Application of Lessons Learned from NRCS Rangeland CEAP: A site-specific, Low Cost System for Medusahead Control
Rangelands represent the largest continuous network of working landscapes in the West. However, the invasive annual grass medusahead is driving wholesale changes in the structure and viability of the ranching enterprises and the non-market ecosystems services these working landscapes support. The NRCS Rangeland Conservation Effects Assessment Project found that over 80% of rangeland weed management efforts failed over the long-term for three central reasons including: 1) lack of simple weed management decision-support systems that address site-specific environmental conditions 2) lack of low-cost tools for weed management and 3) lack of peer-learning networks to promote development and dissemination of on-the-ground knowledge. Over the last five years we have developed three lines of work that address all three major barriers to adoption and success of medusahead control. The goal of this project is to use our five years of previous work to develop and deploy a holistic education and technology transfer program for sustainable agriculture extension, education and training agents in California and Oregon that addresses the central ecological, economic and sociological barriers limiting enduring medusahead management programs. We propose to translate our knowledge base into a site-specific, low-cost management framework, to host training workshops for agricultural professionals to learn to deploy and enhance this framework, and to initiate ranch-scale demonstrations of this framework. Expected long-term outcomes include an enhanced forage based in linked production systems, increased biodiversity, decreased catastrophic wildfire generated by medusahead, as well as more sustainable and resilient agricultural enterprises, rural economies, and communities.
We will address our education and technology transfer goal through four key objectives: 1. Develop and produce a user-friendly, decision-support system for ranch-specific medusahead management. This product will allow NRCS to work with ranchers in a step-by-step manner to tailor a simple, long-term medusahead management program that addresses specific enterprise economic and ecological constraints. 2. Produce technical guidelines outlining low-cost medusahead management tools including: a. A simple monitoring and forecasting tool to identify most likely periods of medusahead susceptibility to grazing, mowing and herbicides b. Guidelines for manipulating the spatial distribution of attractants to maximize grazing pressure on medusahead during critical growth periods c. Comparison and contrast of alternative “precision grazing” systems on medusahead d. Cost-benefit summaries of low-cost medusahead IPM programs 3. Host training workshops for NRCS and other professionals to gain in-depth understanding of the ecology, economics and sociology driving development and application of our products as well as how to deploy products in a real-world ranch setting. 4. Establish peer-learning networks using joint NRCS-producer ranch-level demonstrations and evaluations of our decision-support system and technical guides.
Over the course of the last year, we have been making progress developing information for decision support tools, producing technical guides on low-cost medusahead management, and implementing demonstration projects on ranches that will be used as the basis for workshops and the development of peer-learning networks.
Decision Support Products
We have published a paper that analyzes the body of scientific knowledge on the effectiveness of practices to reduce medusahead dominance in both the intermountain west and the California annual grassland with a meta-analysis approach, “Managing medusahead (Taeniatherum caput-medusae) on rangeland: A meta-analysis of control efforts and assessment of stakeholder needs” (James et al 2015). This paper distills the body of knowledge as it exists in a variety of papers into one analysis that assesses the effects of practices (including grazing, fire, herbicide, mowing, and seeding) individually and in combination with respect to their effectiveness 1 and 2 to 3 years after implementation to help compare and clarify what the benefits of each alternative practice are.
We have presented a talk on “Using Multi-State Modeling to Describe Optimal Treatment Windows for Medusahead and Barbed Goatgrass” at the Society for Range Management Annual Meeting in Sacramento in February 2015. We have produced a handout distilling the results from this work that is available on the web: http://sfrec.ucanr.edu/files/221145.pdf (and attached). We are in the process of developing a comprehensive guide for using grazing and other treatments for managing medusahead that will provide practical information on planning treatments and their tradeoffs relevant to ranchers and other land managers of annual rangelands.
Demonstration Ranch Projects
At the Glenn County demonstration ranch we collected data to evaluate the effectiveness of broadcast seeding on a 330 acre pasture. Using these data we will be comparing vegetation composition and productivity on this pasture to a comparable 380 acre pasture on the same property. This area was substantially affected by the recent drought and there is the possibility of investigating whether this kind of seeding strategy may also serve as a post-drought recovery practice, as well.
