Submitted to: Rangelands
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: March 20, 2006
Publication Date: October 15, 2006
Citation: Young, J.A., Clements, C.D. 2006. Nevada rangelands. Rangelands. 28:10-15. Interpretive Summary: Nevada rangelands contain about 110,000 square miles of various habitats that range from playas of ancient Lake Lahontan to towering mountain ranges that support bristle cone and limber pine. As one stands in one of the many vast valleys, it would appear that Nevada is made up of mountain ranges that run north to south. But, as one stands atop one of these towing mountains it also appears that Nevada is made up of the many valleys that can be seen. Nevada is dominated by big sagebrush/bunchgrass communities followed by salt desert shrub communities, and therefore much of Nevada’s rangeland is considered desert. If Nevada is long on rangelands and short on forest environments, what characterizes the rangeland? To understand the vegetation you need to appreciate the structural geology and the recent geological history. For the most part, Nevada is in the Great Basin from which there is no drainage to the ocean, except in the far southern and extreme northern portions of the state. Nevada mountain ranges stand as islands of environmental potential in a sea of aridity. Moisture for the western Great Basin comes almost entirely from the Pacific Ocean and falls during the cold winter months. As you proceed south and east, summer monsoonal moisture weakly contributes to the moisture regime. The many vegetation types of Nevada are dependent on the moisture they receive to reach their potential. These potentials are heavily relied upon by livestock, agricultural practices, and wildlife in an environment that for the most part is a desert. The understanding of the potential of these communities is critical in better understanding how to manage them for the many uses that depend on them.
Technical Abstract: Nevada rangelands, in the neighborhood of 110,000 square miles, are made up of various habitats. These various habitats are heavily relied upon by agriculture, wildlife and various human activities. Nevada is a desert rangeland that is short on forested environments. To better understand how to manage the rangelands it is important to better understand and appreciate the geological structure of the environment. Nevada for the most part is in the Great Basin, that is there is no drainage to the ocean except in the extreme north where the Owyhee and the Salmon Falls Creek contribute to the Snake-Columbia watershed and in the south where the Virgin and Muddy Rivers contribute to the Colorado River. The two largest plant communities in Nevada are the big sagebrush/bunchgrass and the salt desert shrub environments. There are towering mountain ranges that support bristle cone and limber pine as well as mountain brush communities with snowberry, antelope bitterbrush, mountain mahogany, aspen, and other productive plant species in the mountain brush zone. Pinyon/juniper woodlands are most abundant south of Interstate 80, which crosses diagonally from Reno in the west to Wendover on the Utah/Nevada border in the east. In northwestern Nevada, Utah and Western Juniper occur. These woodlands have replaced productive browse communities in recent times through fire suppression efforts. Cheatgrass has aggressively invaded millions of acres of big sagebrush/bunchgrass communities providing a fine textured early maturing fuel that has increased the rate and spread of wildfires. These wildfires have resulted in the conversion to cheatgrass dominated rangelands at the expense of perennial grass and critical browse species. Cheatgrass, in recent times, has invaded salt desert shrub communities as well and the conversion of these rangelands to annual grasslands is well on its’ way. Understanding the potential of Nevada’s rangelands is essential in better understanding how to achieve sustainable agriculture and provide critical habitats for the various wildlife species that depend on them for their very existence.