Rangeland Inventory Monitoring Assessment

September 17, 2014 Print Friendly and PDF

Written by Rachel Frost, Montana State University

What Is Rangeland Monitoring?

Monitoring is a valuable tool for the management of public and private rangelands. It plays a critical role in detecting problems in the early stages and is the only way to objectively evaluate the effectiveness of management strategies.

Rangeland Assessment vs. Monitoring: What Is the Difference?

Rangeland Inventory and Assessment
A rangeland inventory is a snapshot of the range site at one particular point in time that helps managers document and describe the current conditions associated with a rangeland site. The purpose of a rangeland inventory is to characterize all parts of a management unit, such as a soil survey, or estimate average values of certain attributes such as forage production. Inventory data may also be used to compare existing conditions to ecological potential, as is the case in rangeland condition assessments. Qualitative observations used in rangeland assessments allow managers to interpret the functional status of rangeland resources relative to the ecological potential or management objectives.
For more information, see Rangeland Inventory and Assessment.
Rangeland Monitoring
Rangeland monitoring documents change over time in vegetation or other rangeland resources. Often, the purpose of rangeland monitoring is to evaluate these changes relative to management objectives or site potential. The emphasis on change is what distinguishes monitoring from rangeland inventories. Repeated rangeland inventories can be used as a monitoring strategy, but inventories are generally cost prohibitive and provide more detail than is needed to evaluate management. Rangeland inventories may also be too qualitative to provide resource trends except at very broad spatial and temporal scales. Thus, periodic monitoring of selected attributes may be a more realistic and efficient approach to documenting resource trends.
For more information, see Rangeland Monitoring.

Rangeland Vegetation and Habitat Classification

Classification of rangeland vegetation is an ecologically based approach to delineate plant communities with distinguishable characteristics based on dominant vegetation types. Ecological classification of vegetation is based on rangeland inventories and can be assessed at several different scales. Classification systems have historically been based on the potential natural vegetation — that is, the vegetation that would come to exist over time in the absence of disturbance. 

For more information, see Rangeland Vegetation and Habitat Classification.

Keeping Records 

In general it is a good idea to keep track of the 4 forces that cause change on rangeland: fire, grazing, climate and invasive species. More specifically, maintaining detailed records of grazing plans and climate data will help you determine if the changes you see on rangeland are from your grazing management or from precipitation and weather patterns. Noting the occurrence and size of any fires will help determine the cause of changes in rangeland vegetation attributes or species. Keep a map of the locations of invasive species infestations along with records of any treatments that were applied. These records will inform you of the effectiveness of your management treatments and aid in developing a comprehensive management plan.


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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.