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The Chihuahuan Desert Knows No Borders

By Don Comis
February 6, 2001

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and Mexico’s counterpart, El Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Forestales, Agrícolas y Pecuarias (INIFAP), are working together to monitor and protect the long-term environmental health of their shared desert landscapes.

The first of four workshops on rangeland monitoring is being held this week February 5-9, in the northern Chihuahuan Desert, at USDA’s Agricultural Research Service Jornada Experimental Range in Las Cruces, N.M. Two of the workshops will be taught in English by ARS scientists in the United States and two will be taught in Mexico in Spanish, together with INIFAP scientists. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is funding the workshop series, which will be held over the next year.

ARS scientist Jeffrey E. Herrick and colleagues developed rangeland assessment and monitoring techniques over the past several years, in cooperation with Mexican scientists, BLM, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and the U.S. Geological Survey--with input from ranchers, the Nature Conservancy and other environmental organizations and New Mexico State University. Assessment techniques are used to determine current rangeland conditions, while monitoring techniques reveal changes in land quality over time.

These techniques have been compiled in two manuals: “Interpreting Indicators of Rangeland Health” and “Monitoring Manual for Grassland, Shrubland and Savanna Ecosystems”.

The assessment guide is now available from BLM and online at the NRCS Grazing Lands Technology Institute’s web site at:

The monitoring manual is being considered for later publication in Spanish as well as English.

Both the books and the workshops are intended for land managers, environmentalists, and others concerned about the status of our nation’s rangelands.

ARS scientists in Arizona, Colorado and Oregon contributed to the effort. ARS is USDA’s principal scientific research agency.

Scientific contact: Jeffrey E. Herrick, ARS Jornada Experimental Range, Las Cruces, N.M., phone (505) 646-4842, fax (806) 356-5750,