RANGELAND HEALTH

New Methods to Classify, Inventory, and Monitor Rangelands

Committee on Rangeland Classification

Board on Agriculture

National Research Council

NATIONAL ACADEMY PRESS
Washington, D.C.
1994



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Rangeland Health: New Methods to Classify, Inventory, and Monitor Rangelands RANGELAND HEALTH New Methods to Classify, Inventory, and Monitor Rangelands Committee on Rangeland Classification Board on Agriculture National Research Council NATIONAL ACADEMY PRESS Washington, D.C. 1994

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Rangeland Health: New Methods to Classify, Inventory, and Monitor Rangelands NATIONAL ACADEMY PRESS 2101 Constitution Avenue Washington, D.C. 20418 NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance. This report has been reviewed by a group other than the authors according to procedures approved by a Report Review Committee consisting of members of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. This material is based on work supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Extension Service, under Agreement No. 90-EXCA-1-0102 and the Ford Foundation under Grant No. 880-0604. Additional funding was provided by the National Research Council. Dissemination was supported in part by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Rangeland health : new methods to classify, inventory, and monitor rangelands / Committee on Rangeland Classification, Board on Agriculture, National Research Council. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. ) and index. ISBN 0-309-04879-6 1. Range management—United States. 2. Rangelands—United States. 3. Range ecology—United States. 4. Range management. 5. Rangelands. 6. Range ecology. I. National Research Council (U.S.). Committee on Rangeland Classification. SF85.3.R36 1993 333.74'0973—dc20 93-39567 CIP Copyright 1994 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the organizations or agencies that provided support for this project. Printed in the United States of America. First Printing, January 1994 Second Printing, January 1996

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Rangeland Health: New Methods to Classify, Inventory, and Monitor Rangelands COMMITTEE ON RANGELAND CLASSIFICATION Frank E. "Fee" Busby, Chair, Winrock International Institute For Agricultural Development, Morrilton, Arkansas John C. Buckhouse, Oregon State University Donald C. Clanton, University Of Nebraska (Retired) George C. Coggins, University Of Kansas Gary R. Evans, U.S. Department Of Agriculture, Arlington, Virginia Kirk L. Gadzia, Resource Management Services, Bernalillo, New Mexico Charles M. Jarecki, Rancher, Polson, Montana Linda A. Joyce, U.S. Forest Service, Fort Collins, Colorado Dick Loper, Prairie Winds Consulting Service, Lander, Wyoming Daniel L. Merkel, Soil Conservation Service, U.S. Department Of Agriculture, Denver, Colorado George B. Ruyle, University Of Arizona Jack Ward Thomas, U.S. Forest Service, Lagrande, Oregon Johanna H. Wald, Natural Resources Defense Council, San Francisco, California Stephen E. Williams, University Of Wyoming Staff Craig Cox, Senior Staff Officer Janet Overton, Editor Cristellyn Banks, Senior Secretary And Project Assistant

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Rangeland Health: New Methods to Classify, Inventory, and Monitor Rangelands BOARD ON AGRICULTURE Theodore L. Hullar, Chair, University Of California Philip H. Abelson, American Association For The Advancement Of Science John N. Antle, Montana State University Dale E. Bauman, Cornell University William B. Delauder, Delaware State College Susan K. Harlander, Land O'lakes, Inc. Paul W. Johnson, Natural Resources Consultant T. Kent Kirk, U.S. Forest Service James R. Moseley, Purdue University Donald R. Nielsen, University Of California George E. Seidel, Jr., Colorado State University Norman R. Scott, Cornell University Patricia B. Swan., Iowa State University John R. Welser, The Upjohn Company Frederic Winthrop, Jr., Ipswich, Ma Staff Susan E. Offutt, Executive Director James E. Tavares, Associate Director Carla Carlson, Director Of Communications Janet Overton, Editor

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Rangeland Health: New Methods to Classify, Inventory, and Monitor Rangelands Preface Proper use and management of our nation's natural resources has been a challenge since European settlement of this country began. Rangelands and related resources were damaged during settlement by erosion and loss of habitats through inappropriate use and unintentional mismanagement. During the 1890s through the 1930s, we as a society took actions to prevent further deterioration of our rangelands and to repair past damage. We placed large areas of rangeland in public trust and charged the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and other federal and state agencies to see that these lands are properly managed. We charged the Soil Conservation Service with the responsibility of helping private landowners improve management of their rangelands. We invested in research to improve our understanding of these complex ecosystems, established university programs to educate professional range managers, and established extension programs to provide continuing education programs for range users and agency personnel. Out of this developed a group of professionals—people and organizations dedicated to the proper management of the nation's rangelands. Because livestock production was, for most of this century, the primary use of rangelands, range managers favored strategies, treatments, and methods that improved the range for livestock. Since World War II, and more particularly during the last quarter century, Americans have looked to rangelands as important areas for recreation and have become more concerned about the environmental condition of the country's rangelands. Issues such as riparian zones, wilderness areas, biological diversity, threatened and endangered species, including wild horses and burros, dominate much of the concerned public's interest in rangelands. The current condition or quality of U.S. rangelands has been described by some as the best condition in this century and by others, using the     Thurber needlegrass (Stipa thurburiana)

