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News from the Enterprise Program

Pacific Southwest Regional Rangeland Vegetation Production and Performance Assessment

Author: Anton Jackson

Competing agency priorities, complex environmental issues, appeals and litigation, changing budget direction, staffing shortages, and the high cost of analysis all reinforce the need for more efficient ways of accomplishing our mission of good land stewardship. Towards that end, the Pacific Southwest Region (Region 5) hired the Enterprise Program (EP) to design and test new spatial analysis tools that rangeland managers could use to identify potential resource concerns at the grazing allotment scale, based on bio-physical indicators. That information could then be used to direct targeted assessments and help decision-makers prioritize limited resources towards planning and project implementation efforts that provide the greatest good.

Using an in-service agreement, the EP engaged Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS) research ecologist Matt Reeves to provide project design and analysis support. Remote sensing technology, including MODIS and NDVI, were used to measure understory vegetation production within Forest Service grazing allotments throughout California over a fifteen year timespan (including the recent severe drought). Results were compared to reference conditions and the level of departure between current and expected production values was calculated.

Additional metrics that were analyzed include biomass production trends over time, variability of biomass production over time, and biomass correlation with drought. The drought assessment was particularly important because it served as a gauge of production performance or underperformance. If little drought was observed, but a notable decline in production had occurred, it could indicate that ecological processes had been compromised on a particular site in some way.

This type of data could provide a valuable cue to managers that further investigation is needed, and help guide future monitoring that will contribute to allotment-level planning efforts. The results of this study are currently being utilized in ongoing Forest Plan revision efforts in Region 5. The final report and geodatabase generated from this study could be used for numerous applications beyond rangeland management as well, including watershed assessments or landscape-scale restoration planning. A copy of the report may be obtained at the following link: R5 Rangeland Production Assessment Report.

Date: July 12, 2017

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