Transcript of Rangeland Trend Monitoring Video
Transcript of "Rangeland Trend Monitoring - A Rancher's Perspective" Video
Trend monitoring is a process allowing you to develop a long-term
program for your ranch. Rangeland trend monitoring helps you see the direction
of change on your ranchland over a long period of time. It allows you to
identify any changes that involve plant succession and soil properties. This
trend can identify changes over a long period that are upward, downward or just
not apparent, static. .
CHASE HIBBARD, MONTANA RANCHER:
If there is anything bad going on you want to, you want to stop it and turn it
around and make it right.
Let's take a closer look at all three:
Upward trend is a positive change that might involve decrease in the amount
of bare ground. It might be seen in a gradual increase of desirable forage plant
density or higher production. An upward trend might also appear with a decrease
in noxious and invasive weeds, an increase in litter cover, or a general
enhancement of plant vigor. If you see changes like these occurring on your
rangeland the trend is upward.
A downward trend is adverse such as an increase in bare ground, a decrease in
desirable forage plants indicated by lower production and density, an increase
of noxious and invasive plants, less litter cover between plants or less plant
growth vigor. If you see changes like these occurring on your rangeland you
would conclude the trend on that land is a downward trend.
Regarding a static trend, you cannot see or document either a positive or an
adverse change in the plant community or on the soil surface.
So what we are discussing is monitoring of your rangeland to evaluate changes
in range condition and progress toward meeting a management goal over an
extended period of time. Monitoring of long-term trend helps you document
the ecological status of an area of land and how it changes over time; and helps
you determine how you are progressing toward meeting specific pre-determined
goals for your ranch.
ROBERT LEE, MONTANA RANCHER:
It's just these things here, this data management is what it's all about. You
know it's hard to know where you're going if you don't know where you've been.
So the more records you have, the more documentation you have, the more
opportunity you have to succeed.
The management plan for your ranch is the basis for your monitoring plan.
Maintaining a good ranching operation imposes many demands that require keeping
good up-to-date records including finances, herd genetics, herd health, animal
production statistics, and more. The long-term monitoring of the health and
productivity of your rangeland and introduced pastures is often neglected,
despite the fact range health and productivity can and does affect herd health
and animal productivity.
In my view we are really in the grass business. If we don't take care of this
resource and if we don't improve this resource over time we're not going to be
in business. And so I think time is very well spent, at least as well spent,
keeping track of what is going on on the range as it is keeping detailed records
on your cow herd.
An effective method of addressing this need is to monitor the effects of grazing
management and rangeland health by adding trend monitoring to the normal
operation of your ranch.
We're using water cycle, mineral cycle, energy flow and level of succession as
our monitoring basics. And so we look at each one of those things and if any of
those is out of whack, then we know, which we learned by our monitoring, then we
know that we need to make changes.
There are a number of reasons trend monitoring is important. To identify a few:
it allows you to evaluate the return on your investment of any extra time and
labor to move animals in a new, planned grazing strategy. And tracking your
investments in conservation practices such as new fencing, water developments,
range or pasture seeding will help create a clearer picture of your progress.
For example, on Chase Hibbard's ranch a change was made to a more grass-oriented
We switched our calving date from February to June and began running yearlings.
Uh, the main objective of which was to be able to winter those cows on little or
no hay. Um, we went to the lower elevations on the ranch and, uh, subdivided
them with a limited amount of permanent three-wire electric, and are further
subdividing with portable one-strand electric polywire; ah, grazing for short
duration, putting cows together in a large mob.
Hibbard says that evolved into keeping that mob together for the summer.
So obviously we're, we're starting to do things quite differently. We felt it
was very necessary to have an early warning system. Taking this step was a big
Trend monitoring can help you resolve resource concerns and meet management
goals including less bare ground, more productive perennial forage for
livestock, habitat for wildlife, ecological process improvements and soil and
rangeland health changes, improved herd health, improved drought resistance and
weed resistance on your range. All addressing goals that improve long-term
profitability and sustainability for your operation.
ROBERT LEE, MONTANA RANCHER:
I'm a firm believer in trend monitoring.
