Featured Tool: Rangeland Monitoring Network

Point Blue’s Rangeland Monitoring Network seeks to preserve the ecological value of rangelands and recommend conservation actions that enhance their function for people and wildlife. To accomplish this it seeks to understand and measure ecological function of rangelands and increase communication and collaboration among managers across California.

Handbook

Field Data Forms:

Soil Data Forms


Plants Data Form


Bird Point Count Data Form


Data Entry:

Bird and soil survey data can be entered in the California Avian Data Center (CADC), a regional node of the Avian Knowledge Network (AKN) hosted by Point Blue Conservation Science.

For more information, please contact:

Libby Porzig
Email: eporzig@pointblue.org 
Senior Ecologist


Resource Portal for Prescribed Grazing & Soil Health

Soils play a critical role in maintaining ecosystem functioning in a changing world: they store water, sequester carbon, supply nutrients to plants, and serve as home to a vast community of belowground organisms. In California, as elsewhere, soils are becoming a central focus of rangeland management because of their relationship to these and other ecosystem values and services. Livestock grazing is the dominant land use on California’s rangelands and is therefore one of the most readily-available management tools for landowners. While the ability of different grazing strategies to improve soil functioning in water-limited systems is an area of active debate, grazing management has been shown to alter soil properties such as soil organic carbon (SOC) and bulk density (a measure of soil compaction) globally.

The goal of this Resource Portal is to synthesize existing resources related to Prescribed Grazing and soil health for California producers and managers working in rangeland ecosystems. The Portal includes links to an array of pertinent organizations, initiatives, workshops/meetings, internships/trainings, and documents that are meant to help foster community, inspire action, and inform management that supports healthy soils. The Portal is designed to be a starting place where producers and resource managers can seek more information on planned grazing, adaptive management, and soil health. It is not designed to provide a comprehensive or exhaustive list of all available resources, and those that are included do not necessarily signify endorsement from Point Blue. In some cases, we provide links related to soil carbon sequestration/climate mitigation; we do this because rebuilding soil carbon is a goal shared by many soil health-related operations focused more broadly on improving forage productivity, water retention, and soil fertility as well.

A Note on Rangeland Soil Health

Soil health emerges from the biological, chemical, and physical components of a soil and can be defined as “the capacity of the soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that maintains biodiversity and maximizes the provision of multiple ecosystem services within ecosystem boundaries in a sustainable way”. When managing for and monitoring soil health, it is common to focus on those properties that are dynamic rather than inherent, and to manage in an adaptive framework. Inherent properties are defined as those that remain relatively constant over time and are not easily changed by management (e.g., soil texture). Dynamic properties emerge from inherent properties, but can be altered over time through management. One example is soil organic carbon (SOC), which is a metric of interest for many soil health-related initiatives and climate change mitigation efforts. However, many dynamic properties exist, and care should be taken to select metrics or indicators of soil health that address particular resource concerns and relate to desired outcomes.

Rangelands in California are highly diverse in terms of climate, underlying geology, and topography. Whether a particular rangeland soil is deemed healthy or not will depend on the ecosystem context and services of interest. The same soil can be considered healthy in one context and unhealthy in another. For example, serpentine soils, which have inherently low nutrient availability and high concentrations of heavy metals, are healthy in the sense that they support unique and diverse plant communities. However, these soils also support inherently low plant biomass, such that they would be considered unhealthy as measured by the ecosystem service of forage production. Therefore, whether or not serpentine sites are targeted for management activities that try to improve soil health would depend on the management goals at hand. At Point Blue, we encourage ranchers and other rangeland managers to keep their goals and context in mind as they work to steward their soils.

Resources

Organizations

Below is a list of organizations that serve producers and managers working on rangelands. Some organizations provide community-building resources and opportunities, others scientific information to guide management, and still others provide technical assistance and funding. A few provide all.

National

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)
USDA Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)
USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS)
Soil Health Institute
Society for Range Management
Sustainable Rangeland Roundtable
Soil Carbon Coalition
National Grazing Lands Coalition

California

University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE)
University of California Rangelands Program
Central Coast Rangeland Coalition
Carbon Cycle Institute (CCI)
TomKat Ranch
California Association of Resource Conservation Districts

Initiatives/Programs

A number of initiatives exist that aim to guide and incentivize projects that improve soil health on agricultural lands in California and beyond.

CDFA Healthy Soil Project
California 2030 Natural and Working Lands Climate Change Implementation Plan
No Regrets Initiative

Meetings/Conferences

Below is a list of recurring meetings and conferences that aim to share knowledge and build community around rangeland management and/or soil health.

Soil Health Institute Annual Meeting
Annual Meeting of the Tri-Societies (American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, Soil Science Society of America)
Global Soil Biodiversity Conference
Soil Ecology Society Biennial Meeting
California Pacific (Cal-Pac) Society for Range Management Meeting
Regenerate Conference
The Grassfed Exchange
The National Grazing Lands Conference
California Association of Resource Conservation Districts Annual Conference
International Symposium on Soil Organic Matter

Training/Internship Opportunities

A number of training and internship opportunities exist that focus on grazing management and/or soil health.

