Public Lands: Butler emphasizes range monitoring as vital
Deadwood, S.D. – Range monitoring is an important management tool on private and public lands to show how the land has changed over years, according to the president of the Society for Range Management.
Wally Butler was on hand during the Public Lands Conference annual meeting in Deadwood, S.D. last week to discuss the role range monitoring plays in management of public lands. Butler also works as a range consultant near Boise, Idaho.
Butler works with a number of agencies that manage public lands and discussed the importance of monitoring the range for these agencies.
“The agencies really appreciate the additional information they can get from ranchers, if they will do rangeland monitoring,” Butler said.
“Monitoring is simply a collection, analysis and interpretation of resource data,” he explained. “Most folks collect monitoring information, but they just don’t document it properly.”
Producers can collect short term and long term monitoring data, and both are beneficial, Butler continued.
Short term monitoring consists of before and after grazing photos. The photos taken after grazing show what plants have been removed from a grazing area, while before-grazing photos show what plants are there and how they have responded to what has happened during prior grazing seasons.
“To me, the photo producers take in the spring is much more important from a plant health aspect,” he explained.
Some agencies require ranchers to collect monitoring data for public lands they utilize in order to be in compliance.
“It is just a written record of grazing events,” he explained. “It might consist of things like what the precipitation was like and what activity took place on that grazing allotment during that year. Producers may have to record grazing utilization based on that agency’s standards.”
Butler sees even more benefit from long-term monitoring.
A photographic record over a three to five year period, or even longer, can really show the changes in a piece of grazing land, he said.
“I like to select areas that are representative of large portions of allotments,” he continued. “Some people will select random spots, but I like to mark a site with some type of permanent marker like a rock or a tree. Then, I use a GPS locator to record that spot and mark it on a topographical map. I also like to identify sites by pasture or something that is a common name.”
He likes to use a 35 millimeter camera and take photos in both the spring and fall using photo points.
“I am somewhat of a dinosaur, but I can take that film to the processor and get hard copies back that I can place in a book. I can also get digital photos that can easily be sent to the agencies. I can carry a whole set of information in a three ring binder. In some allotments I consult for, I can go back 10 years and see what things looked like then,” he explained.
Butler said he uses these records to analyze and compare years to see how things have changed.
As an example, he discussed a grazing allotment where changes in spring banks, grazing systems and beaver dams have changed the vegetation and species present.
In another allotment, he discussed how changes over the years have caused the development of noxious weeds, like Canadian Thistle.
“Photos can also give ranchers an opportunity to show the improvements they’ve made to a habitat, a piece of grazing land, or a riparian area on public lands over time,” he explained. “It gives them a physical piece of evidence to show that they’ve done a good job managing the piece of public land they were entrusted with.”
Butler did caution ranchers who keep land monitoring records to never skip a year, even if it is a tough year.
“The agency will be skeptical and wonder if the producer didn’t keep monitoring records that year because they are trying to hide something or something happened that they didn’t want the agency to see,” he explained.
“Whether or not producers need to monitor land for a public agency, they should do land monitoring. Even if it is their private land, it provides credible information on how they are utilizing that land,” he said.