Rangelands

Published by Society for Range Management
Online ISSN: 1551-501X
Print ISSN: 0190-0528
Publications
Eleven plant species are especially adapted for range reseeding and a successful planting can be expected in 1 of 2 or 3 yr but each species is adapted to a relatively small geographic area. No single seedbed treatment is superior to others. -from Authors
 
This year, the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is celebrating its 50th anniversary as the US Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency. Since the agency's creation in 1953, research to solve problems associated with managing rangelands has been a part of ARS's primary mission. Over the years, ARS has helped provide information to enhance livestock production, improve forages, sustain and restore rangelands, enhance wildlife habitat, and maintain soil, water, and air resources. Such research has helped transform range management from being chiefly an art to more of a science. This special supplement provides a quick overview of what ARS has accomplished through the years to help rangeland managers, where ARS research is today, and where it may take us tomorrow.
 
Rangeland areas across the 43 nations of the Asian continent as derived from the Global Land Cover Database using classifi cations of closed shrublands, woody savannas, savannas, and grasslands as cover classes to defi ne these rangeland areas. The boxed region encloses Mongolia and Inner Mongolia, China, as the region of emphasis. 
Temperature (Temp, C) and precipitation (Prec, %) changes across Asia from various simulations drawn from 21 different climate models as summarized by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (used with permission; see www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/ar4-wg1.htm). Bottom row graphs synthesize number of models creating projections for temperature and precipitation changes greater than 0 for annual, winter (December, January, February; DJF) and summer (June, July, and August; JJA) periods. Middle row graphs refl ect precipitation changes for these periods, and top row graphs refl ect temperature changes for these three periods. 
Being the most populated continent on the planet, Asia offers enormous lands for livestock, where more than half of its people live in rural areas and use the rangelands for their livelihood. For many Asian countries, rangelands represent a major land category. One country that heavily relies on rangelands is Mongolia. In Inner Mongolia and Mongolia, livestock production on rangelands is a major source of wealth and well being. However, projections relating to climate change show that Mongolia and Inner Mongolia rangelands will experience increased annual temperatures from 2.5-5.0 degrees Celsius, with increases occurring during both the winter and summer months. In the winter months across the region, precipitation will increase, and there will be a slight decrease in precipitation across the western desert steppe and a slight increase in annual precipitation across the meadow steppe to the east.
 
In 1999, Nevada experienced extreme fire conditions. In the fall of 2000 and the spring of 2001 the Winnemuca District of the Bureau of Land Management, US Department of Interior, seeded more than 900,000 pounds of grass, forb, and shrub seed treated with GERM-N-8 at an added cost of more than $190,000. Success of using this proriety product varied greatly among resource managers' reports: some reported excellent success, some reported initial success with no long-term benefit, and others reported no success.
 
Thanks to advances in communications, ideas regarding rangeland data and interpretations are easily available through the world wide web. For instance, there is a now a new collaborative website that provides almost instant access to dozens of sites across North America where long term data sets on various ecological topics are catalouged and accessible. There is also an effort to converge long term data sets and their synthesis, which is another site that give access to high quality data that have the potential to produce new insights for rangeland planners. These are also supported by local, regional, national, and global data sets that can be used for similar analysis.
 
displays the categories used and the
In riparian areas, willow (Salix spp.) has been identified as a key species for stream health, bank stability, vegetative filter zones and the winter survival of deer, elk, moose, beaver, hares, and ptarmigan. Consequently, the sustainability of individual willows and willow communities is fundamental to both the functioning of riparian ecosystems and the maintenance of certain wildlife populations. While we may recognize the linkage between willow survival and that of dependant wildlife species, we know little about the factors that govern reproduction, establishment, and long-term presence of willows in riparian ecosystems. Like many other woody plant species, willows are susceptible to diseases including cankers caused by fungi that enter the plant through wounds. Bark wounds can occur from browsing, hail, strong winds, frost or a host of other agents. Once infected, the plant develops a canker that begins to girdle the stem at the site of infection. Due to the heightened awareness of the crucial role willows play in riparian ecosystems, it is important for federal, state, and private land managers to know the cause of willow die-off. Even though there are reports of willow die-offs due to declining water tables in eastern California, overuse by wildlife in Wyoming and Colorado and heavy livestock grazing throughout the West, there are very few documented cases of willow losses from disease outbreaks. Because the ecological literature on willow diseases is limited, we initiated a descriptive study to: a) determine the level of pathogenic fungi infestation of willows in the upper Yellowstone Valley of southwestern Montana and b) describe the relationship between fungal infestation and browsing levels. The anticipated outcome of this study would be a list of canker causing pathogenic fungi on willows, and whether or not a relationship exists between browsing and fungi infestation.
 
