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ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Boise, Idaho » Northwest Watershed Research Center » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #334822

Title: Application of ecological site information to transformative changes on Great Basin sagebrush rangelands

item Williams, Christopher - Jason
item Pierson Jr, Frederick
item SPAETH, K - Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS, USDA)
item BROWN, J - Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS, USDA)
item AL-HAMDAN, OSAMA - Texas A&M University
item Weltz, Mark
item Nearing, Mark
item Herrick, Jeffrey - Jeff
item BOLL, JAN - Washington State University
item ROBICHAUD, P - Forest Service (FS)
item Goodrich, David - Dave
item Heilman, Philip - Phil
item GUERTIN, D - University Of Arizona
item Hernandez, Mariano
item WEI, H - University Of Arizona
item Polyakov, Viktor
item Armendariz, Gerardo
item NOUWAKPO, S - University Of Nevada
item Hardegree, Stuart
item Clark, Pat
item STRAND, E - University Of Idaho
item Bates, Jonathan - Jon
item METZ, L - Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS, USDA)
item Nichols, Mary

Submitted to: Rangelands
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 12/1/2016
Publication Date: 1/1/2017
Publication URL:
Citation: Williams, C.J., Pierson, F.B., Spaeth, K., Brown, J., Al-Hamdan, O., Weltz, M.A., Nearing, M.A., Herrick, J.E., Boll, J., Robichaud, P.R., Goodrich, D.C., Heilman, P., Guertin, D.P., Hernandez Narvaez, M.N., Wei, H., Polyakov, V.O., Armendariz, G.A., Nouwakpo, S.K., Hardegree, S.P., Clark, P., Strand, E.K., Bates, J.D., Metz, L.J., Nichols, M.H. 2017. Application of ecological site information to transformative changes on Great Basin sagebrush rangelands. Rangelands. 38(6):379-388.

Interpretive Summary: Ecological Site Descriptions (ESDs) provide a framework by which rangeland managers and management agencies evaluate ecosystem health, develop management objectives, target conservation practices, and communicate regarding ecosystem responses to management. The utility of ESDs in the management of rangelands hinges on their ability to address key ecological problems and management actions. In this paper, we present an approach to integrate key vegetation, hydrology, and soil relationships in ESDs for application on sagebrush rangelands. Our approach, applied to a single ecological site, demonstrates how ESDs can be enhanced to better inform land managers regarding ecosystem response to disturbance and management actions. A primary point of this work is that ESD concepts are flexible and can be creatively developed for improved assessment and management of US rangelands.

Technical Abstract: Ecological Site Description (ESD) concepts are broadly applicable and provide a necessary framework to inform and guide rangeland management decisions. In this paper, we demonstrate how understanding and quantification of key vegetation, hydrology, and soil relationships in the ESD context can inform rangeland assessments and targeting of management practices in Great Basin sagebrush steppe. For the example presented here, integration of vegetation and relative estimates of runoff and erosion into the STM or ESD context identifies the ecohydrologic ramifications of each state transition and allows for more informed understanding of short- and long-term site responses to various management alternatives. We did not consider other factors important to a land management decision process, such as land use designations or goals, cost and practicality of treatment alternatives, resource availability, and broader area management objectives, however, such information is easily accommodated into an ESD-based decision-making strategy/framework. Although we present a single site-specific application, the same approach can be applied at the landscape scale. RHEM model scenarios and ecohydrologic interpretations could be developed for selected states across multiple ecological sites at the landscape-scale. RHEM is also the hillslope hydrology and erosion engine for the KINEROS2/AGWA model which enables simultaneous RHEM simulations across all hillslopes in one or more watersheds. Model results supplementing current ESD information could be used to target and optimize conservation efforts across multiple sites for maximum ecological and economic benefit. For example, tree removal may be more effective at locations with vegetation early in the juniper encroachment gradient and that have highly erodible soils. An integrated ESD-RHEM approach across multiple sites would equip a decision maker to predict potential site responses and most effectively implement resources across a landscape. The general approach presented here is not limited to sagebrush rangelands or to hydrologic and erosion processes. We demonstrate how enhancement of ESDs with key ecohydrologic information can aid predictions of ecosystem response and targeting of conservation practices for sloping sagebrush rangelands that are strongly regulated by ecohydrologic or ecogeomorphic feedbacks. Similar approaches could be applied to other rangeland ecosystems with other self-regulating processes, disturbances, and factors (e.g., wind erosion and evaporation on bare soils in flat terrain). We acknowledge that application of our approach may be difficult for sites with limited local knowledge and available data. Building and assessing ecological models and predicting plant community and ecohydrologic responses to disturbances and management are inherently more difficult in cases with limited information. A primary point of this work is that ESD concepts are flexible and can be creatively augmented for improved assessment and management of rangelands.