Submitted to: Rangeland Ecology and Management
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: August 28, 2012
Publication Date: November 1, 2012
Citation: Monaco, T.A., Jones, T.A., Thurow, T.L. 2012. Identifying rangeland restoration targets: an appraisal of challenges and opportunities. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 65:599-605. Interpretive Summary: Rangeland restoration is an ambiguous topic for scientists and policymakers, in part because the terms rangeland, degradation, and restoration are each broadly interpreted in the scientific literature. Consequently, negotiating funding, methods, scale, and defining success of management and regulatory activities are fraught with communication hazards. These pose threats to consensus, efficacy, and regulatory oversight. For example, estimates of the global area occupied by rangeland in peer-reviewed literature vary from 18 to 80% and the percentage of rangelands identified as degraded varies from 20% to 73% (Lund 2007). Degradation also has both a historical and contemporary component, which may be exacerbated by changing climate, desertification, and extractive land uses (Asner et al. 2004; Archer and Predick 2008; Han et al. 2008). The complexity of rangelands, and the unique challenges associated with managing these ecosystems calls for a careful assessment of how we as stewards can assist with reducing degradation and initiate recovery of damaged rangelands.
Technical Abstract: A common challenge to initiating restoration on rangelands is identifying realistic restoration targets. This challenge must be confronted if ecological restoration and rangeland management are to be fully integrated so that timely interventions can assist the recovery of degraded rangelands. To assist in this integration, we first discuss the primary challenges to identifying realistic restoration targets, which include long-term managerial and monetary commitments, adaptive flexibility, and the need to accommodate inherent rangeland complexities stemming from both social and ecological factors. To counterbalance these challenges, we illustrate that ecological restoration activities can accommodate a broad spectrum of prospective targets that vary in rationale and associated tradeoffs when considering them as management alternatives. Second, we illustrate how the existing tools of ecological site descriptions, rangeland health assessment, and state-and-transition models present opportunities to identify flexible restoration targets and adaptively refine them to overcome constraints, and reduce uncertainty of managing complex ecosystem dynamics. Collectively, we are encouraged by the prospect of adopting the evolving science of restoration ecology for contemporary rangeland management to rectify past damage, to secure desired ecosystem services, and to ensure ecosystem resilience for the future. Restoration should be viewed as both a management activity and a research tool to inform the ongoing process of rangeland repair.