The Society for Range Management's (SRM) focus was on "traditional" range management issues, including livestock grazing, rangeland inventory, and multiple uses of rangeland resources. Accordingly, the SRM has responded to these new challenges and opportunities through adoption of additional policy statements that address a wider array of rangeland management issues, including biological diversity, noxious and invasive weeds, protection of rangeland and open space values, and reauthorization of the Endangered Species Act. Encouraging the SRM to start addressing the effects of continued economic growth on rangeland resources is the main objective.
 
The presence of annual grasses creates a controversy between livestock men and grazing administrators involving the following question: Do annual grasses indicate overgrazing? Would the annual grasses be largely absent from Nevada ranges if there had been no grazing? Should the carrying capacity of a range predominantly annual be based upon the perennials? Has anyone a practical method by which annuals can be replaced and perennials reestablished in a density which would permit saying that the range had been brought back to its pioneer carrying capacity? Is it reasonable to look at a range and if annuals predominate say the range is overstocked and a reduction in livestock numbers should be made? And if the answers are largely negative, will we not then have to live with the annuals and learn to make the most profitable use of them?
 
Researchers Rebecca E. Drenovsky and Jeremy J. James discuss the role of plant functional traits in designing invasion-resistant plant communities. Initial efforts focused on the impact of the number of species present and/or the number of species present as well as their relative abundances. While some research found that increasing species richness or diversity decreased resource availability and increased invasion resistance, most evidence suggested species richness and diversity were relatively poor predictors of invasion resistance. Multiple species were included within each functional group, allowing us to examine variation in key traits within and among groups. Based on the tissue economics spectrum described above, we examined variation in leaf thickness and root growth among these species groups and how variation in these traits influenced resource capture and plant growth. Advances in linking functional traits to major plant ecological strategies can help researchers understand how to use these materials most effectively.
 
Excellent stand of winterfat adjacent to our Spring Valley South exclosure. There are nearly 300,000 winterfat plants per acre in this excellent stand.  
Initial seedling establishment from the fall 1999 rangeland drill-seeding effort, data recorded fall 2001/2004/2007
During many years not even the noxious weed halogeton will grow in this harsh environment at our Spring Valley North exclosure.  
Restoration or re-vegetation of winterfat communities is critical to support the sustainability of grazing lands in the US for free-roaming horses, wildlife, and the range livestock industry. In central and eastern Nevada many winterfat communities are dying and are being replaced by the exotic, invasive weed halogeton. Spring Valley North, Site number one was the most challenging site, where the exclosure was surrounded by halogeton-dominated rangeland in poor ecological condition. Spring Valley South, Site number 2 was largely surrounded by winterfat communities in good to excellent ecological condition. A lack of summer precipitation likely caused these seedlings to die off. Without favorably timed precipitation, rangeland seedings are doomed to fail in harsh environments, even with good seedling emergence. The presence of cheatgrass at this site resulted in greater competition. To control broadleaf annuals such as Russian thistle and halogeton, 2-4D was applied in the same manner as at the Strawberry site.
 
Improvement in field-based research can streamline both communication and collaboration between contemporary rangeland managers and researchers. Spatial scale presents one of the more challenging impediments to bridging rangeland science and management in the 21st century. Today, researchers are much more aware that rangeland dynamics are impacted by drivers at multiple scales from plants, patches, pastures, properties, landscapes, watersheds, continents, and, eventually, from the global scale. A more reasonable application of science to management might involve decision-making about individual pastures, plant communities, or species of interest. Rangelands can be extremely variable and responses to individual treatments will likely vary with site. Science-based principles will emerge from a combination of cross-scale, enterprise-level, interdisciplinary, and long-term studies. Given the variability inherent in rangelands over both time and space, substantial value can be added to governing efforts by including controls in the design of management projects.
 
