Panels of experts from the Society for Range Management and the National Research Council proposed that status of rangeland ecosystems could be ascertained by evaluating an ecological site's potential to conserve soil resources and by a series of indicators for ecosystem processes and site stability. Using these recommendations as a starting point, we developed a rapid, qualitative method for assessing a moment-in-time status of rangelands. Evaluators rate 17 indicators to assess 3 ecosystem attributes (soil and site stability, hydrologic function, and biotic integrity) for a given location. Indicators include rills, water flow patterns, pedestals and terracettes, bare ground, gullies, wind scour and depositional areas, litter movement, soil resistance to erosion, soil surface loss or degradation, plant composition relative to infiltration, soil compaction, plant functional/structural groups, plant mortality, litter amount, annual production, invasive plants, and reproductive capability. In this paper, we detail the development and evolution of the technique and introduce a modified ecological reference worksheet that documents the expected presence and amount of each indicator on the ecological site. In addition, we review the intended applications for this technique and clarify the differences between assessment and monitoring that lead us to recommend this technique be used for moment-in-time assessments and not be used for temporal monitoring of rangeland status. Lastly, we propose a mechanism for adapting and modifying this technique to reflect improvements in understanding of ecosystem processes. We support the need for quantitative measures for monitoring rangeland health and propose some measures that we believe may address some of the 17 indicators.
Additional publication details
Rangeland health attributes and indicators for qualitative assessment