UNIVERSITY OF NEVADA COOPERATIVE EXTENSION

 

Nevada Rangeland Monitoring Handbook | Third Edition


Appendix E - Characteristics of Good Objectives

Properly developed objectives need to consider that rangelands are complex and dynamic. Establishment of appropriate objectives must consider this complexity as well as societal values. Objectives must be achievable within a useful time frame, measurable, and worthy of the management needed to meet them and the monitoring needed to evaluate management. (See section on Setting Objectives, Page 4.) Management often causes a chain reaction, leading to questions about what to identify as the best focus for resource objective.

Riparian Example

In this example, each of the italicized results could be measured (although some not easily or consistently) but only a few, the bold ones*, could be efficiently monitored in SMART objectives. Short grazing duration and long recovery periods are easily tracked (short-term monitoring) through actual use. The four-inch stubble height end-point indicator is easily monitored, but not the driving strategy. Period of use and intensity are management tools or annual indicators of plan implementation, not objectives (Clary and Leininger 2000; University of Idaho Stubble Height Review Team 2004).

Riparian Example

  • Rotation grazing for three weeks (or other strategy) leads to
  • A four-inch stubble height and 85 percent growing season recovery leads to
  • An increase in colonizers leads to
  • Deposition there of fine sediments leads to
  • An increase in stabilizers leads to
  • Narrowing the greenline to greenline width and
  • Narrowing a stream leads to
  • Increased floodplain access and aquifer recharge leads to
  • Improved base flow leads to
  • Improved water and habitat quality leads to
  • Increased fish populations leads to
  • Increased recreationist satisfaction

Objectives to increase colonizers and stabilizers, and narrow the greenline-to-greenline width are easily measured and indicate changes in resource conditions. These would be a suitable focus for objectives. Stabilizers on the greenline drive the process of recovery by preventing erosion, slowing average water velocity, and inducing both deposition and scour to form floodplains and pools. While water quality can be monitored, water quality measures vary greatly on a daily or even hourly basis and also vary annually and through hydrographs. Monitoring them is less informative and more costly than monitoring the other resource attributes that ultimately drive water quality processes (Swanson et al. 2017). All of these changes occur over a series of years (possibly decades) and flow events. As indicated by the chain reaction, improvement in average water quality depends on the prior changes in riparian vegetation and channel conditions and, therefore, it takes longer. It also takes longer to detect a significant trend because of the variability. Which attribute is best to choose as a monitoring objective depends in part on the time frame for the management plan and the steps and process in stream recovery.

Riparian functionality is often a standard that is assessed. Although not usually quantified in the assessment procedure, assessing proper functioning condition (PFC) assessment (Prichard et al. 2003; Dickard et al. 2015), is an extremely useful tool for recognizing riparian areas at risk, understanding the need for management, and launching the integrated riparian management process described in (Dickard et al. 2015; Swanson 2016) as a seven-step process for managing riparian areas. (See page 13).

In general, riparian objectives address the composition of streambank (greenline) vegetation, streambank stability and/or woody species regeneration (University of Idaho Stubble Height Review Team 2004; Burton et al. 2011). Because riparian vegetation and bank stability drive changes in channel form (e.g., width), they are resource attributes suitable as long-term objectives. They link management treatment (e.g., grazing management) and resource attribute change (e.g., vegetation composition), making the objective useful in the adaptive management process.

Upland Example

In this example, each of the italicized changes could be measured but only a few, the bold ones*, would guide development of reasonable objectives. Rotation grazing, with its opportunity for plant growth or regrowth and low frequency of use, is easily monitored through actual use dates. Moderate utilization could also be monitored, and it may or may not be important to the strategy. Season, duration and intensity of use are management tools or annual indicators of plan implementation, not objectives for long-term monitoring.

