Human Ecology

, Volume 45, Issue 3, pp 333–343 | Cite as

Pastoralist Decision-Making on the Tibetan Plateau

  • Emily T. YehEmail author
  • Leah H. Samberg
  • Gaerrang
  • Emily Volkmar
  • Richard B. Harris


Despite a growing body of research about rangeland degradation and the effects of policies implemented to address it on the Tibetan Plateau, little in-depth research has been conducted on how pastoralists make decisions. Based on qualitative research in Gouli Township, Qinghai province, China, we analyze the context in which Tibetan herders make decisions, and their decisions about livestock and pastures. We refute three fundamental assumptions upon which current policy is premised: that pastoralists aim to increase livestock numbers without limit; that, blindly following tradition, they do not actively manage livestock and rangelands; and that they lack environmental knowledge. We demonstrate that pastoralists carefully assess limits to livestock holdings based on land and labor availability; that they increasingly manage their livestock and rangelands through contracting; and that herding knowledge is a form of embodied practical skill. We further discuss points of convergence and contradiction between herders’ observations and results of a vegetation analysis.


Tibet Pastoralism Rangeland condition Livestock management Environmental knowledge 



We thank Pemabum for field assistance and the many herders in Gouli who patiently answered our questions over a number of years.

Compliance with Ethical Standards


This study was funded by the US National Science Foundation, Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems Program, Award 0815441.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Emily T. Yeh
    • 1
    Email author
  • Leah H. Samberg
    • 2
  • Gaerrang
    • 3
  • Emily Volkmar
    • 1
  • Richard B. Harris
    • 4
  1. 1.University of Colorado BoulderBoulderUSA
  2. 2.Institute on the EnvironmentUniversity of MinnesotaSaint PaulUSA
  3. 3.The Centre for Tibetan Studies of Sichuan UniversityChengduChina
  4. 4.Washington Department of Fish and WildlifeOlympiaUSA

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