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History of Rangeland Monitoring in the U.S.A

West, Neil E.
Arid land research and management 2003 v.17 no.4 pp. 495-545
National Environmental Policy Act, USDA Forest Service, courts, forage, funding, land management, livestock, monitoring, nongovernmental organizations, planning, rangelands, soil, United States
Monitoring of rangelands in the western USA formally began in the U.S. Forest Service in the 1930s. Other federal land management and advisory agencies did not usually monitor their clients' public or private rangelands until after World War II. The initial focus was on the portion of vegetation that was livestock forage. Attention to soils generally came after World War II. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 changed the formerly independent role of the action agencies and gave the interested public means of input to and oversight on the actions of the managerial agencies. NEPA also gave the interested public leverage through the courts if a decision was not of their liking. The result has been near grid, lock on proactive management on public rangelands and diversion of a large portion of operating funds to planning. Availability of monitoring data for some locales is largely due to the foresight and persistence of particularly dedicated individuals. Lack of consistent and comparable monitoring procedures within and between the federal management, advisory, and regulatory agencies has made it impossible to conclude reliably what the overall condition and trends in conditions of our public rangelands are. There are currently many competing proposals before Congress to fund efforts at rangeland monitoring standardization. Many additional federal agencies and nongovernmental organizations are getting involved in this debate. By carefully reviewing the history of development of rangeland monitoring, it is possible to identify fatal flaws in previous approaches and suggest actions to avoid previous pitfalls during the forthcoming development of more defendable monitoring approaches at both local and national scales.