Progress report for WPDP21-017
In Colorado, county-based Extension agents are a vital source of information for their communities. However, these agents are counted on to cover a growing range of topics with reduced resources. In a series of needs assessments and listening sessions conducted since 2014, Colorado ranchers and other land managers have identified range management education as a fundamental need. Unfortunately, because many Extension agents do not have training in the principles of range management, this need goes unaddressed in large portions of the state. At best, questions are passed on to regional Extension Specialists, who do not have the time or resources to cover the range management education needs of the entire state. At worst, landowners are forced to make management decisions without access to accurate, science-based information. In either scenario, a crucial opportunity to improve management is lost, and Extension suffers a decline in relevance in rural areas of Colorado. With this project, we will address the identified needs of land managers by providing range management education to Extension agents across the state of Colorado. Regardless of their background or education, all participating agents will obtain the tools to effectively address range management needs within their community. We will achieve this by reviving the Colorado Range School, a highly successful range management education program that has been dormant for a decade. The curriculum will consist of a series of topical webinars, culminating in a 1.5-day workshop/field day in four regions of the state. With a target of 60 Extension agents completing the program, we expect to reach 25% of all agents in the state, including the majority working on natural resource issues in rural areas. Ultimately, this project will serve as a springboard for improved range management outreach and extension and a revived Range School for the broader public.
Objective 1: Develop and finalize the Range School curriculum by July 1, 2021. Activities: Integrate input from existing needs assessments, local Extension agents, producer-advisors, and successful programs in other states.
Objective 2: Successfully enroll 60 agents in the program by January 1, 2022. Activities: Create and distribute a 3-minute promotional video, promote program via Extension administration and regular regional and statewide meetings.
Objective 3: Increase range management knowledge by delivering five 1-2 hour topical webinars at least three times each by May 1, 2022. Activities: Design materials, schedule with enrollees, conduct webinars, record webinars.
Objective 4: Increase range management knowledge, including field-based skills, by delivering four workshops/field days by November 1, 2022. Activities: Work with local offices to schedule and organize. Conduct workshops and field days.
Objective 5: Evaluate project outcomes to improve Range School by March 1, 2023. Activities: Analyze quiz results to analyze topic choice and presentation. Distribute and analyze post-program evaluation. Integrate findings into curriculum and planning.
Objective 6: Ensure continuity of network and learning community by hosting regular Q&A sessions with statewide/regional range staff, including three Q&A events by April 30, 2023. Activities: Solicit questions for Q&A beforehand. Advertise Q&A. Host Q&A online Q&A.
PI Jablonski has a PhD in Rangeland Ecosystem Science and has taught all of the subjects covered in the program to undergraduate and graduate students at CSU. Co-coordinators Bruegger and Overlin both have master’s degrees in Range Science and have led numerous workshops, field days, and public education programs relevant to range management. The design of the webinars and face-to-face events will be based on the lessons learned from their teaching experiences.
Webinars will be a combination of lectures, videos, exercises, and “flipped classroom” education. The workshops/field days will consist of a combination of pedagogical techniques appropriate to the subject matter. For example, we are excited to incorporate “peer-to-peer” learning into the workshop using the Peers to Pros 360 model, which we think will be useful not only for education of the agents but also for modeling a technique that they can integrate into their own programming. Indeed, much of the program will be designed to model such techniques. The field days will provide hands-on experience in plant identification, assessment of soils, and ecological interpretation.
As Extension employees with existing connections across the state, we will have no trouble reaching out to Extension agents to enroll them in the program. We have already introduced the project on system-wide Zoom calls and have a list of agents who are excited about attending. PI Jablonski is one of the current leads of the CSU Extension Livestock and Range Planning and Reporting Unit, and co-coordinator Bruegger has just finished a three-year term.
The work of the project leads will be the primary inputs on the project. Additionally, there will be system-wide support from CSU Extension, from assistance in promotion from Regional Directors to planning support from local county staff. PI Jablonski is based on the CSU campus and has taught online courses, and so has extensive resources for creating and conducting the online webinars. The financial assistance from WSARE will ensure that these various resources can be most effective.
A Gantt chart that illustrates the project timeline is attached.
After initial curriculum development and feedback from agents, we scheduled 5 training sessions, one in each month from January-May 2022. Field days with the cohort are following in 2022 and 2023. Overall, our approach is to deliver to agents a basic understanding of range science (while making space for more advanced learners to move beyond that) and build a community of practice that improves connections between campus and non-campus extension faculty and staff, including among staff with little training in range science.
Education & Outreach Initiatives
Provide an introduction to basic concepts of range science and an introduction to Colorado rangelands
After curriculum development, surveys and discussion to solicit feedback, and program enrollment, we held the first of 5 online training sessions on January 18, 2022. The main aim of this initial meeting was to introduce basic concepts in range science (abiotic vs biotic factors, heterogeneity, disturbance, resilience, and resistance) and describe some Colorado rangelands with which the agents may be familiar. The second aim was to continue to grow our community of practice that we established through those initial feedback efforts.
While 51 agents are signed up for the course, 32 attended this first session, with the others planning to watch the recording due to conflict. The 32 included several who had not previously signed up, as we are not strict on that. We expect attendance to continue to grow. We began the session (as we will in each) with some questions about the subject matter to gage initial knowledge. There were 5 questions, and the average score was 47% correct, with percent correct for individual questions ranging from 9% ("The ability of an ecosystem to absorb disturbance without a change in function is known as"- resistance) to 73% ("Ecological sites are determined by"- climate, soils, topography). At the end of the session we reviewed the questions and all were confident in answering all of the questions correctly.