At the Stanislaus County demonstration ranch we assessed the effects of drill seeding annual ryegrass and targeted grazing on livestock production, vegetation composition, and forage production. At this site we also continued to work with the rancher to develop an IPM strategy for managing medusahead. Implementing this strategy, we broadcast seeded and harrowed three 25 to 30 acres with annual ryegrass in the fall of 2015. We will be comparing vegetation composition, productivity, and animal performance on these pastures to two comparable, adjacent 25 and 30 acre pastures on the same property. This spring, all five of these pastures will be grazed with randomly assigned stocker cattle at the same stocking rates to measure grazing days as well as cattle weight gains. Grazing will be at moderate intensities with a goal of about two months to reach forage utilization targets. Data collected at this site will evaluate the effectiveness of the treatments while also supplementing the analysis of medusahead correlations with the provision of ecosystem services from rangelands (described below). While rainfall on this site in Stanislaus County was dramatically lower than normal, the near-normal timing of germinating rain, frequent heavy fog, naturally-occurring soil hardpan, and reliable water sources combined to mitigate drought effects on this site, resulting in a seemingly near-normal year for forage production.
Both demonstration ranches in Oregon were photo-sampled in July to track changes in vegetation composition and medusahead abundance. These ranches were significantly affected by drought during the past year. At the Grant County demonstration ranch, fall targeted grazing on medusahead was conducted for a second consecutive year using supplement blocks to manage livestock distribution. At the Crook County demonstration ranch, water improvements were completed to allow greater flexibility in grazing management, including improved livestock distribution for increased grazing on medusahead.
We have hosted four field workshops for ranchers and land managers, reaching about 60 people. In these workshops, we outlined approaches to medusahead management and discussed our experiences implementing practices at the demonstration ranches while also providing a venue for ranchers and land managers to share their experiences managing medusahead. An additional two field workshops are planned at the Oregon demonstration ranches.
In an effort to better understand how ranchers and rangeland managers access and use information on invasive plant management to make management decisions, we conducted face-to-face semi-structured interviews with private ranchers and people with rangeland management responsibilities for public lands and landtrusts (UC Davis IRB ID 773400-1). We selected initial interviewees based on existing contacts with University of California Cooperative Extension Livestock Advisors and used these initial interviewees to inform the selection of further interviewees using a snowball technique, until we reached 43 interviews. These interviewees were dispersed geographically from Tehama to Fresno County, roughly encompassing the extent of medusahead invasion in annual rangeland in California. These interviews will provide information on how best to address the information needs of ranchers and rangeland managers as well as how best to deliver advice based on best available research so that it can be incorporated into decision-making. These interviews will also assess the adoption of current research and identify real or perceived barriers to adoption of effective treatment practices.
Measuring Ecosystem Services
To measure the correlation between medusahead abundance and provision of several ecosystem services from rangelands, we set up a series of observational plots across the state, from Tehama to Monterey County. At a total of 28 plots, we have measured vegetation composition—including medusahead abundance—and insect community composition in the spring and early summer of 2015. in the spring and early summer of 2016, we will repeat measures of vegetation composition and insect community composition and also measure forage production. Similar data is being collected at the Stanislaus County demonstration site. Following the arthropods collections in 2015, we have cataloged 8,210 specimens from about 76 families. These plots will provide information to begin to form hypotheses on the effects of medusahead on vegetation diversity arthropod diversity, abundance of beneficial and pest arthropods, and forage production.
At an additional 5 sites (Tehama, Yuba, Stanislaus, and Contra Costa Counties), we are testing the relationship between medusahead abundance and nitrogen cycling by comparing plots of differing initial levels of medusahead by tracking stable isotopes of nitrogen added to the plots in the fall of 2015 before germination and again mid-winter before the rapid growth period of spring.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
The primary impact of this work will be to improve tools and information available ranchers, NRCS and other rangeland professionals for decision making regarding medusahead management on rangelands. This will be accomplished through additional published research that addresses knowledge gaps on treatment effectiveness, cost-benefit of treatments, and effects of treatments on ecosystem services. The available research will be used to develop decision-support tools and guide on-ranch medusahead management demonstrations that will form the basis for workshops for ranchers and rangeland professionals to show how tools can be used to meet management goals, discuss the costs and benefits of this management, and specific considerations that may be unique to implementing a given practice in their area. By starting these discussions, showing ranchers how practices can be implemented, and providing technical support, ranchers will be more likely to adopt medusahead management practices that are tailored to their ranch and continue to share these experiences within their community to continue learning from on-the-ground experience.
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Rangeland Restoration Academic Coordinator
University of California
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