Grazing Strategy Indices for Range Quality Assurance

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2017: $42,369.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2020
Grant Recipient: University of Nevada Cooperative Extension
Region: Western
State: Nevada
Principal Investigator:
Sherman Swanson
University of Nevada Cooperative Extension


  • Animals: bovine


  • Animal Production: grazing management, grazing - rotational, rangeland/pasture management, watering systems
  • Education and Training: decision support system, extension, farmer to farmer, mentoring, on-farm/ranch research, study circle, technical assistance, workshop
  • Natural Resources/Environment: habitat enhancement, riparian buffers, wetlands, wildlife
  • Production Systems: holistic management
  • Sustainable Communities: infrastructure analysis, public participation, public policy, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    Nevada Range Management Schools focused on how plants grow in relation to grazing, emphasizing timing and duration plus
    recovery and intensity. In this project we’ll build on that foundation, conducting workshops on “stewardship ranches,” striving to meet
    rangeland objectives. To learn about application of management for plant growth we’ll use the grazing response index (GRI) as we seek to
    learn each ranch managers’ strategies for rangeland stewardship and livestock production. We’ll focus on plant communities and use areas
    within pastures to help ranchers evaluate and improve GRI scores through movement or distribution of livestock. Later, we’ll convene
    stewardship ranchers with visitation teams and leading agency rangeland management personnel to discuss concepts learned from
    stewardship ranch workshops to create a range management school related to application of GRI and other grazing strategy indices.
    Presentation of application-focused schools will include selected stewardship ranchers as teachers or presenters, describing what
    management techniques work on their ranch and why. Evaluation will be ongoing throughout the project and include interviews and/or
    surveys, of stewardship ranchers and public and private land rangeland managers attending RMS classes. We will seek to learn about
    management changes resulting from this process. Products include revised curriculum for schools, extension fact sheets about using GRI or
    other indices to improve rangeland conditions by timely moving animals from pasture to pasture and within large pastures. Finally all of the
    above will be written up for sharing with Western SARE and the rangeland management community with an article for Rangelands.
    Introduction: Throughout Nevada and much of the West, rangeland livestock production is the largest agricultural industry. Producers
    depend upon productivity of public and private pastures. Sustained productivity depends upon plant growth influenced by highly variable
    seasonal and annual growing conditions, and producer’s ability and flexibility to manage livestock numbers and movement in relation to
    this variability. Most pastures are not overgrazed, but many undermanaged pastures have overgrazed areas, especially riparian areas. Yet
    reduction of livestock grazing is frequently ineffective (Swanson et al. 2015) and resulted in increased occurrence of megafires (Young and
    Clements 2009; Strand et al. 2014; Swanson 2016). While fire is perhaps Nevada’s primary sage-grouse conservation issue, the principal
    target of some litigators is reduced livestock grazing. Years of process is now leading to many anticipated actions on allotments to meet
    agency commitments. The September 2016-142 BLM Instruction Memorandum for sage grouse requires thresholds and responses
    (use/disturbance levels). Future environmental impact statements and environmental assessments in many sage-grouse areas will
    empower more timely and restrictive adjustments to livestock grazing. While instruction memoranda may not preclude management
    strategies for movement and control of season, duration, and rotation of animals, specific focus on stocking rate and utilization levels will
    likely continue without deeper thinking and creative resolutions. We will create solutions and support for active grazing management tied to
    principles of plant growth, habitat quality, and animal nutrition. Ironically, discussions are ramping up with agencies, producers, and other
    stakeholders for appropriate use of grazing fine fuels for the Integrated Rangeland Fire Management Strategy for Secretarial Order 3336.
    This management needs clear concepts for addressing fine fuels and managing grazing for resistance and resilience of rangeland
    ecosystems. Nevada Range Management School presented foundational concepts for plant growth in relation to grazing management
    (McAdoo et al. 2010; Schultz et al 2015). We taught the Grazing Response Index (GRI) (Reed et al. 1999) because it provides a simple
    scoring system based on plant growth, scoring frequency, intensity, and opportunity for growth or regrowth. It should effectively capture
    grazing impacts and recovery by emphasizing timing and duration in addition to intensity of grazing, all in relation to forage growing
    seasons. GRI is presented by rangeland management educators’ publications in eight states or provinces, both BLM and Forest Service, and
    is featured at over 1000 web pages. Yet, GRI evaluations may contrast with perceptions of benefit from institutionalized grazing systems
    that harvest AUMs during a single use period that often encompasses most of the growing season. In choosing and using GRI, individually
    evaluating different use areas or plant communities improves effectiveness, a skill set not developed in current Range Management School
    curricula. Stewardship Ranches and we will focus on rationale and tools for strategic animal movement.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The goal of this project is ranchers and agencies working in concert to achieve mutual goals for rangeland
    productivity, rangeland health, riparian functions, fire and fuels management, and wildlife habitat. It is also successful sustainable
    producers applying GRI or similar indices to evaluate and teach the strategies of their success. And finally, it is using the process to inform
    the development of a Range Quality Assurance Program patterned after the successful and well known Beef Quality Assurance Program
    (Bennett 1992). The vision of the RQA program is to develop “An incentive based producer program that facilitates rancher’s ability to train,
    plan, implement, and demonstrate sound range management practices that result in healthy and resilient landscapes, marketability of their
    cattle, and continued viability of their ranching operations.” RQA principles are based on “good management practices” that are or become
    standard operating procedures. These are designed to achieve the federal land management agencies’ land health standards and guidelines,
    conserve greater sage-grouse and other fish and wildlife species habitat, and produce food with practicality, flexibility, and assurance. RQA
    programming will eventually focus on educating and training cattle producers, wildlife managers, and land management agency range staff
    on issues regarding livestock management and rangeland health. It will also provide tools for verifying and documenting positive rangeland
    management practices using appropriate monitoring. The objectives for Nevada ranches in this RQA complimentary program are: A)
    Increase knowledge of GRI-related principles of plant growth and animal production B) Focus rangeland livestock producers’ and
    managers’ short-term monitoring to facilitate GRI-like planning tools for ecological sustainability, economic resilience, and quality of life C)
    Provide support for flexibility and increase application of grazing management infrastructure (e.g. water developments and strategically
    placed fences) and strategies (e.g. placement of animals with stockmanship and use of supplementation) to optimize animal movement for
    rangeland health and productivity on federal and private land. D) Help rangeland managers avoid succumbing to the simple solution that
    usually does not work, i.e. reducing AUMs, to address distribution and timing/duration problems.

    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.