After a 45 minute lecture plus questions, we went to regional (west/east) breakout rooms for more in depth discussion of individual range ecological sites. Then we returned for review, questions, and discussion. All in all, it was a very positive first session. The recorded session is available on the course website at https://rangemanagement.extension.colostate.edu/education/range-school-for-extension/
Introduce students to the science of grazing management while addressing misconceptions. Provide key takeaways for use when working with managers.
We held the second of the five sessions on February 16, 2022. After a brief review of session one, the subject of this session was grazing management. We began the session by describing how grass and other forage plants grow, which of course has important implications for how livestock grazing is managed. After emphasizing and describing the complexity of grazing management, we introduced four key concepts (timing, intensity, frequency, and intensity) for understanding it. We followed with four key takeaways for extension professionals. Lastly, we had a good discussion about misconceptions and common questions.
We had 23 extension staff attend the session, with a very good discussion that lasted well beyond the allotted 90 minutes. For the introductory quiz, the average score was 66%, with all attendees confident of all answers at the final review. The recorded session is available on the course website at https://rangemanagement.extension.colostate.edu/education/range-school-for-extension/.
Introduce key concepts in assessment and monitoring of rangelands.
We held the third of the five sessions on March 29, 2022. After a brief review of sessions 1-2, the subject of this session was rangeland assessment and monitoring. We began my introducing the distinct concepts of rangeland assessment and rangeland monitoring, and explaining the differences among them. We then described the process of assessing rangeland health, which is a good basis for setting objectives and creating a monitoring program. After introducing monitoring, we discussed practical approaches to rangeland monitoring for land managers, and introduced some new online tools for assisting with this. For this section, the two co-PIs described specific examples from their regions of Colorado, and invited questions and discussion.
We again had 23 extension staff attend the session. Indicative of the general lack of familiarity with these important technical approaches, for the introductory quiz, the average score was 38%. By the end of the session, after discussion, all attendees were confident of all answers at the final review. The recorded session is available on the course website at https://rangemanagement.extension.colostate.edu/education/range-school-for-extension/.
Begin to apply lessons from sessions 1-3 to key issues in rangeland management
We held the fourth of the five sessions on April 19, 2022. After a brief review of sessions 1-3, the subjects of this session were drought, invasive species, and restoration. The goal for these different topics was to begin to apply the lessons learned in sessions 1-3 to current and common issues in rangeland management in Colorado. These topics were split among the three co-PIs, each of whom has expertise in one of the topics. As always, a key goal for these different sections was to give the extension staff usable knowledge and tools to work with landowners and managers.
We had 24 extension staff attend the session. For the introductory quiz, the average score was 57%, with nearly 100% correct for some questions and <10% correct for others, indicating that some topics were better understood than others coming in. By the end of the session, after discussion, all attendees were confident of all answers at the final review. Unfortunately, a technical error led to the failure to record this session.
Introduce adaptive management, an integrated management approach that enables planning, learning, and adaptation.
We held the fifth of the five sessions on May 11, 2022. After a brief review of sessions 1-4, the subject of this session was adaptive management. We began by reviewing our key lessons learned so far: 1-Rangelands are complex and dynamic, 2- Uncertainty is huge, 3-Experience, learning, and adaptation are crucial, 4-Being clear about goals is essential. Because of these facts, we need to be sure to: 1-Capture system complexity as well as possible, 2-Minimize or integrate uncertainty, 3-Integrate all types of knowledge, and 4-Be explicit about goals. We presented adaptive management as the means to achieving these goals. We also presented the current state of understanding of the pros and cons of Holistic Management, a widely known and often successful approach to adaptive management that often includes scientifically dubious management practices and conclusions.
We had 21 extension staff attend the session. For the introductory quiz, the average score was 71%. By the end of the session, after discussion, all attendees were confident of all answers at the final review. The recorded session is available on the course website at https://rangemanagement.extension.colostate.edu/education/range-school-for-extension/.
Apply principles learned during the online sessions and learn field techniques.
On September 20, 2022 a group of 9 extension staff from eastern Colorado attended a full day field day, visiting two different ranches. They discussed grazing management and invasive plants, dug soil pits, examined and confirmed Ecological Site Descriptions, looked at research trials, clipped and measured biomass production, conducted a short Rangeland Health assessment, and had a discussion on range management in relation to the current livestock market, including commodities prices in a drought and strategies for retaining/selling cattle and effects on the range.
Extensive discussion accompanied all topics. The extension staff clearly learned a lot and the field component following the online lectures was remarked upon as being very useful.
Educational & Outreach Activities
Year 1- Beginning in fall of 2021 (and with some minor covid-related delays) we began designing a curriculum with input from CSU Extension agents via surveys, polls, and in-meeting discussion. We then enrolled 51 (and growing) agents in the program, and scheduled online trainings from January-May, with plans for field days in summer 2022. We held the first training session on January 18, with participants improving from 47% comprehension of the main topics taught to 100% by the end of the meeting. We also developed a course resources and readings page that will, at the end of the project, develop into a permanent resource for agents. https://rangemanagement.extension.colostate.edu/education/range-school-for-extension/ The bulk of project work will occur in Year 2.
Year 2- From February through May of 2022 we delivered four additional training sessions on a variety of topics, using the curriculum designed in consultation with CSU Extension agents. From Jan-May a total of 61 unique extension staff attended the sessions, with an average of 24.6 live attendees and others watching the recorded sessions. The average comprehension on the pre-tests was 56%, with all participants confident of each answer by the conclusion of the session. The full course curriculum, with readings and resources, is permanently available at https://rangemanagement.extension.colostate.edu/education/range-school-for-extension. We requested and received a no-cost extension until October 2023 to provide another summer in which to host field days. Significant turnover and reorganization within CSU Extension made it difficult to schedule and deliver field days in 2022.