In 1984, the Crazy Crab is the short-lived and much despised mascot of the San Francisco Giants Baseball franchise. It is also a symbol of bad ideas, bad analyses, bad decisions, and bad management on the field during the its one season in existence. Nevertheless, the Crab has been adopted as a sort of patron of anything bad. Among the examples of the Crab's patron saint utility include the production of noncommercial vehicles; buying a personal vehicle with a low mpg rating; subprime mortgage loan disaster; drinking cheap tequila; and many others.
 
A symposium was organized at the 2007 Annual SRM meeting in Reno, Nevada, where two important concepts emerged from the presentations and discussions. First, the ecological concepts and assumptions that underlie the development and implementation of Ecological Site Descriptions (ESDs), revised version of the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) "National Range and Pasture Handbook". Second and most important is the assumption that reconstructing the ecological dynamics of a group of similar soil-vegetation occurrences as the basis for predicting future dynamics may be fatally flawed in light of a relatively rapid changing climate. Among the topics covered in the symposium includes improving ecological site descriptions; forest overstory and understory characterization issues; and alike.
 
The activities and report on the progress of biological assistants working for the Bureau of Biological survey in exterminating prairie dogs on the Jornada Range were part of a broader nationwide policy implemented by the Biological Survey in controlling predators and other "unwanted" animals from the nation's forests and rangelands. There are numerous aggressive policies were implemented in the mid- to late 19th century to improve food production and safety and control disease vectors in order to increase living standards and to decrease mortality rates in the United States. Additionally, to increase the amount of forage available to grazing livestock in order to increase red-meat production during the lean years of World War I.
 
Diagram of the boar operated system (BOS) feeder prototype used during November-December 2008 in San Patricio County, Texas.
Diagram of the nontarget exclusion device (NED) feeder prototype used during November-December 2008 in San Patricio County, Texas.
Diagram of the bucket feeder prototype used during November 2008 (during a proof-of-concept period) in San Patricio County, Texas.
Rangeland ecosystems are impacted by feral swine primarily through soil disturbance caused by rooting activities. Feral swine damage to livestock enterprises within rangeland ecosystems is direct and indirect and both cause substantial economic losses. Predation on lambs in Australia often is widespread and is influenced by feral swine density. Feral swine predation on livestock is also a problem in the US in localized regions. A study was conducted on the Rob and Bessie Welder Wildlife Foundation in San Patricio County, Texas. The WWF is around 3,100 ha and receives an average of 79 cm of rainfall annually. The BOS feeder was fabricated from metal and rested on a lubricated mast that was hammered into the ground. The performance of the BOS feeder in our trial was excellent and consistent with our hypothesis that bait removal with this system would be specific to feral swine.
 
Conceptual model of the plant invasion process. Adapted from Levine et al. 1 
Rangeland professionals can create long-term counter-measures for invasive rangeland plants. Expansion of invasive plants on rangelands has been attributed to many factors, including traits of the plant and processes within the ecosystem. Therefore, forestalling invasion must first identify the underlying causes of invasive plant expansion. Reducing the impacts of invasive species and repairing rangeland health requires recognizing effective unified management strategies that address the underlying ecosystem processes that facilitate the invasion process. Comprehensive economic analyses are lacking for most invasive plant species and rangeland restoration practices. Furthermore, additional research is needed to quantify ecological effects caused by invasive plants on rangelands. Because invasive plant species usually establish as a result of altered or damaged ecosystem processes, unified invasive plant management strategies should aim to alter ecosystem processes in ways that deter invasive plants and foster the existence of desired rangeland states and resilience.
 
Encompassing about 85M hectares, the Great Plains of North America consists of shortgrass, mixed-grass, and tallgrass prairie. When placed in the context of global climate change, the Great Plains will be affected mainly by changes in moisture and temperature. The effects will however vary across the region. However, temperature changes will affect vegetation. As for precipitation, there will be increased rain in Canada and northeastern United States, while a decrease will be experienced in the southwestern United States. Projections show that rangelands are changing, most of which are tied to global change. As for the Great Plains, increased occurrence and severity of drought in the southern and central Great Plains has the potential to reduce stocking rates or season of grazing in the near future.
 
