Like the financial statements used within the ranch business, rangelands monitoring provides the critical “ecological statements” portraying performance of the ranch resources. Just as financial managers use data to track performance of their businesses, landowners use land health data to track performance of their resource base. Armed with such data, resource managers may adjust their operations to optimize land health and maximize the landscape’s long-term revenue potential. Data may be used to document past performance of the resource and may guide enhanced decision making. Our rangeland monitoring services examine changes in land health through time, while informing management decisions. We provide critical “early-warning indicators” suggesting management practices may not be producing the desired result. We utilize a variety of monitoring methods and also favor the Bullseye monitoring protocol.
An example of the benefits of rangeland monitoring may be found on a Wyoming ranch that greatly altered its grazing strategy over a decade ago. Rangeland health monitoring provided both a track record of changes, as well as needed guidance on making management-related decisions. A multi-year summary of changes may be found below from one pasture.
In 2005, 44% of the soil was bare, meaning it was not producing. Changes in grazing management shortly thereafter resulted in strong declines in bare ground and an increase by 6 percentage points in live plant cover. This marked strong improvement. The rangeland health monitoring transect was read in the years of 2005, 2007, and again in 2011.
After the amount of bare ground declined, vegetative productivity increased greatly, as shown in the table below.
The "benchmark" figure of 1,500 pounds per acre represents the potential production of this part of the pasture, given the pasture's combination of soils and annual precipitation. In 2003, the pasture was grealy underperforming its potential at just over 500 pounds per acre of vegetative production. With a drought in 2006, the level of vegetative productivity declined further. By 2010, rangeland health had dramatically improved, and plant production increased. Continued strong management resulted in a level of production in 2013 that surpassed the potential at over 2,000 pounds per acre in an average precipitation year. Such increases in production were made without seeding, fertilizing, or irrigating this rangeland pasture.
The altered grazing management strategy also resulted in strong shifts in plant species composition, as the figure below shows.
Green needlegrass and Idaho fescue are both highly desired plant species in this part of Wyoming for both livestock and big game. The amount of both species increased dramatically in certain pastures. Each of the years shown in the figure represent years in which the rangeland health transects were read.
Lastly, these improvements resulted in strong increases in the ranch's stocking rate, which is a measure of the number of animal days harvested relative to the number of acres involved.
This figure shows the number of animal unit equivalents of cow/calf pairs, yearling cattle, and sheep grazing the ranch. The number of animal days harvested tripled between 2002 and 2013. This ranch's revenue increased dramatically with the same cost structure, making its livestock operations much more profitable.