Submitted to: Arid Land Research and Management
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/15/2003
Publication Date: 10/1/2003
Citation: Weltz, M.A., Dunn, G.H., Frasier, G.W., Reeder, S.J. 2003. Ecological sustainability of rangelands. Arid Land Research and Management. Vol. 17, #4, pp. 369-388. Interpretive Summary: Rangelands and pastures are found in every state and cover 55% of the land surface of the United States. The deserts, grasslands, meadows and woodlands that make up western rangelands comprise some 900 million acres or 80% of the land in the 17 Western states, and over one million people derive some portion of their income from farm and ranch activities on these lands. The vast expanses and remoteness makes assessing the health and economic sustainability of rangelands a difficult task. Currently, there is no national monitoring framework in place to collect data on long-term changes in rangeland health. A coordinated national research and technology transfer effort is needed to successfully develop and transfer to ranchers and rangeland managers a science-based monitoring system to determine the effects of different management practices on the health of rangeland ecosystems. This paper reviews the concepts associated with assessing rangeland health and ecological sustainability and the various monitoring procedures currently in use, and discusses the approach needed to successfully develop a coordinated national monitoring system.
Technical Abstract: Rangelands comprise some 364 million ha in the 17 Western states, and the vast expanses and remoteness of rangelands makes assessing economic and ecological sustainability a difficult task. Currently, there is no national monitoring framework in place to collect data on long-term or eposidic processes and agents of change over time. Since there are no defined methods for summarizing the health of rangelands, individual conclusions about the sustainability of the nation's rangelands vary from person to person and organization to organization. Organizations and individuals charged with selection of best management systems on rangelands are under increasing pressure to consider not only livestock production issues, but also sustainability and health under multiple land use. A coordinated national research and technology transfer effort is required to successfully develop and transfer to ranchers and rangeland managers a science-based monitoring system to determine the effects of management practices on sustainability of rangeland ecosystems.