Medusahead, an aggressive, exotic, annual grass invading rangelands in the western United States, particularly in the International West rangelands. Recorded in early 1990s, about 14M acres of public lands in the International West were infested with medusahead, cheatgrass, or both. Currently, the medusahead invasion is approaching rapidly causing a serious management concern because it reduces grazing capacity by up to 80%, degrades wildlife habitat, decreases biodiversity, potentially alters ecosystem functions, and it may exacerbate the decline of sagebrush-obligate wildlife species. The temporary control of near monocultures of medusahead can be achieved with herbicides. Meanwhile, the further prevention of medusahead invasions should focus on three strategies such as preventing medusahead seeds from dispersing to new locations; increasing the resistance of desirable plant communities to medusahead invasion; and searching for and eradicating new infestations.
 
Mongolia, the least-densely populated country in the world, is one of the smallest economy with a per capita gross national product (GNP) of less than US$500. About 800,000 of the country's 2.5M people depend directly on livestock production and rangelands for livelihood. However, the country's rangelands are primarily grass-dominated and arid to semiarid. It has increased the concern about the status of Mongolia's rangelands caused by dramatic increase in livestock populations during the past 15 years. The main cause of degradation is overgrazing, which is widespread in the western provinces and near the capital city of Ulaanbaatar. Meanwhile, there is an increasing awareness of the importance of healthy rangelands in protecting the country's natural resource base. The rangeland health concept was developed in response to concerns that existing rangeland inventory, assessment, and monitoring protocols were inadequate.
 
Workshop V, 'Wildfire Rehabilitation and Restoration' of the Wildfires and Invasive Plants in American Deserts Conference and Workshops was held in Reno, Nevada, in December 2008. Mike Zielinski presented case studies of habitat restoration within the Winnemucca District, in which the successful seeding of perennial grasses was essential in reducing cheat-grass densities in order to decrease wildfire frequencies and allow the reestablishment of shrubs. David Repass expressed how important it is to be prepared to address the restoration/rehabilitation needs following catastrophic wildfire events, which ultimately need to protect human life and property. Plant material development and testing is not new, but further development and perhaps more innovative approaches are going to be critical if restoration/rehabilitation efforts are to be more successful than unsuccessful. The Invasive Weeds Research Unit (EIWR) also recorded a sevenfold increase in cheat-grass densities the second year following a wildfire event compared to the first year.
 
Shieldcress belongs to the mustard-family species which is a dominant specie of tens of thousands of acres across the desert basins of Northern Nevada. Shieldcress is distributed over United States and is most abundant on the Rocky Mountains where it became a minor weed of crop land, vacant lots and roadsides. But on rangelands, shieldcress can be found in the ecotone between salt desert and sagebrush vegetation. Further discussed are the botanical history and ecology of shieldcress including its common names, its plant morphology and its seeds. Lastly, the reason for the increase of shieldcress in terms of its spread and dominance is discussed and the consequences of it.
 
As more and more ranchland is converted to non-agricultural uses every year, ranchers and land managers are increasingly concerned about loss of open space and impacts on ranching communities. Between 1990 and 1999. Colorado farmland declined by 1.3 million acres; 400,000 acres were lost in 1999 alone. In this same decade, the average size of a Colorado farm shrunk by 152 acres (Colo. Dept. of Agr. 2000). In face of such problems we need to look closely at rancher decisions behind these sales. What strategies will ranchers use if faced with federal grazing reductions? How likely is it that public land ranchers will resort to selling their ranchers if faced with public policy changes? What alternatives to selling the ranch do ranchers have? Knowledge of rancher alternatives and preferences can aid in developing strategies that will help ranchers adapt to changing economies and policies.
 