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Rangeland Health: New Methods to Classify, Inventory, and Monitor Rangelands same data, as extremely abused and degraded. Agencies have used different methods to evaluate the ecological condition of rangelands and have interpreted the data gathered using the same method in different ways. These different interpretations have confused the public, Congress, range users, management agencies, and range scientists themselves. The Board on Agriculture of the National Research Council convened a committee in 1989 to examine the scientific basis of methods used by the Soil Conservation Service, Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Forest Service to inventory, classify, and monitor rangelands. The Committee on Rangeland Classification Systems was charged to analyze current and historical procedures used by federal agencies to assess rangelands; assess the success of current systems as tools for characterizing rangeland health and ecological condition; identify the primary scientific obstacles to developing improved systems; and make recommendations for improving systems to better characterize the health of the nation's rangelands. The committee completed its work through a series of meetings, field investigations, interviews with agency personnel, and discussions with other experts. The committee concluded that a standard method and a common data base for evaluating rangelands is needed—one that everyone can understand and use to make decisions about use and management of and investment in our rangeland resources. We are hampered in our ability to make decisions and progress because of our inability to answer questions about the condition or quality of our rangelands. This report describes an approach for evaluating the ecological health of rangeland ecosystems. The recommendations proposed by the committee are practical and applicable to the management of huge areas of land by people who have many, often conflicting, duties. This report recommends that the principal purpose of rangeland assessments should be to assess rangeland health and recommends the criteria and methods that should be used to make that assessment. Chapter 1 explains why the health of the nation's rangelands should be of concern to the public, policymakers, scientists, and ranchers. Chapter 2 defines the committee's concept of rangeland health and the role assessments of rangeland health should play in managing rangelands. Chapter 3 analyzes the suitability of the methods used to assess rangelands as measures of rangeland health. Chapter 4 outlines the criteria that should be used to assess rangeland health. Chapter 5 details the inventorying and monitor-

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Rangeland Health: New Methods to Classify, Inventory, and Monitor Rangelands ing systems needed to make national-level assessments of the health of federal and nonfederal rangelands. The strategy for evaluating rangeland health recommended in this report is a good first approximation of what is needed to do a better job of evaluating the ecological health of United States rangelands. The committee offers it to the profession of rangeland management and to society as a whole with this challenge: test it and change it, but do it in the same cooperative manner that this committee used to produce the strategy recommended in this report. Frank E. "Fee" Busby, Chair Committee On Rangeland Classification

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Rangeland Health: New Methods to Classify, Inventory, and Monitor Rangelands Acknowledgments The committee acknowledges the contributions of several individuals who helped prepare this report. Richard Wiles conceived and initiated this study and directed the committee's work during its first 2 years. The direction, support, and vision he provided during the early part of this study is an important reason for its success. Dr. Thadis W. Box chaired the planning meeting that preceded the initiation of this study. He and all the participants at the planning meeting helped define the topics, objectives, and methods that were used by the committee in completing this report. Numerous individuals within the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Soil Conservation Service and Forest Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management provided data, prepared presentations, organized field trips, and explained agency methods for the committee. The cooperation of this dedicated group of professionals was essential to the completion of this study. The committee also acknowledges the work of the staff of the Board on Agriculture. Craig Cox, Project Director, provided invaluable advice and direction during the final phase of this study. His energy and persistence helped the committee through a long, and sometimes difficult, process of reaching consensus. Cris Banks, Administrative Assistant, provided gracious and effective support, as did her predecessors, Suzanne Mason and Amy Gorena. Finally, Carla Carlson, Director of Communications; Janet Overton, Editor; and Michael Hayes, Editorial Consultant, provided editorial support. Their insistence on readability and quality are evident on every page of this report.     Rocky Mountain juniper (Juniperus scopulorum)

