Rangeland degradation in Kazakhstan during the Soviet era: re-examining the evidence
The rangelands of Kazakhstan were historically used for nomadic pastoralism, with long migrations to make best use of the seasonal availability of pasture. In Soviet times, livestock production was intensified. From the 1970s concerns were raised in the Soviet literature about rangeland degradation, but very little was written about Kazakhstan's rangelands in the Western literature. Rangeland science in the Soviet system uses rather different methodologies to those in the West; this needs to be taken into account when comparing the two literatures. Here we use literature reviews, fieldwork and modelling to assess the likelihood that Kazakhstan's rangelands were overgrazed in Soviet times. We conclude that the extent of degradation of the pastures in our case study areas was probably lower than suggested in the literature, but that seasonal stock movement was essential to avoid degradation. Since independence, stock numbers have collapsed and stock movements are now limited. Recent field assessments suggest that the rangelands are in good condition. Kazakhstan's rangelands present a rare opportunity for the study of rangeland dynamics under dramatically changing stock numbers.