The percentage of decreasers in the herbaceous community, maintenance of the herbaceous state, perennial recovery after fire or fire surrogate, A landscape in a mosaic of different plant communities* across a landscape, and certain vegetation attributes of habitats are easily measured objectives that indicate changes in resource conditions with management, weather and time. Rangeland health and high-quality habitat must be defined in such measurable terms to be monitored. The specific objective appropriate for an area depends on where that local landscape fits in a longer-term progression and the time frame for the plan. While populations of wildlife and the economic viability of ranches and communities can be monitored, populations and economic variables vary greatly on a monthly and yearly basis, and monitoring them is less informative than monitoring the vegetation resource attributes. All of these changes occur over a series of years (possibly decades) and with differing weather. As indicated by the chain reaction, goals, such as rangeland health or the improvement in wildlife populations, depend on the prior changes in habitat (or upon preventing certain changes) and, therefore, the effects of management accumulate over many years. Which attribute is best to choose as a monitoring objective and how to describe the desired change depends in part on the time frame for the management plan.

The described management uses ecological processes that cause the system to regain or retain rangeland health and spiral upward toward other goals, e.g., more wildlife and economic viability. These goals would not make effective objectives because they depend on a number of factors that are outside the control of management, are too far removed from the management action, or are difficult or expensive to measure. Rangeland health is often a standard that is assessed. The assessment procedure, Interpreting Indicators of Rangeland Health (Pellant et al. 2005) is a useful tool for recognizing areas at risk, understanding the need for management, and focusing resource objectives.

Upland Example

  • Deferred rotation grazing for a fraction of the growing season leads to
  • Moderate end-point utilization and leaf area for photosynthesis during the growing season leads to
  • Plant vigor, growth and health leads to
  • Slowing plant community domination by sagebrush and enabling perennial herbaceous production leads to
  • Maintaining at least a certain percentage of decreasers* in the herbaceous community and maintaining the herbaceous state* leads to
  • Occasional wildfire and the opportunity for fire use or fire surrogates with perennial recovery* leads to
  • A landscape in a mosaic of different plant communities* (phases of a current potential state. See Appendix B on ecological sites) in different places at different times leads to
  • Certain vegetation attributes of habitats leads to
  • Maintaining viable populations of wildlife and economically viable ranches leads to
  • Socially and economically viable community of people

In recent decades, many rangeland objectives have used range condition classes or seral stages for describing objectives. Unfortunately, many desired changes in species composition are not well described by this approach. Ecological thinking has moved away from this thought process. An alternative to condition classes or seral stages is to clearly describe the changes that are desired from a particular management plan or action by describing the desired plant community phases. In doing so, it remains necessary to ensure:

  1. Desired phases vary based upon the present vegetation, potential of the ecological site, and soil. Describing desired vegetation from the same ecological site in nearby areas under different management is one way to ensure that changes are possible. Monitoring records from successful management are extremely useful for describing what’s possible.
  2. Desired phases provide the most important ecological components and functions of resistant and resilient rangelands. Often the most important changes to describe in objectives are those that will lead the community away from the risk of crossing an ecological threshold. See Appendix B – Ecological Sites.
  3. Desired phases or plant communities reflect human desires for resource production or habitat quality. However, described communities or phases should not be ones that are at risk of crossing an ecological threshold. Certain plant communities may be desirable for some resource value, but may not be sustainable and should not be the objective for management if there are sustainable alternatives. The desire to achieve useful vegetation characteristics may lead to a plant community that is unable to provide these values after a threshold is crossed and the community is no longer resilient to disturbances such as fire (e. g., a shrub state sagebrush-dominated plant community without a resilient understory).
  4. Desired phases are described in a manner that recognizes they will naturally change through time. Describing any plant community objective should recognize the dynamic nature of rangeland vegetation due to plant succession, non-human disturbance regimes, and the vagaries of year-to-year weather, insect infestations, etc.

