 2002 and 2004 are from the USU doctoral dissertation by Solomon Desta, who finished his degree with me in 1999. Other manuscripts have been recently submitted or are in preparation (see the CV). A 15-minute professional film by journalist Robert Caputo gives an overview of project achievements, and this can be viewed at

I also am an author on 25 GL-CRSP Research Briefs from 2001 to 2009, a GL-CRSP booklet on action-research methodology (2010), and an invited proceedings paper for the IX International Rangelands Congress (2011) providing other details. Two of these titles are listed below. All can be found at 

Some key publications:

Coppock, D.L., S. Desta, S. Tezora, and G. Gebru.  2011.  Capacity Building Helps Pastoral Women Transform Impoverished Communities in Ethiopia.  Science 334 (6061): 1394-1398.

Coppock, D.L., S. Tezera, S. Desta, and G. Gebru. (2012). Achieving Development Impact among Pastoral and Agro-pastoral People: Lessons Learned in Southern Ethiopia, 2000-2009. Published by the Ethiopian Society for Animal Production (ESAP), Addis Ababa, 6-8 pp.  (to be available at

Coppock, D.L. 2010. Action Research, Knowledge & Impact: Experiences of the Global Livestock CRSP Pastoral Risk Management Project in the Southern Ethiopian Rangelands. Research Monograph, Global Livestock Collaborative Research Support Program (GL-CRSP), University of California, Davis. 37 pp.
Coppock, D.L., S. Desta, S. Tezera, and G. Gebru. 2009. An innovation system in the rangelands: Using collective action to diversify livelihoods among settled pastoralists in Ethiopia. Pages 104-119 (Chapter 7) in Innovation Africa: Enriching Farmer’s Livelihoods. Waters-Bayer, A., C. Wettasinha, J. Njuki, P. Sanginga, and S. Kaaria (eds.). EarthScan Publications, London.

Wayua, F., M. Shibia, M. Mamo, D. Bailey, and D.L. Coppock (2009). Willingness to pay for improved milk sensory characteristics and assurances in northern Kenya using experimental auctions. International Food and Agribusiness Management Review 12(3):69-88.  

Desta, S., G. Gebru, S. Tezera , and D.L. Coppock. 2006. Linking pastoralists and exporters in a livestock marketing  chain: Recent experiences from Ethiopia. Chapter 7 (pp. 109-127) in J. McPeak and P. Little (eds.) Pastoral Livestock Marketing in Eastern Africa: Research and Policy Challenges.  ITDG Publishing, United Kingdom.

Lybbert, T., C. Barrett, S. Desta, and D.L. Coppock. 2004. Stochastic wealth dynamics and risk management among a poor population. The Economic Journal 114: 750-777.   

Desta, S., and D.L. Coppock. 2004. Pastoralism under pressure: Tracking system change in southern Ethiopia. Human Ecology 32(4): 465-486.

Desta, S., and D.L. Coppock. 2002. Cattle population dynamics in the southern Ethiopian rangelands, 1980-97. Journal of Range Management 55: 439-451.

Little, P., K. Smith, B. Cellarius, D.L. Coppock, and C.B. Barrett.  2001.  Avoiding disaster: Diversification and risk management among East African herders.  Development and Change

What Limits Innovative Management by Utah Ranchers?

Answer: An aging population and lack of economic incentives. Upon my arrival at Utah State University in the early 1990s I wanted to see to what extent recommended livestock and range management practices were being effectively used by Utah ranchers. In subsequent work I investigated what factors most limited Utah ranchers from adopting more innovative practices. Two graduate-student projects were completed in these efforts that primarily relied on social survey methods. We concluded that Utah ranchers were not at all homogenous and could be categorized in five distinct socioeconomic groups. These groups varied with respect to dependence on federal grazing permits and in the degree that profit or hobby motivations affected production decisions. Practices that had lower risk were more likely to be adopted by Utah ranchers. Use of formal grazing rotations was lower than anticipated. In the second study we concluded that aging of the ranching population and unfavorable investment factors were important constraints that affected range and ranch management innovation.  Below (left to right): cartoon of the diverse ranches in Utah, an older rancher with his animals.

Some key publications:

Peterson, R.S., and D.L. Coppock. 2001. Economics and demographics constrain investment in Utah private grazing lands. Journal of Range Management 54(2):106-114.

Coppock, D.L., and A.H. Birkenfeld. 1999. Use of livestock and range management practices in Utah. Journal of Range Management 52:7-18. 

Can Agropastoralism be Sustained in the Bolivian Highlands?  

Answer: Yes, especially via livelihood diversification, capacity building, and strengthening rural/urban connections. Upon my arrival in Utah I became a co-principal investigator on a USU project with the Small Ruminant Collaborative Research Support Program (SR-CRSP), also supported by USAID. The project was focused on the altiplano of Bolivia. The team—representing a several US and Bolivian institutions—studied the determinants of sustainability for an impoverished agro-pastoral community at San José Llanga, located within 100 miles of the major metropolis of La Paz.  Below (left to right): SR-CRSP Bolivia team, Alpaca at Cosapa, child herders at San Jose de Llanga. 

As with other CRSP projects, the work in Bolivia produced a number of research publications. One key finding was that the community was very adaptable in response to ecological and economic change; the residents had long-been forging important urban connections that complemented their rural production system founded on sheep, potatoes, and the indigenous cereal called quinoa. Perhaps the most important long-term impact in this project was training a cadre of about 20 young Bolivian students in disciplines that included sociology, economics, rangeland ecology, soils, agronomy, and animal science. The students gained valuable experience engaging the San José community. One of the major post-project endeavors of the students was to form their own professional consulting firm, Eco-Andina.

I co-edited a major synthesis volume for the project in English with co-principal investigator Corinne Valdivia, and we also produced a condensed summary version in Spanish. Both are available from My journal publications from the project include two listed below that resulted from graduate-student work in a more remote community called Cosapa where alpaca and llama production dominated. This effort blended social and ecological sciences.

Some key publications:

Buttolph, L., and D.L. Coppock. 2004. Influence of deferred grazing on vegetation dynamics and livestock productivity in an Andean pastoral system. Journal of Applied Ecology. 41: 664-674.

Buttolph, L.P., and D.L. Coppock. 2001. Intensified alpaca production leads to privatization of key grazing resources in Bolivia. Rangelands 23(2):10-13.

Other Projects

The projects described above constitute my core body of work. My CV, however, lists more publications and projects. Occasionally I have become involved in other topical areas outside my expertise depending on student interest, student needs, and funding availability. These situations have typically focused on master’s students. Two such thesis titles are given below; the first deals with urban ecology and green design in the USA, while the second deals with conflict management associated with mechanized recreation in the red-rock country of southern Utah.

Thorley, Margaret. 2011. Linked human health and ecological impacts of community design: Overview of literature and implications for research. M.S. thesis (Plan B), Department of Environment and Society. 44 pp

Thomas, Marianne. 2006. Building sustainable recreation-planning decisions on federal lands: The role of “authentic” public participation in southern Utah. M.Sc thesis, Department of Environment and Society. 141 pp.