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News Release

Date: March 27, 2013

New report on U.S. rangelands assesses future impacts of energy development, climate change, and invasive species

FORT COLLINS, Colo., March 27, 2013 – The expansion of invasive plant species may pose the greatest threat to the future health of U.S. rangelands, and cause a serious financial burden to society. A new USDA Forest Service report finds that U.S. rangelands are currently in relatively good ecological condition, with more than 75 percent of the land area exhibiting healthy characteristics, or at least moving toward improved health. The study found the current forage capacity is relatively stable and sufficient to support both wildlife and livestock populations without adversely impacting the environment.

Yet invasive species continue to pose a threat to many ecosystems because they can interrupt ecological processes like nutrient cycling and pollination, as well as increase soil erosion, degrade wildlife habitat, reduce the carrying capacity of livestock, interfere with predator and prey relationships, and reduce overall ecosystem biodiversity.

The report, “A Synoptic Review of U.S. Rangelands: A Technical Document Supporting the Forest Service 2010 RPA Assessment,” estimates approximately 3310 non-native plant species occur within the conterminous U.S.—many of which are present on roughly 50 percent of non-federal rangelands. The 16 most pervasive species affect 126 million acres and are expanding at a rate of up to 4000 acres per day, or approximately 1.5 million acres per year in some regions. These rates are alarming because rangelands in the conterminous 48 states occupy about 1 million square miles, an area larger than Texas, California, Montana, New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada, combined.

The research team, led by Matthew Reeves, Research Ecologist, and John Mitchell, Emeritus Scientist at the Rocky Mountain Research Station, predicts that urban development, oil and gas exploration, agricultural development, and to a lesser extent, residential development, could cause further rangeland fragmentation.

According to Mitchell, “Advances in technology are allowing development of natural gas and renewable energy resources that still allow grazing and other uses of rangeland, thus providing alternative sources of income for landowners. Interactions involving energy development and invasive species will nonetheless challenge rangeland managers well into the 21st Century.”

Rangelands are a source of both renewable and non-renewable energy in the United States. Of all energy sources extracted from rangelands, coal, oil, and natural gas, are by far the most common. However, the large, windswept, arid rangeland landscapes of the western U.S. are uniquely poised to provide substantial quantities of wind and solar energy.

To download or read the report online go to: www.treesearch.fs.fed.us/pubs/42302, or to request a printed copy, call (970) 498-1393 and reference RMRS-GTR-288.

The Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS) is one of seven regional units that make up the U.S. Forest Service Research and Development organization - the most extensive natural resources research organization in the world. The Station maintains 12 field laboratories throughout a 12 state territory encompassing the Great Basin, Southwest, Rocky Mountains, and parts of the Great Plains, and administers and conducts research on 14 experimental forests, ranges, and watersheds, while maintaining long-term databases for these areas. RMRS research is broken into seven science program areas that serve the Forest Service as well as other federal and state agencies, international organizations, private groups, and individuals. To find out more about the RMRS go to www.fs.fed.us/rmrs. You can also follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/usfs_rmrs.


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