Combining Goals, Management Actions and Objectives

Rangelands comprise many different types of land, different ecological sites, and different historical uses and management (e.g., native and seeded rangeland). They also reflect management that varies across the landscape and through time. The goals for an allotment generally include restoring and/or maintaining rangeland health across the land (and other considerations, such as a dynamic mosaic of seasonal sage-grouse habitats) and proper functioning condition of riparian areas. Management of these large areas often integrates livestock, wild horse, recreation and wildlife management, as well as direct vegetation management, such as invasive species control, vegetation treatments, and fire and fuels management. It is impossible to micromanage large areas, yet both action and inaction have substantial effects on the achievement of goals and objectives. It is critical for managers to focus on measurable objectives in order to achieve identified goals. Some objectives apply to specific areas, such as key areas that represent identified goals. Other objectives address the mix of plant communities across a landscape to address goals requiring the integration of resource conditions and values. (Karl 2005)

Examples of SMART Objectives

Assuming these objectives are achievable (e.g. within site potential and state, and contingent on the management/treatment and monitoring cost). Each objective would be within the context of the management and/or treatment needed to accomplish it. The following are examples (not suggested objectives):

  1. Increase by 15 percent the proportion of the greenline that is dominated by deep/densely rooted (stabilizer) riparian species or late seral community types (Burton et al. 2011) within 10 years* on Rose Creek in Big Meadow (designated monitoring area (DMA)1).
  2. Facilitate willow establishment on the point bars of Fish Creek in south pasture (DMA 2) so that within 10 years* at least 65 percent of the greenline has a willow overstory or a willow plant within 1 meter of the greenline.
  3. Increase bank stability along Sand Creek so that by 2030 at least 80 percent of the banks are stable within DMA 3.
  4. Reduce greenline-to-greenline width along 80 percent of Gray Gulch Gully in DMA 4 within 15 years*.
  5. Within the West Canyon above the riparian pasture, increase the length of valley bottom covered by willow canopies or other riparian shrubs within 20 years*.
  6. Within 20 years* (assuming that these years experience at least two years with below 75 percent snow pack followed by at least one year with above 125 percent snow pack) the bankfull channel width at Riparian Monitoring Station 2 (GPS Location_XX_) along Deer Creek in South Allotment Riparian Pasture will narrow from 12 to less than 10 feet.
  7. At Monitoring Station 3 in the South Pasture, within 20 years, increase the forb and/or grass component by 5 percent (specify cover or production) and decrease shrub cover and/or modify the age classes of shrubs.
  8. In XYZ landscape unit, increase fire resistance and reduce fire risk, intensity, and size by modifying the fuel continuity of the Wyoming big sagebrush current shrub state (3).
  9. The landscape scale objective for mountain big sagebrush sites in the Purple Mountains is to retain at least 90 percent of the acreage with sufficient perennial herbaceous vegetation to effectively re-establish perennials within two years after the event of a wildfire.
  10. Eradicate the five known populations of perennial pepperweed in the Elderberry Creek watershed within 5 years,* while continuing surveillance to detect and eradicate new populations.
  11. Remove all pinyon and juniper trees from 70 percent of Phase I and II encroachment areas inventoried on Sage-grouse Mountain within 10 years*.
  12. At Key Area 1, attain and retain a frequency (16-inch frame as used in past monitoring) of Indian ricegrass of 20 percent or more.
  13. Obtain and retain an aspen stand at Rock Spring with diverse age classes and at least 10 percent of the stems in the young age class (1- to 5-inch diameter at 4.5 feet off the ground).

Objectives should be based on the current and potential condition of the site, be connected through cause and effect to the management plan, be measurable, and allow for adjustments due to unusual weather or other conditions.

Often the timeline for meeting objectives provides an indication of expected results given our present understanding and assuming a normal range of variation of the factors that drive the changes, such as weather. When not stated explicitly in an objective, this assumption should be made clear in the management plan so that failure to meet (or early attainment of) an objective does not suggest any arbitrary standards.


male sage-grouse on a lek
Figure 48. The greater and bi-state subpopulation of sage-grouse are now perhaps the most well-known examples of sagebrush ecosystem-dependent species. By focusing on their year-round needs we have become more acutely aware of the need for rangeland resilience, resistance to invasive weeds, and fire and fuels management, as well as many other issues. By considering habitat needs and the needs of other stakeholders at multiple scales, we can focus management in specific locations with objectives and strategies.