Rangeland Monitoring Program Receives U.S. Forest Service Award

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Arizona Cooperative Extension Rangeland Monitoring Program has been recognized by the U.S. Forest Service with the National Rangeland Research and Development Award. The award was presented at the Society for Range Management annual meeting in Oklahoma City last week. Five College of Agriculture and Life Sciences faculty and staff were recognized for outstanding scientific achievement in the field of rangeland ecology and rangeland management - Del Despain and George Ruyle (both School of Natural Resources and the Environment), Kim McReynolds (Cochise County Cooperative Extension), Jim Sprinkle (Gila County Cooperative Extension) and Doug Tolleson (V Bar V Ranch).

The award honors UA Rangeland Monitoring Program personnel for "working within their counties and across the state of Arizona to build collaboration and consensus to address resource management concerns. With the goal of education and outreach they utilize many avenues to provide outreach in neutral settings to address issues and concerns in local communities surrounding National Forests in Arizona." They are "committed leaders cooperating with the Forest Service with the goal of positive movement towards ecological restoration."

CALS range specialists began providing hands-on training through the Rangeland Monitoring Program in 1978. Since then, hundreds of ranchers and natural resource agency personnel have participated in these workshops. George Ruyle, range management specialist, recalled that educational outreach rose out of controversy between land use and regulatory agencies and grazing permittees in Arizona. "There was just no good information on Arizona rangeland conditions that could be used to inform the debate," he said.

Participants in rangeland monitoring workshops have learned how to incorporate rangeland trend data when making decisions on how many and where to move cattle. This has resulted in the implementation of rangeland monitoring methods on private, state and public land grazing allotments as well as increased interest in rangeland monitoring in general.

Based on experience developed through their own monitoring efforts in the field, scientists recommend on-the-ground monitoring once a year at the same time of the year. "Fall is the best time because plants are more easily identifiable during that stage of growth," Ruyle noted. Monitoring once a year for a number of years provides a baseline as well as the ability to learn to spot subtle changes over time.

The training focuses on the entire scope of monitoring efforts. "Why you monitor, where you might monitor, what kind of things you would select to monitor," Ruyle said. "We also teach what kind of soil and vegetative attributes that you would monitor." Once the book learning is in place, the participants learn the techniques for doing it.

Among the specific efforts highlighted by the U.S. Forest Service award are the following:

  • developing the Guide to Rangeland Monitoring and Assessment,
  • conducting interagency training to provide consistent application of protocols and collection of data,
  • developing the Vegetation GIS Data System (VGS),
  • implementing the Reading the Range program,
  • participating in the Natural Resources Conservation Workshop for Arizona Youth,
  • developing and implementing the youth program "Range Rocks,"
  • coordinating with the National Riparian Service Team and "Creeks and Communities" programming,
  • coordinating resource management activities,
  • initiating the Wallow Fire Forage Response project, and
  • developing the Burning Risk Advisory Support System.