Methods for assessing the health of America's rangelands

TitleMethods for assessing the health of America's rangelands
Publication TypeConference Proceedings
Year of Publication1999
AuthorsShaver P.L., Pellant M., Pyke D., Herrick JE
EditorLawrence P.A., Robinson J.
Conference NameProceedings of the 2nd International Conference on Multiple Objective Decision Support Systems for Land, Water and Environmental Management (MODSS 99)
VolumeReport QNRM02143
Date Published2002
PublisherQueensland Department of Natural Resources and Mines
Conference LocationBrisbane, Australia
ISBN Number0 7345 2668 7
ARIS Log Number157298
Keywordsassessment, common method, health, indicators, rangelands
AbstractSince the publication of the National Research Council's 'RANGELAND HEALTH ' New Methods to Classify, Inventory, and Monitor Rangelands,' and the Society for Range Management report by the Unity in Concepts and Terminology Committee, there has been much activity toward developing a common method to assess rangelands in the United States. Many individuals from several different federal and state agencies have worked together to develop a multi-indicator matrix to determine the 'health' status of rangelands. Healthy rangelands have been defined as: The degree to which the integrity of the soil, the vegetation, the water, and the air, as well as the ecological processes of the rangeland ecosystem, are balanced and sustained. The site potential is the standard by which 'health' is judged. A rangeland ecological site must be judged against itself and not against an arbitrary standard or that of a different ecological site. It is apparent that a multi-indicator method of evaluation is necessary. Currently, the evaluation consists of a series of observational questions, some of which can be answered by observation or measurement. Characteristics such as canopy and ground cover, dominant plant species, invasive and noxious plants, and composition of functional/structural plant groups can be measured or observed. The observable data are arranged in a matrix with 17 indicators. Each indicator is compared against the rangeland ecological site description and reference areas that represent the natural range of variability in the ecological site. Each indicator is rated on a sliding scale of five choices from most similar to most dissimilar to the ecological site. Similarity is referenced to the ecological site description and the reference areas. Interagency personnel, universities, scientists, and landowners have tested this methodology in the field in several locations. The indicators have been grouped into three attributes of rangeland health. The three attributes give an indication of the soil or site stability, hydrologic function and biotic integrity of the site. The indicators currently include: rills, water flow patterns, pedestals or terracettes, bare ground, gullies, wind-scoured areas, litter movement, soil surface resistance to erosion, soil surface loss, plant community composition and distribution relative to infiltration and runoff, compaction layer, plant functional/structural groups, plant mortality, litter amount, annual production, invasive plants, and perennial plant reproductive capability. The ratings for each indicator are recorded in a manner that allows for a visual interpretation based on the preponderance of evidence.