Annual precipitation and estimated production on a loamy ecological site for six different locations along a moisture gradient
Potential natural vegetation based on the original Kuchler 2 types for the majority of the United States. The legend only provides the names of the major vegetation types that occur within the Northern Great Plains. Map created from data from databasin.org (https://databasin.org/datasets/ 1c7a301c8e6843f2b4fe63fdb3a9fe39).
Change in percent Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis L.) and native species in the relative species composition at a long-term (98 years), lightly grazed pasture in Mandan, North Dakota. Data modified from Printz and Hendrickson. 19
• The Northern Great Plains contains a diverse group of vegetative communities, primarily dominated by grassland communities. • Precipitation declines along an east-west gradient, ranging from 27.4 inches at Detroit Lakes, Minnesota to 12.4 inches at Miles City, Montana, and productivity follows a similar decline. • Precipitation falls primarily during the growing season, which combined with the lower mean annual temperature results in productive, high-quality, cool-season dominated grasslands. • Although the region is primarily dominated by areas of tallgrass, midgrass, and shortgrass prairie, there are outcrops of limber (Pinus flexilis) and ponderosa pine (P. ponderosa) along the Little Missouri River and stands of quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) in the Turtle Mountains. • Besides climate and soils, fire, drought, and grazing have also contributed to the rich diversity of communities in the region. • Recent invasions of perennial cool-season grasses are threatening historic plant communities; whether these invasions can be reversed and altered environmental services restored are the primary questions facing grassland managers.
 
On the Ground •Invasive annual grasses on sagebrush rangelands are negatively impacting land uses and values ranging from forage for grazing livestock to native plant diversity, wildlife habitat, and human safety via associated increases in the wildfire footprint. •In December 2020 a diverse group of managers, scientists, and government officials held a symposium to discuss existing and emerging options for ameliorating the annual grass threat and associated impacts in the Northern Great Basin region. •I provide a broad overview of sagebrush plant community ecology, how that ecology has varied through time, the role of invasive annual grasses in influencing sagebrush plant community ecology, and thoughts on a productive path forward. •My broad overview serves as an operational context framing the importance of and relationships between the papers in this Special Issue.
 
Book Review: The Nature of Eastern North Dakota: Pre-1880 Historical Ecology, K. E. Severson, C. H. Sieg. North Dakota State University, Fargo, ND, USA (2006).
 
On the Ground •The generally accepted ancestral bison herd size, the existing records and estimates of bison slaughter, and the contention that bison were hunted to extinction do not add up. •Defending the hypothesis that bison were slaughtered to extinction requires adding unreasonable millions to the slaughter estimates or reducing the projected ancestral bison herd to about five million. •A more reasonable approach is to assume bison were also dying at a high rate because of other factors, such as disease. •I believe the disease rate was exacerbated by the loss of intelligent human grazing management practiced by the Original American First Nations.
 
On the Ground •The historical North American bison harvest in the 1800s was not sustainable. •Bison harvest was not sustainable in two eras: the wave of bison harvest in front of European civilization (before 1830) and in what has been called the era of systematic destruction (1830–1883).
 
• Many people believe grazing management is vital to ecosystem health. Others feel ecosystems are only healthy when nature takes its course. The Great Plains bison population of the early 1800s supposedly supports the superiority of goal-free grazing management.• By 1883, bison were virtually extinct, and hunting is usually blamed. However, records indicate that hunters killed less than the annual increase each year. Evidence implicates disease and habitat degradation instead.• Comparing Allan Savory's observations in Africa, Lewis and Clark's observations in eastern Montana, and Blackfoot history, indicates the bison disappearance was perhaps triggered by the loss of intelligent human management.
 
On the Ground Across the United States, farmers and ranchers are getting older, and fewer young operators are entering the agricultural workforce than in the past. We statistically and cartographically explored demographic trends among farm and ranch operators in Wyoming to see if and how the agricultural community was aging. Census records indicate that Wyoming's agricultural community is in fact aging, and that the relative proportions of younger operators are dwindling rapidly. With a changing local agricultural community, we face risks associated with loss of local knowledge, loss of tradition, and loss of investment that stem from a deep-rooted sense of place. We face a fundamental challenge in inspiring young agriculturalists to take up residence in the state to help replace those of retirement age. This might be accomplished through shifts in education, public policy, economic incentives, or through targeted cultivation of personal connections to the land.
 
Book Review: Conducting Prescribed Fires — A Comprehensive Manual, John R. Weir. Texas A&M University Press, College Station, Texas, USA (2009).
 
Top-cited authors
Jerry Holechek
  • New Mexico State University
Brandon Bestelmeyer
  • United States Department of Agriculture
Joel R Brown
  • Jornada Experimental Range
Mark W Brunson
  • Utah State University
Tony Svejcar
  • Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center, Burns, OR