Trend, I like upwards trends. I like my, my decreaser grasses to be there and
healthy. And you find out what works. Pasture rotation systems work. That really
Now let's discuss methods you can use to easily establish a long-term monitoring
program for your ranch. It may help to revisit the management goals you've
established for your ranch, with an eye toward any changes that need to occur to
meet your feasible and practical goals including facilitating practices and
practical goals. Develop a solid plan to meet those goals. Working with a
rangeland professional can be beneficial to assist with this planning effort.
To develop goals for your plan remember this word: smart. Specific,
Measureable, Attainable, Results-Oriented and Timely goals: smart.
Permanent long-term monitoring transects will be set up at strategic
locations on the ranch to help assess progress toward meeting specific
manageable goals. Locations may include, but not be limited to the dominant
soils or ecological sites on your ranch; critical areas such as riparian
communities; noxious or poisonous weed problem areas; areas of low productivity
or areas with a decline in productivity seen over a period of time. These
transect sites will reflect changes that are occurring over a much larger area
within a specific pasture or within two or more adjoining pastures that are
being grazed by one herd.
Additional sites may be monitored to assess progress with noxious weed
management or solving soil erosion problems. These may be monitored for a
shorter period of time but would be an important part of the overall monitoring
Tandi Tomt has been helping develop trend monitoring on the Hibbard ranch.
TANDI TOMT, RANCH EMPLOYEE:
They had some places that they just wanted to monitor over the years and
determine trend with it, so we have PVC pipe set up in a three-foot square that
we just go, and I put the hoop out there and take pictures directly of the site
and then just the north, south, east and west directions so that we can get a
And then they wanted it set up just so anyone could basically go out there,
even if I wasn't here or whatever, that they could go back and over the years
still be able to do the same project. So we just have the description of the
plot location by paces from a gate, or a fence, or a corner post; description of
the soil; topography, rainfall for the year; range condition; grazing use; and
then any other information we have out there. So, I just look at the site and
determine, you know, approximately what's going on there. Maybe weeds versus
plants; the age, kind of the age group of plants; what's been grazed, what
If steel posts are used to mark monitoring locations, they should be set about
75 feet in a known direction, away from the actual transect location. Livestock
will rub on the posts and disturb your transect if the steel post is placed too
close to the monitoring site.
Learn to identify the trend indicators in your pastures. Are forage plants
productive and vigorous? Is species composition changing? Is there adequate
litter on the surface? Is there excessive bare ground, club moss and or lichens? One example of an attainable goal with changes in grazing management over a
5-year period may be to reduce bare ground by 20 percent. Is there evidence of
recent soil erosion?
Let's review what
information you should be gathering.
Grazing records are extremely important for analyzing why your rangeland may
be trending toward, trending away from, or have not changed in any direction for
a period of time in relation to goals you have set. This would include turn-in,
turn-out dates; class and weight of livestock; Animal Unit Months (AUMs) used;
stubble height remaining of key forage species including utilization levels; any
weather events; fire activity; monthly precipitation data would be beneficial;
uncommon or unusual insect activity; wildlife use and activities including
rodents, deer, elk, antelope, birds and others. The measurements taken will be determined by the resource goals you have
established for your ranch. For example, if your goal is improved range health by reducing bare ground by
10 percent and increasing surface litter by 15 percent, you will need
measurements of bare ground and surface litter cover.
It is important that you take landscape and ground photos. You may also want to take other photos to show weeds in pastures; display utilization levels after cattle have been moved; and show evidence of insect damage, fire, or weather events.
Conduct cover measurements to show the percentage of bare ground, basal and
canopy cover by species or plant type, litter cover, as well as cover of
lichens, moss, dense club moss or rocks.
This is the line point intercept. The photo monitoring allows us to see changes
over time as we compare, but, um, the line point intercept allows us to see more
intricate change, um, as we can see exactly what plants are out there at each
point and compare them over the years. And that'll show us more subtle change,
whereas photo points will show bigger changes.
As far as timelines: when should you collect long-term monitoring data?
