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An integrated approach to grazingland ecological assessments and management interpretations

David Toledo, Matt Sanderson, Jeffrey Herrick, Sarah Goslee
Journal of soil and water conservation 2014 v.69 no.4 pp. 110A-114A
community ecology, cropland, decision making, ecosystems, forage production, grasses, grassland soils, grazing, grazing lands, hydrology, land evaluation, land use change, livestock, pastures, plant ecology, range management, rangeland soils, rangelands, resource allocation, shrubs, vegetation, wildlife, United States
The status of grazinglands in the USA is increasingly dynamic with large areas being converted to cropland in response to demands for increased crop production. Here we focus on two types of grazinglands: rangelands and pasturelands. Rangelands are usually defined as natural ecosystems in which the native vegetation is predominantly grasses, grass-like plants or shrubs, and are generally used for grazing livestock and wildlife. Pasturelands are areas specifically managed for the production of forage (native or introduced) for grazing livestock. In the USA, rangelands and pasturelands have traditionally been assessed using different methods and indicators. These differences in assessment methods limit the ability to consistently apply land evaluations to land management across geographic boundaries and in areas undergoing land use change. Resource allocation and decision making at the national scale needs to be based on comparable metrics. We used a combination of qualitative and quantitative data to evaluate the potential for an integrated grazingland assessment approach based on common indicators. Comparisons of rangeland and pastureland assessment indicators suggested that there are significant relationships between many of the indicators in rangeland health and pasture condition scoring methods. However, there were differences, both in the indicators used and in assessments of seemingly common indicators. We suggest the need for a unified approach that captures the best from both the rangeland and pastureland assessment methods while taking into account ecosystem attributes and management objectives of the grazinglands where these methods are usually applied. The Interpreting Indicators for Rangeland Health protocol provides a way to assess and interpret soil and site stability, biotic integrity, and hydrologic function attributes based on ecological potential at a site. The Pasture Condition Scoring protocol provides a framework that could potentially be used to formalize management interpretations at a site based on ecological potential and based on management practices that could exceed the productive potential at a site. We propose that the strengths of the two protocols be integrated using a consistent framework to gather and interpret data, which will provide comparable metrics across all grazinglands.