Building Knowledge of Sustainable Rangeland Management Using Information Technology

Final Report for EW04-014

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2004: $91,847.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Region: Western
State: Idaho
Principal Investigator:
Karen Launchbaugh
University of Idaho
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Project Information

Abstract:
Information for Sustainable Range Managment @ http://rangelandswest.org

Rangelands are vast landscapes that cover more than half of western North America. The Western Rangelands Partnership with the support of SARE has developed and maintain an Internet gateway (http://rangelandswest.org) to ecological and agricultural information about these extensive and diverse lands. The modern challenges of rangeland management must be met with broad thinking and new, sustainable practices to maintain and restore rangelands and the human communities that rely on them. Working together, rangeland and information specialists from western states provide quality information, resources and tools to improve management and ensure sustainability of rangelands at – http://rangelandswest.org.

Project Objectives:
Internet Information for Sustainable Rangeland Management

The Western Rangelands Partnership engaged more than 40 rangeland professionals and information specialists to accomplish our goal of creating easily accessible and reliable information for sustainable rangeland management. Our project is aimed at natural resource advisors and professionals to: 1) expand their understanding of sustainable rangeland management approaches; 2) improve their information technology skills; and 3) create reliable sustainable rangeland management information and make it readily accessible through the RangelandsWest Internet gateway.
In previous years of this project we conducted a workshop to improve web-skills of participants and assess the demands, resources, and time available to natural resource and agricultural advisors to access Internet-based information. We determined that these advisors generally have limited but sufficient skill to access information on the Internet and that readily available information would facilitate their work if it is reliable and of high quality.

During our workshop, survey, and discussions we have determined that there is limited general knowledge about concepts and tools to support sustainable rangeland management. We have also determined that there is no single reliable Internet site to gain information on rangelands.

In 2006 and 2007, we focused on redesigning our current website to make it easier to find information for users and easier to update information for the Western Rangeland Partners who contribute to the site. It is vitally important to create an Internet site that can be readily accessed by both users and contributors. Our interactions with users through workshops and surveys allowed us to effectively refocus our efforts and create a more useable and reliable information portal.

Introduction:
Information to Meet Modern Challenges of Rangeland Stewardship

Rangelands are vast landscapes that cover more than half of western North America. The Western Rangelands Partnership maintains an Internet gateway
(http://rangelandswest.org) to ecological and agricultural information about these extensive and diverse lands. Working together, rangeland and information specialists from western states provide quality information, resources and tools to improve management and ensure sustainability of rangelands.

These grasslands, shrublands, woodlands and deserts may appear empty and unproductive to a casual observer. Yet, these lands are the stage on which the drama of the new west is unfolding. Historically, rangelands were valued mostly for ranching, hunting and mining. Today, a new cast of rangeland users is taking center stage with demands for recreational opportunities, home sites, healthy watersheds and simply open space.

These uses, both traditional and new, can interact with environmental conditions to threaten the ecological integrity of rangelands. These threats can take shape as unsustainable grazing practices, damaging fire regimes, infestations of invasive plants, landscapes fragmented by human development and destructive recreational activities.

The modern challenges of rangeland management must be met with broad thinking and new, sustainable practices to maintain and restore rangelands and the human communities that rely on them. Though caring for rangelands is a complex and challenging task, much is known about how these lands function and change and many sustainable practices have been developed, tried and tested.

The Western Rangelands Partnership seeks to deliver quality information, resources and tools for the sustainable management of western rangelands.

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Objective:
Description:

Methods

Development and Revision of Internet Information Source

The Western Rangelands Partnership meets every March to accomplish our on going goals to enhance available information for land owners, land managers, and resource advisors. During the period of this SARE Grant (2004-2007) our yearly meetings focused on accomplishing the objectives of this project. We also communicated through e-mail list serves and the Range Specialist Members of the Western Rangelands Partnership met in special sessions at the International Meeting of the Society for Range Management. These discussions focused our collective vision and knowledge. Workshops, meetings, and activities were accomplished as follows:

∙ Written Surveys of Agricultural and Natural Resource Advisors – January-February 2005
Members of the Western Rangelands Partnership contacted 4-8 professionals in their state who were involved in advising land regarding sustainable rangeland practices. These were generally county extension specialists, other agency professionals, and land owners/ranchers.

∙ Annual Meeting of RangelandsWest Partnership – Tucson, AZ, March 15-17, 2005
Discussions focused on content development to facilitate access to information relevant to sustainable rangeland management. We also discussed models to provide continued funding for the website site and the work of the Partnership beyond the length of the grant. The Partnership decided to pursue development of a Western Regional Coordinating Committee through the state Extension Directors.

∙ Workshop for Agricultural and Natural Resource Advisors – Boise, November 7-9, 2005
A group of 32 rangeland advisors and land owners joined together for a workshop entitled “Sustainable Rangeland Management – On the Cutting Edge!” At this workshop, we explored topics of sustainable rangeland management and identified opportunities for Internet tools to aid in providing information for range management decisions.

∙ Annual Meeting of Western Rangelands Partnership – Tucson, AZ, March 13-14, 2006
Workgroups focused activities on advancing the content hierarchy that controls how content is organized on the website. These discussions and workgroup activities were informed by the survey and workshop conducted with agricultural and natural resource advisors. The goal was to create a content structure that facilitates access to relevant information.

∙ Special Task Group Meeting on the Topic Hierarchy – Salt Lake City, UT, June 30-July 1, 2005
A special task group of rangeland professionals met to examine and revise the content hierarchy based on input from previous meetings and workshops. This 8-member team created a new hierarchy to minimize overlap of topics and facilitate easy access to desired information.