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Rangeland Health: New Methods to Classify, Inventory, and Monitor Rangelands The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Dr. Bruce M. Alberts is president of the National Academy of Sciences. The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964, under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. It is autonomous in its administration and in the selection of its members, sharing with the National Academy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal government. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encourages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievements of engineers. Dr. Robert M. White is president of the National Academy of Engineering. The Institute of Medicine was established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences to secure the services of eminent members of appropriate professions in the examination of policy matters pertaining to the health of the public. The Institute acts under the responsibility given to the National Academy of Sciences by its congressional charter to be an adviser to the federal government and, upon its own initiative, to identify issues of medical care, research, and education. Dr. Kenneth I. Shine is president of the Institute of Medicine. The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy's purposes of furthering knowledge and advising the federal government. Functioning in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy; the Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Bruce M. Alberts and Dr. Robert M. White are chairman and vice-chairman, respectively, of the National Research Council.

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Rangeland Health: New Methods to Classify, Inventory, and Monitor Rangelands Contents     EXECUTIVE SUMMARY   1     State of Rangeland Ecosystems   1     Purposes of National Assessments   3     Methods to Assess Rangeland Health   6     National Inventorying and Monitoring System   12     Transition to Rangeland Health   14     Challenge to Range Scientists and Managers   16 1   RANGELANDS ARE IMPORTANT   18     Rangeland Management and Uses   18     Concern About the State of U.S. Rangelands   21     Urgent Need for National Assessments   27 2   RANGELAND HEALTH   29     Goals for National Assessments   29     Standards for Rangeland Assessments   30     Role of Rangeland Health in Rangeland Management   47 3   CURRENT METHODS OF RANGELAND ASSESSMENT   51     Development of Current Theory and Practice of Rangeland Assessments   51     Current Agency Rangeland Assessment Theory and Practice   63     New Methods Needed to Assess Rangeland Health   82 4   CRITERIA AND INDICATORS OF RANGELAND HEALTH   97     Soil Stability and Watershed Function   98     Distribution of Nutrients and Energy   110     Recovery Mechanisms   120     Measurement and Evaluation of Indicators of Rangeland Health   123     Indian rice grass (Oryzopsis hymenoides)

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Rangeland Health: New Methods to Classify, Inventory, and Monitor Rangelands 5   INVENTORYING AND MONITORING RANGELAND HEALTH   134     Past Inventories of Rangelands   134     Current Inventorying and Monitoring Systems   146     National System of Inventorying and Monitoring Rangeland Health Is Needed   151     Notes   156     REFERENCES   158     APPENDIX   169     ABOUT THE AUTHORS   171     INDEX   174

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Rangeland Health: New Methods to Classify, Inventory, and Monitor Rangelands Tables And Figures TABLES 3-1   Average Production and Composition of Vegetation Produced on Three Soft Types in Box Elder County, Utah   68 3-2   Average Production and Composition of Vegetation Produced on Three Soils in Blain County, Idaho   70 3-3   Forage Production, Composition, and Frequency of Vegetation Produced on Two Exposures of a Silt Loam (Trevino soil) in Power County, Idaho   72 3-4   Determination of a Range Condition Rating for Middle Cobbly Lam Range Site (SCS) in Box Elder County, Utah   78 4-1   Surface Soil Characteristics of the Bureau of Land Management   106 4-2   Criteria and Indicators of Rangeland Health   108 4-3   Characteristics Important for Rangeland Health from Representative Soil Surveys   111 4-4   Land Areas Covered by Soft Surveys in 13 Western States (thousands of acres)   112 4-5   Rooting Depth in Prairie Soils   115 4-6   Indicators of Rangeland Health Currently Uses as Indicators of Range Condition, Ecological Status, or Apparent Trend   124 4-7   Relationship between Health Criteria and Thresholds   125 4-8   Rangeland Health Evaluation Matrix   130 FIGURES 1-1   Pie charts show percent of total U.S. land use and percent of rangeland ownership   19 1-2   Categorized by land use, the chart shows 1987 figures for percentage of land eroding ...   25     Crested wheatgrass (Agropyron cristatum)

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Rangeland Health: New Methods to Classify, Inventory, and Monitor Rangelands 2-1   A simple model of transitions along a continuum of rangeland health   38 2-2   Expanded model of transitions along a continuum of rangeland health   46 3-1   Comparison of actual plant composition with climax plant community composition for range condition rating   79 4-1   The pathways taken by rain falling on vegetated land   102 4-2   Diagram of a soil profile   103 4-3   Roots of different grassland plants draw their moisture from different soil layers   114 4-4   The loss of energy as it moves through trophic levels   116

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Rangeland Health: New Methods to Classify, Inventory, and Monitor Rangelands RANGELAND HEALTH

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