Disseminating Research-based Information to Improve Great Basin Rangelands

Final Report for EW06-018

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2006: $21,605.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: Western
State: Utah
Principal Investigator:
Summer Olsen
Utah State University
Mark Brunson
Utah State University
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Project Information


A DVD and accompanying booklet were produced for dissemination to Extension and USDA technical assistance professionals to aid in their work helping private landowners to maintain and improve sagebrush rangelands in the Great Basin while maintaining a forage base for livestock. Content of the DVD and booklet is based on research by the Sagebrush Steppe Treatment Evaluation Project, and provides information about tradeoffs and short-term outcomes of land management practices (prescribed fire, mechanical thinning of shrubs and trees, and herbicide application) that can be useful for sustaining healthy sagebrush rangelands. Distribution of materials began in November 2008.

Project Objectives:

The objective of this project was to disseminate research-based information to agricultural and range management professionals, in particular those working within Cooperative Extension and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, to help private land managers make management decisions and assist livestock producers in maintaining or improving forage for domestic livestock on Great Basin rangelands. The project produced and delivered a DVD that will allow the audience to view implementation and short-term outcomes of land management treatments (prescribed fire, mechanical thinning, and herbicide application). A short booklet is included with the DVD to provide information about the information on the disc and how to use it. These products were completed in the fall of 2008 and 1000 copies were made. Distribution began in November 2008 and will continue until supplies are extinguished.


Sagebrush-dominated rangelands provide the primary forage base for the livestock industry in the Great Basin region (Satyal 2006). A typical Great Basin ranch uses a variety of forage sources to meet livestock nutritional needs, frequently relying on grazing access to both private and public lands (Maher 2007). Thus the sustainability of livestock production in the Great Basin is directly linked to the health of both private and public lands.
This forage base is at risk as the health of sagebrush rangelands declines due to invasion of exotic weeds such as cheatgrass, and encroachment by pinyon and juniper woodlands (Pellant et al. 2004). Changes in these plant communities have resulted in frequent wildfires, thus creating larger disturbed areas for cheatgrass to quickly invade (Miller and Tausch 2001; Knapp 1996). Because the region offers few alternative feed sources that are economically feasible, the risk of bankruptcy greatly increases for ranches if forage is made unavailable due to wildfire and subsequent rehabilitation activities (Maher 2007). Also, while cheatgrass itself can provide palatable early-season forage, cheatgrass-dominated areas are at risk of invasion by perennial noxious weeds that are inedible by livestock. The Bureau of Land Management estimates that cheatgrass already dominates 25 million acres of the Great Basin and spreads to an additional 4,000 acres each day (USDI-BLM 2005).
Increased wildfire frequency and non-native plant invasion are also associated with population declines of native birds such as the Greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) and many of the 30 other invertebrate species that are closely associated with sagebrush (Knick et al. 2003; Connelly and Braun 1997). If these declines result in federal Threatened and Endangered Species listing, it will likely reduce flexibility to use Great Basin rangelands for domestic livestock grazing. For all these reasons, it is vital to the sustainability of western livestock production that ranchers have access to the most up-to-date information about practices that can maintain or improve the health of sagebrush rangelands.
To date there has been relatively little scientific information available for public land managers and livestock producers to make decisions about restoring Great Basin rangelands and protecting areas at risk of degradation. However, the Sagebrush Steppe Treatment Evaluation Project (SageSTEP) has launched a comprehensive 5-year research program to evaluate methods of sagebrush ecosystem restoration funded by the federal Joint Fire Science Program. The success of SageSTEP lies not only in identifying the benefits and risks of sagebrush conservation practices, but also in transferring research results to agricultural professionals, public land managers, and livestock producers who can take action to reverse the ecological decline and maintain/improve a forage base to support agriculture. Therefore we have produced a DVD and booklet to further the outreach goals of SageSTEP and to provide Western SARE client publics with current information about sagebrush management and restoration.

Education & Outreach Initiatives



In total, 11 filming sessions took place in a variety of locations including SageSTEP field sites in Utah and Nevada, residences of two Utah ranchers, and the Utah State University campus from September 2006 to February 2008. Additional footage was gathered from individuals and organizations in Utah and Oregon. The majority of editing was done in Fall 2007, and a draft version of the DVD feature was produced in November 2007 for review at an annual meeting of the SageSTEP research team. Review of the draft feature prompted the need for the final filming session, which took place in February 2008. Then additional editing was done and the feature was reviewed for final changes.

Bonus tracks were created to include useful information that could not be part of the feature. Artwork, including DVD menus and covers for the DVD case and disc, were created to make the finished product attractive, organized, and informative. The booklet was created to correspond with the other materials. It includes an introduction to the project, description of the intended audience, instructions on how to most effectively use the disc contents, and information about the SageSTEP study. Upon completion, 1000 copies of the disc and booklet were produced. Distribution began in November 2008. The feature portion of the DVD was streamed for viewing online and can be found by clicking on the link indicated on the SageSTEP website at http://www.sagestep.org/pubs/DVD.html.

