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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: Quantifying Environmental Benefits Derived from Implementing Rangeland Conservation Practices within the Great Basin

Location: Great Basin Rangelands Research

2013 Annual Report

1a. Objectives (from AD-416):
The University of Nevada at Reno 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 pinyon and juniper woodlands within the Great Basin. 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 rangelands hydrologic and plant growth processes. The work will focus on the effects of conservation practices applied to pinyon and juniper woodlands on the following environmental outcomes: water availability, water quality, soil quality, habitat, forage availability, and fuel reductions.

1b. Approach (from AD-416):
The University of Nevada at Reno will assist developing an Experimental Watershed on the Smith Creek Ranch in central Nevada near Austin, Nevada. University of Nevada will assist in installing four flumes to quantify surface runoff, monitor ground water wells, measuring interception by pinyon and junior trees, measuring evapotranspiration, and monitoring plant response after treatment.

3. Progress Report:
ARS researchers in Reno, Nevada, and University of Nevada, Reno, partners are developing methods to determine plant health and growth rates by studying how many leaves native shrubs produce in a year. Leaf area is a fundamental ecosystem parameter that is required to estimate plant response to drought or to grazing impacts. A direct measurement of how many leaves a shrub produces is the most accurate method, but is destructive, time-consuming, and labor-intensive. Leaf area is highly variable in time and space on sagebrush-steppe rangelands, and a rapid nondestructive method is desirable to understand ecosystem processes and quality of wildlife habitat for sage grouse. Several non-destructive techniques were evaluated to estimate light interception as a means of quickly determining leaf area in comparison to the traditional point-intercept method. The light interception techniques were unreliable in part because this technique could not separate woody stems from leaves. The point-intercept method is a non-destructive method and has been demonstrated to provide accurate data on sagebrush and is currently the most reliable method of estimating the key plant health index. Findings from this research effort have been reported in the following articles; (1) Finzel, J.A., Seyfried, M.S., Weltz, M.A., Kiniry, J.R., Johnson, M.V.,Launchbaugh, K.L. 2012. Indirect measurements of leaf area index in sagebrush steppe. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 65: 208-212. (2) Johnson, M.V., Finzel, J.A., Spanel, D., Weltz, M., Sanchez, H., Kiniry, J.R. 2011. The Rancher's ALMANAC. Rangelands. 33: 10-16. and (3) McGwire, K. C., Weltz, M., Finzel, J.,Morris, C., Fenstermaker, L., McGraw, D. 2012. Multiscale assessment of green leaf area in a semi-arid rangeland. International Journal of Remote Sensing. 34:1615-1632. This agreement was established in support of objective 1 of the in-house project, "Assess and quantify ecological conditions and biotic processes that maintain healthy rangelands, improve forage production, and enhance recovery of degraded sagebrush, and pinyon/juniper woodlands under uncertain climatic conditions in the Great Basin". 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.

4. Accomplishments

Last Modified: 06/24/2017
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