Photographs should be taken every year on the permanent transects. Time should
be allocated during the growing season to take photographs, if possible during
the same month each year. The best time to take photographs would be when the
rangeland is still green and plants are flowering, during the month of July,
give or take a couple of weeks and depending on the year. This way you will be
able to see differences in the photos more distinctly over time and
identification of plants will be easier this time of year.
We try to do it together as a family, you know, like in July. If you can monitor
somewhat close to the same time every year I think your results are going to be
a little more meaningful.
Cover measurements should be taken every two to five years. Although changes may
be difficult to see visually from year to year, cover measurements may reveal
subtle changes that are not obvious to the naked eye. Drier areas will likely
respond more slowly than wetter areas. Keep a small notebook in your shirt
pocket or pickup that is always available for jotting down information that can
later be added to the grazing records documentation.
To successfully use long-term trend monitoring does not require much of your
time. Although there is a wide variety of ranch size in Montana, taking photos
on the permanent transects in locations across your ranch should not take more
than one day. On many ranches a portion of a day would be adequate.
If you need help reading the transects for cover information every few years,
ask for assistance and schedule time with someone you trust and who is more
familiar with plant identification and cover sampling. Montana ranchers, Walter
Borntrager, Jim Ekland, and Carla Delp formed a monitoring group to help each
other out with this.
WALTER BORNTRAGER, MONTANA RANCHER:
And it turned out that Jim Ekland and Carla Delp both had an interest and we
started talking about it and decided that we would just get together and help
encourage each other and help us try to figure out how to utilize the monitoring
in our programs, you know, effectively.
CARLA DELP, MONTANA RANCHER:
We meet once a year in the summer time and we go to each other's places and we,
ah, we do a transect line and record that and monitor cages. And then we do a
monitoring plot and take a picture of it; and everything is recorded. And it's a
really, a benefit tool for us to talk to each other, get together.
JAMES EKLAND, MONTANA RANCHER:
There's lots of times where you don't talk to your neighbor for a long time.
Like, if I wasn't in this with Walt I might not talk to him very much. I might
not talk to Carla. This way it keeps us all together, you know, and talking to
each other and different ideas. It's just, it's just kind of a really good
The key to monitoring is the final critical step: evaluating your monitoring
data and making any necessary management changes. Compare photos and cover
measurements not only from this year but from previous years as well. Review
your goals and analyze the results to determine if management goals are or are
not being met. Then make a plan for the next growing season. This could involve
a change in grazing rotation, a change in a kind or class of livestock, length
of time in individual pastures, maybe longer rest periods.
If you are unsure about how to integrate the results confer with others you
trust and who are familiar with your operation. This may be a private rangeland
consultant or a rangeland conservationist that has helped you develop a grazing
MATT RICKETTS, NRCS RANGELAND MANAGEMENT SPECIALIST:
OK, here's an example of what we're really striving for. This is the State grass
of Montana, blue bunch wheat grass, and it should be the site dominant grass in
the historic plant community here. But we're wanting to build that. You can see
all the green material that its producing, even in a dry and below normal
Ricketts says it makes a more drought resistant, more weed resistant plant
community providing more total energy to livestock and wildlife.
But it isn't just about the grasses like bluebunch wheatgrass and thickspike
wheatgrass that's growing in here. But it's about these things I would call
little protein or mineral blocks scattered across the range, like dotted gay
feather, a warm season decreaser forb. It decreases with heavy grazing pressure
just like the blue bunch wheatgrass decreases with heavy grazing pressure. So
does the dotted gay feather. They take a little bit of this, it ups their
protein and their minerals in their diet to keep it in balance with high energy
grasses as they dry into the wintertime. And we also have purple prairie clover
growing here, which is about 20 to 30 percent protein when it's green and
growing. And as the grasses dry, it helps make up that deficiency on the
So together this makes a weed resistant, drought resistant plant community
that's highly productive. This is the rancher's true crop. They're just
harvesting and marketing it through their livestock or through their wildlife.
Monitoring can be a family activity and very satisfying as you see changes on
your range and you see progress towards meeting your goals all due to the
changes you have made. And remember, positive changes you make in management
will impact the profitability and long-term sustainability of the ranch for
Technical assistance is available from the USDA Natural Resources
Conservation Service. For more information go to www.mt.nrcs.usda.gov.