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ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Reno, Nevada » Great Basin Rangelands Research » Research » Research Project #434159

Research Project: Rangeland Assessment, Risks to Sustainability, and Techniques to Restore Degraded Rangelands

Location: Great Basin Rangelands Research

Project Number: 2060-13610-002-15-N
Project Type: Non-Funded Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: Feb 12, 2018
End Date: Sep 30, 2022

Objective:
The most vulnerable rangeland areas affected by soil erosion are areas where annual precipitation is between 100 and 400 mm yr-1. With low plant density and minimal canopy and ground cover, arid and semi-arid areas are prone to both wind and water erosion. Overall, the climate regime, lack of vegetative cover, and altered plant community structure due to historic overgrazing in Kazakhstan makes their rangelands extremely vulnerable to accelerated soil erosion and land degradation from both wind and water erosion increasing risks of unstainability and loss of livestock forage production. In order to assess and/or manage rangelands, one must have knowledge of the soil type, and the classification and density of present vegetation on-site in contrast with potential vegetation for determining risks of degradation and lost forage potential. It is proposed that USDA and its Kazakhstan partners develop a multiphase approach that would include the following technology development, data collection, data analysis, and training programs. This approach would enable the assessment of the aerial extent of rangeland degradation and techniques for prioritizing areas in need of restoration in Kazakhstan and the western United States. Training Goals: 1) Demonstrate concepts and processes to develop Ecological Site Descriptions (ESD). 2) Demonstrate USDA National Resources Inventory (NRI) monitoring technology data collection techniques. 3) Demonstrate use on Indicators of Rangeland Health qualitative assessment technique. 4) Demonstrate use of Rangeland Hydrology and Erosion Model (RHEM) to assess environmental status of the site and assess risk of sustainability as a function of potential and actual soil erosion at the site scale. 5) Demonstrate use of KINEROS2 watershed tool implemented through the Automated Geospatial Watershed Assessment (AGWA) GIS interface to assess location of degraded rangelands, determine priority, location, and potential benefits from watershed scale restoration. Data Collection Goals: 1) Develop a systematic method to collect National Resources Inventory (NRI) information to assess status and health of rangelands across Kazakhstan; such that, local, regional, and national status reports can be developed. 2) Develop a systematic method to collect, soil, vegetation, topographic, and climate data information to assess status and health of rangelands across Kazakhstan; such that, local, regional, and national status reports can be developed. Assessment Goal: 1) Assess rainfall/runoff ratios, soil loss, and sediment yield of rangelands across target rangeland watershed. 2) Assess benefits of hillslope and watershed scale revegetation treatments in reducing runoff, soil loss, sediment yield, and increasing forage potential and health of the land across target rangeland watershed. Restoration Goals: 1) Develop technology, techniques, and plant materials to restore degraded rangelands. 2) Develop equivalent of USDA Ecological Site Descriptions for providing information to livestock producers on how to manage rangelands in a sustainable manner to have safe and secure food and water supplies.

Approach:
Develop the scientific foundations for assessing status and trends of natural resources at local, regional, and national scales. In addition, develop a ranch planning training package to utilize this information to develop sustainable gazing management systems for producers. A component of this would be development of training package that would teach the foundations of rangeland management and rangeland ecohydrology. The training would include techniques to qualitatively estimate rangeland health (Indicators of Rangeland Health) and quantitative rangeland survey techniques (National Resources Inventory - NRI). Develop techniques to use data from these assessments to conduct risk analysis with the Rangeland Hydrology and Erosion Model (RHEM) to estimate sustainable soil loss at pasture/ranch scale. Develop techniques to use the same data to perform watershed analysis for assessing the impacts of various pasture restoration treatments with the KINEROS2 model in the Automated Geospatial Watershed Assessment - AGWA interface. Combine all this data into Ecological Site Descriptions where producers would be able to identify where they are on a continuum of vegetation plant communities using state-and transition theory. Once plant community (i.e., state) is identified then the Ecological Site Description can be used to identify possible restoration activities and cost-benefit ratios for increasing livestock forage production and other ecosystem services. This would be accomplished by utilizing a combination of on-site field collect vegetation and soils/slope data and remotely sensed data from drones and satellite to develop base layer of the density and distribution of vegetation/soil/slope complexes. Utilize this data to develop the techniques to recommend sustainable grazing systems for individual producers. Utilize this data to develop techniques to implement a systematic assessment by region of Kazakhstan to produce, local, regional, and national scale reports on status of rangelands, potential for restoration and increase livestock forage production, and optimal locations for restoration to cost-effectively enhance food and water security.