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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: Quantifying Plant Growth Response and Environmental Benefits Derived from Implementing Grazing Land Conservation Practices

Location: Great Basin Rangelands Research

2013 Annual Report


1a.Objectives (from AD-416):
The Soil and Water Conservation Society is undertaking a cooperative project with the Agricultural Research Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service to document the status of knowledge regarding the effect of conservation practices applied to grazing lands across the United States. The primary purpose is to construct the scientific foundation for the Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) by documenting what is known and what is not known about the environmental effects of conservation practices on plant growth processes and responses to treatments. The work will focus on the effects of conservation practices applied to grazing lands on the following environmental outcomes: water availability, water quality, soil quality, habitat, forage availability, and fuel reductions.


1b.Approach (from AD-416):
The Soil and Water Conservation Society will assist in synthesizing the appropriate literature and expert opinion to document the effect of modeling plant communities by different functional plant groupings on ability the detect benefits of conservation practices on six basic resource concerns; (1) water availability, (2) water quality, (3) Soil quality, (4) Net Primary Productivity, (5) Habitat/landscape fragmentation for the Great Basin, and (6) wildlife benefits.


3.Progress Report:

This research directly supports ARS Pasture, Forage and Rangeland Systems National Program NP 215 Objective B.2. To develop decision support tools usable at multiple scales including landscape levels for inventorying and assessing rangelands; and, for selecting, implementing, and monitoring conservation and restoration practices.

ARS scientists at Reno, Nevada, and their collaborators developed and published the following books: “Conservation Benefits of Rangeland Practices: Assessment, Recommendations, and Knowledge Gaps”, published by Allen Press in association with Soil and Water Conservation Society (SWCS). “Conservation Outcomes from Pastureland and Hayland Practices: Assessment, Recommendations, and Knowledge Gaps”, published by Allen Press in association with American Grassland and Forage Council and SWCS. In addition, several peer-reviewed papers have been published with SWCS and the Society for Range Management documenting the impact and benefits of conservation on rangelands and include: (1) Weltz, M.A., Jolley, L., Goodrich, D.C., Boykin, K., Guertin, D.P., Hernandez, M., Pierson, F., Morris, C. 2011. Assessing the environmental outcomes of conservation practices applied to grazing lands. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation. 66: 154-162. (2) Weltz, M., Spaeth, K. 2012. Estimating effects of targeted conservation on nonfederal rangelands. Rangelands. 34: 35-40. (3) Spaeth, K., Weltz, M., Briske, D.D, Jolley, L.W., Metz, L., Rossi, C. 2013. Rangeland CEAP: An assessment of natural resources conservation service practices. Rangelands. 35: 2-10.

At the July, 2013 SWCS Annual Conference, a full day symposium with 12 speakers, ARS scientists from Reno, Nevada, presented the most recent scientific findings on the benefits and impacts of conservation on rangelands. We reported on the capacity and capability of the newly released Rangeland Hydrology and Erosion Model and its use in providing national estimates of soil loss across the western United States.

This agreement was established in support of objective 3 of the in-house project, "Develop and transfer innovative management approaches and technology for conserving and rehabilitating sagebrush, pinyon/juniper woodlands, and salt desert shrublands to meet natural resource and agricultural production goals". More specifically, to develop an integrated package of ground-based and remote sensing tools to quantify and assess the environmental impact of management decisions and conservation practices at hillslope and landscape scales in woodland, shrub-steppe, and desert ecosystems of the Great Basin.


Last Modified: 9/10/2014
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