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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: Assessment, Conservation and Management of Rangelands in Transition

Location: Northwest Watershed Management Research

Project Number: 5362-13610-011-00
Project Type: Appropriated

Start Date: Feb 08, 2013
End Date: Feb 07, 2018

Objective:
Management goals on rangelands are often based on a perception that the ecosystem is unbalanced or disturbed. Prioritization of management requires assessment of existing disturbance, the potential for mitigation and/or restoration, and expected benefits from conservation practices. Management plans in public and private sectors increasingly require quantification and estimation of ecological and fiscal costs and benefits of proposed land treatments. Predictions of land treatment effects, potential conservation benefits, and the relevance of alternative treatment options are very complicated in a landscape with extremely high variability in soil, vegetation, weather, management, and disturbance regime. The project objectives all address these general issues relating to the spatial and temporal variability in landscape-scale disturbance, evaluation of management treatments and their effectiveness in the context of this variability, and developing adaptive and mitigating strategies for negative impacts of invasive annual grasses, juniper expansion, and potential climate change. Each component of this program includes new and innovative basic research; enhancement, testing and validation of predictive models; and development of technology-transfer applications for use by land management agencies and other rangeland resource managers, cooperators and partners. 1) Develop management tools for hydrologic and erosion assessment of the impacts of fire, weed-invasions, and conservation practices on Great Basin sagebrush steppe rangelands to aid public and private land managers in formulating conservation strategies and selecting effective conservation practices. 2) Develop decision-support tools that will improve the success of rangeland restoration projects in the Great Basin by integrating weather, climate, micro-climate and forecast data into ecological site descriptions and conservation practice models to reduce the risks of climatic uncertainties. 3) Develop adaptive grazing management strategies for shrub-steppe rangelands impacted by fire, juniper and other invasive weeds to improve livestock productivity while enhancing other ecosystems services.

Approach:
Rangeland resources across the Intermountain West have been severely impacted by range expansion of non-native and native weeds such as cheatgrass and juniper and altered natural wildfire regimes. Nonnative annual grass invasions into sagebrush steppe have established self-perpetuating increases in wildfire frequency and extent. At higher elevations, juniper encroachment into sagebrush steppe has occurred due to poorly-managed livestock grazing, fire suppression and climate change. Range expansion of these weeds and changes in the role of fire have negatively impacted upland and riparian ecosystem health, biodiversity, rates of runoff and erosion, livestock distribution and productivity, wildlife habitat and economic viability of rural communities. Land management agencies, nongovernmental organizations, private landowners and environmental groups across the West are seeking conservation strategies to mitigate and/or reverse negative effects of weed expansion. This project will develop management tools and guidelines to assist management of weed-disturbed rangelands under current and potential future climate conditions in the Great Basin. Specific products include: (1) management tools for assessing hydrologic/erosion risk and targeting of conservation practices; (2) weather and climate data processing tools and models for improving the success of rangeland restoration practices; and (3) guidelines for optimal management of livestock distribution and grazing behavior in intact and disturbed rangeland systems. Resultant benefits include potential savings of millions of dollars in wildfire mitigation, improved water quality by reducing sediment delivered to streams, reduced loss of forage for livestock and wildlife from cheatgrass and juniper invasion, improved species diversity and wildlife habitat, and greater livestock productivity from rangeland systems.

Last Modified: 8/29/2014
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