Summer Soil Institute
TomKat Ranch Internship Program
Quivira Coalition’s New Agrarian Apprenticeship Program
Cal-Pac Range Camp
Holistic Management International Training Programs

Publications, White Papers, Reports, and Guides

There is a growing number of publications and other written products out there addressing the relationship between grazing management and soil health. Below we have listed just a few that we think may be particularly relevant to the conversation in California.

Peer-Reviewed Publications
White Papers and Reports
Guides

Other Web Resources and Outlets

While you could navigate to some of these web resources through the list of organizations above, some are independent and we wanted to highlight a few that are particularly pertinent to rangeland management and/or soil health.

Funding

Funding for this Portal emerged from a California State Conservation Innovation Grant 2017-2019, with generous funding and support from the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS Grant #NR179104XXXXG001).

For more information about the NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant program visit this website.

Contact Info

Dr. Chelsea Carey
Senior Soil Ecologist, Working Lands Group
ccarey@pointblue.org


More Farm and Ranch Management Tools

A collection of resources for private landowners, farmers, and ranchers, aimed at helping improve wildlife friendly practices on private lands.

Rangeland Watershed Initiative.

Point Blue’s Rangeland Watershed Initiative works with local communities across California to enhance conservation on food-producing lands. Our team of biologists work hand-in-hand with Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) conservationists and ranchers throughout California to implement practices that benefit soil, water, air, plants, and animals. Those practices include on-farm pollinator habitat, carbon farm plans, ranch infrastructure, waterbird habitat, grazing management, riparian restoration, and more. Visit our Working Landscapes section to learn more and find contacts.

Rangeland Watershed Initiative Handbook. This handbook provides an overview of the Rangeland Watershed Initiative (RWI) program structure, vision, activities, and approaches for conservation planning, implementation support, and ecological monitoring on rangelands. Developed by Point Blue Conservation Science in partnership with the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), RWI advances the sustainability and conservation of working lands through value-added Partner Biologist positions.

Guide to the Pasture Plants of Coastal San Mateo County

A very cool guide to Central Coast pasture plants written and illustrated by Point Blue’s Mel Preston, published by TomKat Ranch, and supported by other partners in the region.

How Grazing Could Restore California’s Grasslands

An article in Conservation Magazine summarizing a recent Point Blue publication on the role of planned grazing in increasing native perennial grass distribution on a coastal California ranch.

Common Species of the Working Lands of Coastal San Mateo County: A Wildlife Checklist

A checklist to common birds, butterflies, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals created by Point Blue staff, including Rich Stallcup, and partners (best to print on legal-sized paper).

Being the Best Nest Box Landlord for Birds in the West

A handout with tips on how to build, maintain and monitor nest boxes for western cavity nesting species.

Safe Nest Boxes for Owls in the West

A handout with tips on how to build, maintain and monitor owl nest boxes.

Habitat Enhancement Guide Marin and Sonoma

An easy-to-use guide to habitat restoration and enhancement for riparian and oak woodland habitats in Marin and Sonoma Counties, California.

Habitat Enhancement Guide Sacramento Valley

An easy-to-use guide to habitat restoration and enhancement describing practical steps that landowners and land managers can take to improve bird habitat in the Sacramento Valley.

How to Help Quail on Your Farm or Ranch

A handout on how to attract and support quail on farms, ranches or in yards.

Safe Bird Feeding

A tip sheet discussing the actions you can take to keep birds at your feeder safe from disease and predators.

Waterbird ID Card

A two sided identification card to some of the most common waterbirds in California.

Pocket Guide to Sierra Nevada Birds

A pocket-sized guide to common birds of the Sierra Nevada, containing tips for their protection and conservation.

Pocket Guide to Sagebrush Birds

A pocket-sized guide to common birds of the sagebrush habitats, containing tips for their protection and conservation.

Pocket Guide to Sagebrush Habitat

A pocket-sized guide to learning about sagebrush plant species.

Pocket Guide to San Francisco Bay Birds

A pocket-sized guide to common birds of San Francisco Bay, containing tips for their protection and conservation.

Pocket Guide to Beach Birds of California

A pocket-sized guide to common birds of California’s beaches, and tips for their protection and management.

Restoration Works

A handout summarizing Point Blue’s science showing that habitat restoration works for protecting birds.

Keeping Oak Woodlands Healthy

A two-sided quick guide created with the Natural Resource Conservation District on how to maintain healthy oak woodland habitats on your land.

Keeping Riparian Habitats Healthy

A two-sided quick guide created with the Natural Resource Conservation District on how to maintain healthy riparian habitats on your land.

Keeping Mountain Meadows Healthy

A two-sided quick guide created with the Natural Resource Conservation District on how to maintain healthy mountain meadow habitats on your land.

Keeping Grasslands Healthy

A two-sided quick guide created with the Natural Resource Conservation District on how to maintain healthy grasslands on your property.

Restoring Sierra Meadows

How to assess mountain meadow health and find resources in your area to restore your meadow.

 

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