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Grazing Monitoring

Monitoring Specialist: Jan Reinhart, jreinhart@utah.gov

There are several purposes for collecting monitoring information on GIP projects.

  • Documenting Change Over Time

We collect ecological data, such as vegetation species composition and ground cover, to observe changes that occur over time that may be related to projects implemented by GIP and improvements to grazing management. Data are collected before and after projects are completed.

Monitoring data are being collected on the Three Creeks project in Rich County for these purposes. Over 140 sites have been visited for baseline data collection, and will be revisited periodically after grazing management changes have occurred. Additionally, cattle movement patterns are being studied using GPS collars to better understand how the animals are using the landscape.

GIP is partnering with The Nature Conservancy and a local rancher to use cattle grazing to reduce phragmites cover along the shores of the Great Salt Lake. This invasive weed outcompetes native vegetation and degrades wildlife habitat. Data are being collected to monitor changes in the plant community structure over time.

 

  • Determining Project Success

Data are also collected on some projects to determine if goals are being met. Some GIP projects include vegetation treatments to enhance forage production or reduce invasive species cover. Vegetation response can be documented by collecting data before and after treatment.

On this private-land project, a treatment was applied to thin the sagebrush cover, increasing resource availability for the herbaceous species in the understory.

A water trough system was installed in this valley in southeastern Utah to better distribute livestock after a fire burned the area in 2008. Sites were established to monitor the herbaceous understory response to grazing management changes post-fire.

  • Inventory of Available Resources

Forage production and other ecological indicators can change over time due to climate patterns, land management practices, and disturbances such as fire. It is important to inventory rangelands regularly to inform management. Having the proper data can help land management agencies and producers make appropriate adjustments to grazing systems.

One public grazing allotment in central Utah has burned numerous times over the past few decades, changing the dominant plant community from woodland with little understory to grassland. Residents of the nearby city are concerned about the buildup of fuels that may burn again and put the city in danger. Forage production data were collected to support an increase in livestock numbers to help reduce the amount of fine fuels on the allotment.

One of the many challenges of managing Utah’s rangelands is ensuring that wildlife and livestock can coexist. Forage production data were collected in the Henry Mountains to help inform wildlife and livestock management.

  • Defining Future Management Plans

Monitoring rangelands over time allows us to adapt grazing management based on data trends. If a certain grazing system is not producing the desired result, we can alter the system and continue to collect ecological data to see if the management change creates a more desirable outcome.

GIP is a member of the La Sal Sustainability Collaboration, which was formed by multiple stakeholders to support landscape-scale management of 285,000 acres in San Juan County. Ecological monitoring for this project is provided by GIP. Indicators related to ecological resilience, wildlife habitat, and riparian health are measured periodically. The data can be discussed by the group to address any of the members’ concerns and to determine if any changes to grazing management are necessary.

The type of livestock assigned to a grazing allotment sometimes needs to be changed, and vegetation data are needed to determine the proper number of animals to permit. Data were collected on this allotment in southern Utah that was historically grazed by sheep, but is being changed to cattle.