∙ Annual Meeting of Western Rangelands Partnership – Tucson, AZ, March 12-13, 2007
The Rangeland Specialists and the Library Information Specialists that create the www.rangelandswest.org website site joined together to advance the revised site. The work of this meeting focused on creating scope notes and metadata to advance search mechanisms in the website site.

The daily work of the Western Rangelands Partnership is accomplished by Rangeland Specialists and Library Information Specialists in each partner state maintaining local sites and adding content to www.rangelandswest.org. The guidance and leadership for the Western Rangelands Partnership is provided by an executive committee that includes: Chair, Vice-Chair, Secretary, and the Chairs of three standing committees: Outreach, Technical, and Policy/Standards. The maintenance and development of the Internet site is provided by information system specialists at the University of Arizona.

Outreach and Publications

The primary publication and outreach media for this SARE project is our website: www.rangelandswest.org.

The Western Rangelands Partners regularly promote the website site for rangeland information in our roles and information and extension specialists. We also developed and published a full color flyer and brochure for use in promoting the site.

We have also forged a strong relationship with the Information and Education Committee of the International Society for Range Management. This has allows us to more effectively spread the word of our project through this professional society.

Outcomes and impacts:
Continued Development and Use

Members of the Western Rangelands Partnership continue to develop and promote our Internet site. Based on usage statistics the main RangelandsWest site is visited thousands of times per year. When the www.rangelandswest.org website was initiated in 1999 (Oct. 1, 1999 – Sep 30, 2000) it received 24,343 visitors and had 195,274 hits. The year this SARE project was initiated (Oct. 1, 2004 – Sep. 30, 2005) the site had 135,376 visitors and 956,435 hits. In this final year of the SARE project (Oct. 1, 2006 – Sep. 30, 2007) the site received 104,976 visitors and 527,377 hits. In It is difficult to ascertain if these “hits” translate to better on the ground decisions. But, this website site is undoubtedly and excellent and well-used resource.

Each year the Western Rangeland Partners join in Tucson, AZ in March to discuss new innovations in sustainable rangeland management and ways to become a primary Internet source for rangeland science and management information. At these meetings we work to develop, maintain, and continually improve a regional Rangelands West Internet website site and state sites linked to this regional site. We also discuss ways to ensure that information provided through the Rangelands West website site provides quality information based on the best available science.

On a regular basis, the rangeland professionals that are part of the Western Rangeland Partnership join in a specified discussion session at the yearly International Meeting of the Society for Rangeland Management.

The website home for this project is connected to individual state sites for each contributing partner (for example: http://californiarangeland.ucdavis.edu/ for California). When this SARE project was initiated only about 2/3 of state sites were completed. Today, all sites in the Western SARE region and all sites in the total Rangelands West project are completed. This shows continued commitment of contributors to this project.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:
Solutions to Information Needs about Rangelands

The initial accomplishment of this project was to establish an understanding of how the Internet might fill information needs related to sustainable rangeland management. Early in the project we discovered that land managers and resource advisors have adequate technology skills to access Internet information, but they have very limited time to find and digest relevant information. It is clear that an effective Internet information source will need to have concise and relevant information about rangeland ecology and management. In addition, an Internet site will not gain a reputation of being useful and reliable unless it contains a broad range of good information that is well-tested in science or experience. It is also clear that the Internet is the growing source for information related to rangeland management.

Our second accomplishment was a complete redesign of our existing Internet site based on stakeholder input. This required us to redesign the way we organized topics related to rangeland science and management. Our new topic hierarchy begins with the following major headlines:
• Rangelands and How They Work
• Plants and Animals
• Soils and Water
• Climate, Drought, and Fire
• Grazing, Recreation, Wildlife and Other Uses
• Vegetation Management and Restoration
• Inventory, Monitoring, and Assessment
• Rural Communities and Ranch Economics
• Planning and Collaboration
• Training, Teaching, Education and Careers

Within each of these major topic headings, users can browse through cascading subject headings to find articles and resource relevant to their specific need. The new Internet framework allows for advanced searching so users can locate and relocate valuable information.

Our project is conducted in partnership with the Agriculture Network Information Center (http://www.agnic.org/). This partnership increases user access to information and helps us maintain a database of information that meets modern library and information standards.

Another major accomplishment of this project was that we have forged and important distinction as a Western Coordinating Committee through the Cooperative Extension Service. Our committee is entitled “Rangelands West Partnership” WERA1008. Our status as a coordinating committee will allow several members to gain resources for travel and other activities through their state Extension Service and will provide a level of stability to ensure that the website now that our SARE project has terminated. We have also established a governing body and committee structure so that the website site and information exchange can be continued.

Recommendations:

Potential Contributions

This RangelandsWest project has made the following contributions:

• A newly created structure for the cataloguing and searching for rangeland information. The information hierarchy has been tested by rangeland specialists and library information specialists and cataloguing scope-notes have been added to improve the value and integrity of the topic hierarchy.

• A significant number of information resources are now available on a readily accessible Internet gateway (www.rangelandswest.org) that will endure beyond this SARE project.

• Organizational structure and governance procedures were developed for the Western Rangelands Partnership which created and maintains this Internet site for rangeland information. This investment in organizational structure ensures the continued evaluation and improvement of information on the www.rangealndswest.org website.

Future Recommendations

The partners that accomplished this SARE information project continue to struggle to find time and resources to advance our efforts. We are currently seeking grants to develop additional content formation our site. We are also in the process of gaining support from the Council for Agricultural Research, Extension, and Teaching and College Deans to maintain the infrastructure of the rangelandswest website.

Through this SARE project, we learned that ready access to good information about rangeland management is essential and the Internet is an outstanding way to deliver this information. However, maintaining such information requires an excellent organization of partners, substantial resources for infrastructure, and a broad range of experiences and expertise.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.