Outreach and Publications

The final publication for this product can be cited as follows:
Restoring Sagebrush Rangelands in the Great Basin: An Introduction to Alternative Land Management Strategies. DVD. Utah State University and the Sagebrush Steppe Treatment Evaluation Project (SageSTEP), 2008.

One thousand copies of this product were produced in November 2008, and to date (December 2008), approximately 360 have been distributed. Distribution will continue throughout 2009 until we run out of copies. The DVD is being promoted in the SageSTEP newsletter, and on the SageSTEP and USU extension websites. Additionally, the DVD will be presented and/or distributed at various meetings, including the following:

• Outreach to land managers – Copies will be made available to public and private land managers from Idaho and Nevada at a June 2009 SageSTEP workshop in Elko, Nevada.

• Utah Partners for Conservation and Development 2009 Annual Meeting

• The DVD was presented to members of the Idaho Section, Society for Range Management, at its annual meeting in Boise Jan. 16, 2009.

• Wildfire and Invasive Plants in American Deserts meeting in Reno, Nev., Dec. 9-11, 2008

• Society for Range Management Annual Meeting, Albuquerque, N.M., February 8-12, 2009

• Other meetings and workshops as opportunities become available

Outcomes and impacts:

The outreach plan submitted to the USDA/USDI Joint Fire Science Program for the SageSTEP project includes conducting periodic workshops to transfer current information and results to agency and university personnel and other interested stakeholders and a national conference to share research results. The DVD produced by this project will be used during these meetings. In order to reach agricultural professionals who do not attend these meetings, the DVD will be distributed to state and district agency offices and extension offices. The DVD will also be marketed on the SageSTEP website, during professional meeting presentations, on poster displays, and in periodic newsletters in an effort to reach additional interested professionals.

Short-term: The DVD will increase knowledge and awareness of ways to maintain or improve Great Basin rangelands among agency personnel and other agricultural professionals. This project will reduce risk and uncertainty in choosing land management treatments for Great Basin rangelands.

Medium-term: This project will increase the ability for the target audience to provide livestock producers with information to improve Great Basin rangelands. The target audience will have better skills to work with livestock producers to implement management treatments to maintain or improve the forage base for livestock while improving overall ecosystem health.

Long-term: The target audience will share information with livestock producers and develop plans to improve Great Basin rangelands.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:
Thus far, recipients of the DVD have primarily been NRCS employees and extension agents throughout the Great Basin states (Utah, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, and California). Other recipients include researchers and professors, public land managers (BLM and Forest Service), non-profit employees, and various individuals with an interest in the topic. A short questionnaire was included with the discs with questions to provide us with information about what types of individuals are using the DVD and what they find most useful about it. We plan to compile this information in ensuing months to help determine the effectiveness of this product and to help us improve our outreach efforts in the future. Since distribution of the DVD began, we have received positive feedback from a number of recipients. Following is a sample of some of these comments: •“I have just returned…and found the DVD re the sagebrush steppe that you and Mark produced. I was very impressed, and think it could be useful to the work of the Utah Partners for Conservation and Development group’s efforts to improve watersheds in this ecotype…[We] would like to present it at the next meeting which will occur next year. We would like to provide copies to the membership and the technical people that attend.” —Charles Gay, Associate Vice President for Cooperative Extension, Utah State University •“Thanks so much for sending me the SageSTEP video. Great job! Very well done and informative. I am so very impressed.” —Karen Launchbaugh, Head, Rangeland Ecology and Management Department, University of Idaho •“Kudos to all the folks who worked on this video, nicely done, very professional. I know several people I would like to share this video with. Is there a way I could get a few more?” —Jeremy Bailey, Fire Training and Networks Coordinator-West, The Nature Conservancy •“I work in Cedar City, Utah with private landowners on range restoration projects. This DVD gives a great overview of the problem and solutions in a manner that the general public can easily understand. If you could send me two copies of the DVD it would be most helpful for me and the NRCS Range Conservationist when planning projects with clients.” —Nile Sorenson, Farm Bill Biologist, Cedar City Field Office

Potential Contributions

The purpose of this DVD is to increase knowledge and a awareness of ways to maintain or improve Great Basin rangelands, reduce risk and uncertainty in choosing land management treatments, increase the ability for the target audience to provide livestock producers with information to improve Great Basin rangelands, and aid in the development of plans to improve Great Basin rangelands. The multimedia approach of this product is intended to present information in a way that will reach audiences in a way that other methods cannot. The use of video presents various stages of rangeland restoration in ways that are not possible with other forms of communication, and also allows the presentation of a broad range of information in a relatively short amount of time.

Future Recommendations

The information presented in this DVD was accurate at the time of production. Researchers participating in the SageSTEP study and other similar research are constantly providing updated and more detailed information about the ecology and restoration of sagebrush systems. Ideally, we would begin production on a second volume to accompany this DVD in a couple of years that would include updated information resulting from the study along with video footage of treated sites several years after treatment to show longer-term recovery potential. Creating an additional DVD is contingent on the availability of funding.

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.