Nevada Rangeland Monitoring Handbook | Third Edition

A Framework for Monitoring

"Rangeland is a type of land on which indigenous vegetation (climax or natural potential) is predominantly grasses, grasslike plants, forbs, or shrubs and is managed as a natural ecosystem. If plants are introduced, they are managed similarly. Rangeland includes natural grasslands, savannas, shrublands, many deserts, tundras, alpine communities, marshes, and meadows" (Bedell 1998). In Nevada, some rangelands currently support pinyon and/or juniper trees in various phases of dominance and may appear to be pinyon-juniper forests, but are actually rangeland based on site potential as described in Ecological Site Descriptions. Rangeland is a kind of land, not a category of land use. Continuing activities are underway around the world to monitor the general state and well-being of resources, including rangelands, by land users, governmental entities and other organizations. Family and agency missions and a wide variety of knowledge helps prioritize what can and/or must be accomplished on rangeland. This revised handbook is designed to provide guidance for tracking change relative to prioritized resource objectives (hereinafter referred to as objectives in this handbook), and making management adjustments primarily on ranches and public land grazing allotments.

This handbook describes the context for monitoring, methods of data collection and uses of monitoring data. The first step in management is to establish goals, and the first step in monitoring is to set objectives. Goals are broad written statements, or categories of desired accomplishments. Objectives are clear quantifiable statements of planned results to be achieved within a stated time period at a specific site. Objectives describe a vision of desired future conditions based on ecological site potential and the response to natural disturbance and management. Objectives are based on planning that often involves many people who describe what the rangeland will look like and/or the resource values it will produce when the plan is successful. Objectives determine what to monitor. An objective is specific, achievable, quantifiable and relevant to management. This handbook guides objective setting as well as monitoring.

Flow chart showing that Management priorities (vision) drive resource objectives that drive long-term or effectiveness monitoring.  These must be consistent with Management strategies that drive short-term or implementation monitoring. Monitoring data drives monitoring analysis & Interpretation (understanding management from monitoring) which drives adaptation of objectives, strategies, and priorities as needed (adaptive management). All of this is driven by knowledge from historic data and photos, assessments and inventories, ecological site descriptions, public issues and values, science, and lessons from monitoring
Figure 1. A Framework for Monitoring shows that law, policy (agency or family), budgets and knowledge from many sources (top row of boxes) informs land managers about priorities for what is needed and what can be accomplished with various strategies on rangelands. Priorities about vision lead to setting important resource objectives that focus long-term (effectiveness) monitoring questions, methods and locations. The strategies that will be used to meet them are chosen in planning that checks to make sure the strategies should reach objectives. Chosen strategies focus short-term (implementation) monitoring questions, methods and locations. Also monitoring is to adapt management based on analysis of the monitoring information. Needed adaptation would cause adjustment to priorities, objectives, strategies or monitoring methods or locations.

After monitoring information has been collected, it must be analyzed and used to make management decisions. This handbook outlines an adaptive management process that emphasizes the use of monitoring data to determine whether or not progress is being made toward objectives. Monitoring activity therefore flows directly from the objectives. Adequate monitoring helps to justify continuing current management or making appropriate changes. Long-term, or effectiveness, monitoring focused on the objectives can be interpreted with strategic short-term, or implementation, monitoring that tracks the management applied and the effects of that management. Strategies for achieving objectives focus short-term monitoring. Practitioners should clarify linkages between strategies, objectives, and short-term and long-term monitoring methods. Rangeland managers use monitoring to adjust day-to-day management, adjust management plans, track management, track vegetation changes, interpret causes and relationships, and tell their story.

A great deal of monitoring data has been collected using the methods in the 1984 and 2006 Handbooks. These data should be retained and used because they provide valuable records for tracking and interpreting long-term vegetation changes as part of a continuing management story.

The number of available rangeland monitoring techniques is large. Although some commonly used methods are presented here with instructions, others are simply referenced because they are well described elsewhere. A list of references containing rangeland monitoring techniques is provided to emphasize that additional methods may be needed or may be better for monitoring the attainment of certain objectives. This handbook includes a section on developing a site-specific monitoring plan with clarity, commitments and a timeline. The Ranchers' Monitoring Guide (Perryman et al. 2006) gives specific directions for some monitoring procedures that address questions or objectives that many producers and others would consider important. Appendix A - Cooperative Monitoring provides a process and template for cooperative monitoring.

"Monitoring is the orderly collection, analysis, and interpretation of resource data to evaluate progress toward meeting objectives. This process must be conducted over time to determine if objectives are being met." (Bedell 1998).

Monitoring helps:

  1. Determine whether management actions are meeting objectives.
  2. Provide a record of environmental and resource conditions, events and management actions that may influence objective achievement.
  3. Determine if management actions are maintaining or improving the rangeland value, productivity and condition (assuming those are reflected in the objectives).
  4. Identify vegetation trends toward ecological thresholds that are unacceptable because they may be irreversible.
  5. Evaluate when management changes are needed to meet objectives.
  6. Determine whether objectives are realistic and achievable.
  7. Evaluate whether present uses of money and time produce an acceptable benefit.
  8. Assist rangeland managers with herbivory management or management of other uses.

To start a monitoring program, identify objectives for the rangeland to be accomplished with management. Because of the importance of objectives for rangeland monitoring, the following sections address tools and criteria for setting objectives.