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Healthy Rangeland Provides Many Benefits

Knowledge of ecological sites is vital to understanding rangeland health.

Concern about range management and rangeland health is often quite high during a dry summer such as North Dakota is experiencing.

“However, our rangelands should always be of considerable concern since it is the base forage for the livestock industry in the northern Great Plains,” says Chuck Lura, Extension rangeland specialist at the North Dakota State University Central Grasslands Research Extension Center near Streeter.

Healthy rangeland provides a wide array of benefits, from wildlife habitat to clean water, but to most producers, the main benefit is the long-term profitability of livestock production.

“Healthy rangeland is a good example of sustainable agriculture,” Lura says. “Ecologically and financially, rangeland in poor health is a tenuous situation for the producer.”

An important first step in understanding rangeland health and ecology is having a working knowledge of ecological sites, according to Lura.

An ecological site (formerly known as a range site) is an area of rangeland that has the potential to produce a certain kind and amount of forage. It is a function of landscape position and soils. Ecological sites often are quite distinguishable, even if people cannot identify the plant species. Areas of different colors, tones and textures are apparent when looking across most tracts of rangeland. Those differences are normally a reflection of the different kinds of plant communities on the landscape and their productivity (ecological sites).

North Dakota has several different kinds of ecological sites. Their names are very descriptive, such as claypan, saline lowland and subirrigated, Lura says.

Because different sites support different kinds and amounts of vegetation, they are a major influence on the grazing capacity of rangeland. For example, a pasture dominated by shallow-gravel ecological sites has a very different grazing capacity than one dominated by wet meadow.

“Each ecological site has a historic climax plant community,” Lura notes. “If the site has a long history of overgrazing, that community may no longer be present. If that is the case, the existing plant community is likely less productive and diverse. That means the grazing capacity has decreased and, of course, a loss of potential income. Range monitoring can help document those changes. With proper range management techniques, improvements can then be made.”

The Central Grasslands Research Extension Center has established a program to assist producers in implementing and maintaining range monitoring procedures. This effort is made possible through funding from NDSU, the North Dakota Natural Resources Trust and Ducks Unlimited.

To learn more about rangeland monitoring, contact Lura at (701) 424-3606 or chuck.lura@msub.nodak.edu.

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Chuck Lura, (701) 424-3606, chuck.lura@msub.nodak.edu
Editor:Ellen Crawford, (701) 231-5391, ellen.crawford@ndsu.edu
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