Properly designed monitoring will yield information that will help managers decide whether to continue or change management practices.
Monitoring is a key aspect of rangeland management that is often either overlooked or undertaken only when serious problems are discovered.
Maybe the question should be, why not monitor? Ranchers, landowners, and agencies spend millions of dollars and thousands of hours every year managing livestock on rangelands. It only makes sense to allocate a portion of that effort to determining what is happening to the rangeland resource, from desired to unwanted or unanticipated effects. Properly designed monitoring will yield information that will help managers decide whether to continue or change management practices.
Types of Monitoring
There is often confusion about what is monitoring and what is not. To be effective, monitoring data must be compared to an objective, a hypothesis, or a baseline dataset. If data is collected without a standard for comparison, this is not monitoring-it is only data collection.
Rangeland monitoring may be conducted for three different purposes:
- implementation or compliance monitoring
- effectiveness monitoring and
- validation monitoring.
Implementation or compliance monitoring determines whether the selected grazing strategies are being implemented as desired. This type of monitoring could include checking to see if a goal of 700 pounds/acre of RDM was met after grazing, if the grazing was done at the designated time of year, or if the designated number of livestock were present. Implementation monitoring may include monitoring of RDM levels, season of use, and livestock numbers.
Implementation monitoring needs to be done annually and documented to insure that the stated plan or lease requirements are being met.
Effectiveness monitoring determines whether the selected livestock management practices and strategies are actually achieving the stated goals. For example, does 700 pounds/acre of RDM provide suitable residual herbage for good Bay Checkerspot butterfly habitat? Does May through July grazing of yellow-star thistle actually reduce the occurrence of this noxious weed? Does excluding livestock from riparian hardwoods during the dry season, result in more riparian vegetation cover?
Effectiveness monitoring requires controlled long term studies and is typically beyond the ability of a single ranch or resource management agency, except for establishing long-term photo point transects that can detect vegetation changes.
Agencies and organizations should develop agreements with research organizations such as UC Cooperative Extension, Universities, and various state and federal agencies to cooperate in the study and evaluation of controversial grazing management practices and strategies being used to accomplish established goals.
Validation monitoring determines if the management goals for a livestock grazing program are still relevant. New issues can arise and old issues can become irrelevant. Goals that could be reevaluated periodically include: Should the land owner/agency continue to use grazing to reduce yellow star thistle? Is the level of conflict with recreational users acceptable? Is the amount of riparian vegetation cover acceptable? Should the RDM level be managed to achieve appropriate levels of RDM for Burrowing owl or Bay checkerspot butterfly habitat? Is livestock grazing the appropriate resource tool to use to reduce fire fuel hazards?
An agency's 5-year plan and its associated public process is a logical forum for addressing and validating grazing issues and goals.
Publications that provide specific guidance for establishing and managing monitoring programs include:
Guenther, Keith. 1998. Residual Dry Matter (RDM) monitoring photo-guide. Wildland Solutions. http://www.wildlandsolutions.com/rdm.html
McDougald, N., B. Frost, and D. Dudley. 2003. Photo Monitoring for better land use planning and assessment. Publication 8067. Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, California. http://anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu/pdf/8067.pdf
U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Land Management. 1999. Utilization studies and residual measurements. Interagency Technical Reference 1734-3. U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Land Management, National Business Center, Denver, Colorado. http://www.blm.gov/nstc/library/pdf/utilstudies.pdf
United States Department of Interior, Bureau of Land Management. 1999. Sampling vegetation attributes. Interagency Technical reference 1734-4. U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Land Management, National Business Center, Denver, Colorado. http://www.blm.gov/nstc/library/pdf/samplveg.pdf
Ward, T. A., K.W. Tate, E.R. Atwill. 2003. Guidelines for Monitoring the establishment of riparian grazing systems. Publication 8094. Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, California. http://anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu/pdf/8094.pdf