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ARS Home » Plains Area » Las Cruces, New Mexico » Range Management Research » Research » Research Project #433549

Research Project: Management Technologies for Conservation of Western Rangelands

Location: Range Management Research

2019 Annual Report

1a. Objectives (from AD-416):
The goal of the Jornada is to develop ecologically based knowledge systems and technologies for management, conservation, monitoring, and assessment of western rangelands. Our long-term research objective is to increase understanding of fundamental relationships among management practices, ecological processes, and climatic variability to improve rangeland production, conservation, and restoration. Our research plan will produce technologies to address regional and national concerns relevant to major land resource areas across the western U.S.: 1) Develop data-driven approaches in the production of ecological site descriptions that guide rangeland conservation and management practices within the western U.S. 1A: Produce new approaches for and examples of data-driven ecological site description development using ground-based and remote-sensed data. 1B: Create and populate a national database of ecological dynamics to be used in guiding national ecological site description development. 2) Improve techniques, including remotely sensed methodologies, for rangeland monitoring and assessment applicable to landscapes within MLRAs. 2A: Develop and evaluate innovative approaches for remotely monitoring land surface conditions in order to improve existing and develop new methods. 2B: Develop innovative, integrated, and flexible inventory, assessment, and monitoring techniques and decision support tools. 3) Evaluate effectiveness of historic, current, and new grassland restoration practices for dominant ecological sites New Mexico. 3A: Design and implement new studies and analyze experimental data from conservation management practices and grazing management efforts on public and private lands in MLRA 41 & 42 of AZ & NM. 4) Evaluate livestock management practices suitable for conserving and restoring rangelands within selected MLRAs of the southwestern U.S. 4A: Evaluate grazing management practices and their relationships to ecological state changes. 4B: Evaluate new low-input livestock production strategies that apply to arid environments of the Southwest U.S. 5) Develop mechanistically based predictions of vegetation state changes and site based wind erosion susceptibilities for landscapes. 5A: Predict climate-driven vegetation state changes for western landscapes. 5B: Develop and implement a wind erosion monitoring network and standardize protocols for measurement and model-based predictions of changes in horizontal and vertical dust flux on western rangelands. 6) As part of the Long-Term Agro-ecosystem Research (LTAR) Network, use the Jornada LTAR to improve observational capabilities and data accessibility of the LTAR network to support research to sustain or enhance agricultural production and environmental quality of the Rio Grande River Basin. 7) Develop science-based, region specific information and technologies for agricultural producers and natural resource managers that enable climate-smart decision-making.

1b. Approach (from AD-416):
We will build upon hundreds of existing data sets from our field station and collaborating sites. We will integrate short- and long-term data sets with simulation modeling, geographic information systems, and remote sensing tools. We will combine short-term experiments to test specific hypotheses with big data integration, models, and synthesis to develop new insights about agroecosystem functions. Decision-support tools resulting from this work are intended to meet the needs of public and private land managers, be adaptable across temporal and spatial scales, and be usable for assessing, monitoring, and implementing conservation practices. In implementing this research program, unit scientists will employ a scientific method that more effectively integrates data-intensive science to identify practices and solutions to specific problems. This work will contribute directly to the ARS Long-Term Agro-ecosystem Research Network (LTAR), the NSF Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) Network of the National Science Foundation, the National Ecological Observation Network (NEON), all of which the Jornada hosts, and to nationally and globally accessible LTAR, LTER, NEON and other databases that are critical to finding solutions to key problems facing the conservation and management of rangelands in the western U.S. and worldwide. For objective 7, the SW Climate Hub will establish agreements with state extension and education entities across the six-state region. These agreements will develop and transfer climate-smart decision-making information, involving other USDA agencies, to producers and land managers in Hawaii, California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and New Mexico.

3. Progress Report:
This is the final report for the project 3050-11210-008-00D which terminated September 2018. All planned field experiments were completed within the 5-year project (October 2013 - September 2018), prior to the start of FY19. Substantial results were realized over the five years of the project. Progress was made in all seven objectives. Ecological site descriptions (ESDs) and state-and-transition models (STMs) continue to be developed and used as guides for land management. New analyses were used to develop a draft key to ecological states and phases for an ecological site group for use by land managers across the U.S. (Objective 1A). A national online database to house ecological site information was developed for public release during the past year. This Ecosystem Dynamics Interpretative Tool (EDIT) database is currently being used by land managers to increase the impact of ESD information on management decisions (Objective 1B). Progress was made in the use of remote sensing to monitor rangeland vegetation and health (Objective 2A). Satellite imagery was used to develop indicators of seasonal vegetation change to identify locations of greatest plant recovery from drought. Standardized rangeland inventory, assessment, and monitoring decision support tools and data analysis packages were developed. These new online statistical analysis packages were used to support Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) national inventory and monitoring programs and were used by BLM to make management decisions regarding grazing management and Sage-grouse habitat suitability. These tools and resources developed by scientists at the Jornada are being used by land managers and policy makers worldwide to inform management decisions (Objective 2B). Effectiveness of past rangeland conservation practices was evaluated as part of the BLM's Restore New Mexico project. Thirty-nine long-term monitoring sites were analyzed during the past year to assess long-term responses to previous brush management treatments. Information is currently being used by agencies and land managers to determine where brush management practices have the most potential for success (Objective 3). Progress was made in evaluation of New World Criollo cattle as an alternative low-input production system for arid rangelands. A study was completed to evaluate foraging behavior of purebred and crossbred Criollo steers. Preliminary analyses suggest Criollo and Criollo crossbred steers both retained the desirable movement and spatial distribution patterns previously observed for Criollo cows on extensive desert landscapes (Objective 4). An operational framework was developed using multiple lines of evidence (long-term data, sensor and imagery products, static and dynamic maps, long-term manipulations, and analytical, numerical and conceptual models) to improve the ability of land managers to understand and predict vegetation responses in drylands to alternative climate scenarios (Objective 5A). Progress was made in the development of a National Wind Erosion Research Network. Network sites are in operation at 10 locations across the western U.S. that are collecting data in real time. These data are being used in collaborative research to assess and monitor wind erosion and to develop predictive models to estimate wind erosion on different landscapes and under different management scenarios in order to identify practices to help reduce wind erosion and improve air quality (Objective 5b, 6a). The Snowmelt Runoff Model was revised and the new model was tested on 10 basins in the Southwest for its ability to predict stream flow on which farmers and ranchers rely (Objective 6b). In support of the Southwest Regional Climate Hub, Jornada scientists worked with scientists and Cooperative Extension Agents in New Mexico, Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada, California, and Utah to build and support a network of climate extension professionals focused on climate adaptation, hosted the website, and disseminated information to assist farmers, ranchers and foresters (Objective 7a). Jornada scientists partnered with the Asombro Institute for Science Education to develop educational materials about the impacts of climate change for teachers and students as part of the Southwest Climate Hub for Risk Adaptation and Mitigation of Climate Change. A second unit entitled "The Effects of Climate Change on Agricultural Systems" was completed and made available to educators (Objective 7b.

4. Accomplishments