Simplifying ecological site verification, rangeland health assessments, and monitoring

TitleSimplifying ecological site verification, rangeland health assessments, and monitoring
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2008
AuthorsHerrick JE, Bestelmeyer BT, Crossland K.
Accession NumberJRN00514
ARIS Log Number249842

During the past several decades, scientists and land managers in North America have increasingly recognized the importance of rangeland assessment relative to ecological potential based on soil and climate. The adoption of the site potential based “ecological site” system was recently formalized in a memorandum of understanding between the US Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. During the same period, integration of soil and vegetation indicators has led to the development and adoption of new assessment protocols, such as “Interpreting Indicators of Rangeland Health. “In addition to requiring ecological site identification based on soils, this protocol includes at least two indicators that require soil excavation: “soil surface loss or degradation” and “compaction layer.” The “pedestals and/or terracettes” indicator also sometimes requires excavation to determine whether erosion or deposition has resulted in the apparent elevation of plants relative to the soil surface. All three of these indicators can be difficult to assess in some ecological sites, and we have found that the best way to learn is through observation and comparison of a large number of soil profiles. Many monitoring protocols in the United States and Canada also include soil indicators. Some have even argued that, “If one agrees that a variety of current and potential plant communities can occur above a conservation threshold for a particular ecological site, then monitoring vegetation has to take a backseat to monitoring soils.”