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ARS Home » Plains Area » Las Cruces, New Mexico » Range Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #249842

Title: Simplifying ecological site verification, rangeland health assessments, and monitoring

item Herrick, Jeffrey - Jeff
item Bestelmeyer, Brandon
item CROSSLAND, KEITH - New Mexico State University

Submitted to: Rangelands
Publication Type: Trade Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 12/1/2008
Publication Date: 12/15/2008
Citation: Herrick, J.E., Bestelmeyer, B.T., Crossland, K. 2008. Simplifying ecological site verification, rangeland health assessments, and monitoring. Rangelands. 30(6):24-26.

Interpretive Summary: One of the greatest constraints to ecological site verification and soil-based rangeland health assessment and monitoring is the inability or unwillingness of many to dig a small hole to identify the soil. In many cases this is because shovels typically carried in field vehicles are poorly designed for digging in rangeland soils. Currently available shovels are either too wide to effectively penetrate hard and stony soils, or too weak to resist the enthusiasm of rangeland scientists and managers. This paper explains the importance of soil verification and describes how to adapt heavy-gauge tile or drain spade. The wood shank is replaced with a piece of schedule 40 steel pipe so that the distance from the top of the handle to the top of the blade is about 84cm. The three pieces are connected with strong welds.

Technical Abstract: During the past several decades, scientists and land managers in North America have increasingly recognized the importance of rangeland assessment relative to ecological potential based on soil and climate. The adoption of the site potential based “ecological site” system was recently formalized in a memorandum of understanding between the US Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. During the same period, integration of soil and vegetation indicators has led to the development and adoption of new assessment protocols, such as “Interpreting Indicators of Rangeland Health. “In addition to requiring ecological site identification based on soils, this protocol includes at least two indicators that require soil excavation: “soil surface loss or degradation” and “compaction layer.” The “pedestals and/or terracettes” indicator also sometimes requires excavation to determine whether erosion or deposition has resulted in the apparent elevation of plants relative to the soil surface. All three of these indicators can be difficult to assess in some ecological sites, and we have found that the best way to learn is through observation and comparison of a large number of soil profiles. Many monitoring protocols in the United States and Canada also include soil indicators. Some have even argued that, “If one agrees that a variety of current and potential plant communities can occur above a conservation threshold for a particular ecological site, then monitoring vegetation has to take a backseat to monitoring soils.”