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.
The Rangeland Monitoring Network currently collects data from 25 counties covering a number of regions including the San Joaquin and Sacramento Valleys and the Central Coast. We assess ecological function by collecting information on birds, vegetation, and soil dynamic properties in a standardized way at each monitoring location. Visit our Working Landscapes page to learn more.
For more information, please contact:
Working Lands Director
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.
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.
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
University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE)
University of California Rangelands Program
Central Coast Rangeland Coalition
Carbon Cycle Institute (CCI)
California Association of Resource Conservation Districts
A number of initiatives exist that aim to guide and incentivize projects that improve soil health on agricultural lands in California and beyond.
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
The Grassfed Exchange
The National Grazing Lands Conference
California Association of Resource Conservation Districts Annual Conference
International Symposium on Soil Organic Matter
A number of training and internship opportunities exist that focus on grazing management and/or soil health.
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.
- Usable Science: Soil Health
- Making Soil Health a Part of Rangeland Management
- Soil Health as a Transformational Change Agent for US Grazing Lands Management
- A Global Meta-Analysis of Grazing Impacts on Soil Health Indicators (associated blog post here)
- Guidelines for Residual Dry Matter on Coastal and Foothill Rangelands in California
- Modeled soil erosion potential is low across California’s annual rangelands
- Field evaluation of a simple infiltration test and its relationship with bulk density and soil organic carbon in California rangelands
White Papers and Reports
- Review of California Rangeland Emissions and Mitigation Potential
- Soil Health on Rangelands
- Assessing and Managing for Soil Health on Rangelands and Pasture Lands
- Point Blue Conservation Science Rangeland Monitoring Network Handbook
- Interpreting Indicators of Rangeland Health
- Global Soil Biodiversity Atlas
- Life Belowground on the Range: An Introduction to the Soil Communities that Support California’s Rangelands. Chelsea Carey and Mel Preston
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.
- Soil Quality and Environmental Health Website
- ‘What are soils?’, A Nature.com Article
- USDA NRCS National Resources Inventory Rangeland Resource Assessment
- USDA NRCS Soil Biology and Land Management Technical Note
- On Pasture Magazine
- California Agriculture Journal
- UC Cooperative Extension Rangeland and Irrigated Pasture Web Site
- UC Rangelands Soil Web Site
- Interactive Map of Regional Soil Properties
- A Climate Change Solution that’s Right Under our Feet, a Ted Talk by Asmeret Asefaw Berhe
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.
Dr. Chelsea Carey
Senior Soil Ecologist, Working Lands Group
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.
Building Multibenefit Recharge Basins.
This 3-page document highlights best practices as understood by wildlife experts and practitioners as of February 2020. If you are interested in participating in a pilot project or providing feedback, please contact email@example.com.
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.
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.
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.
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).
A handout with tips on how to build, maintain and monitor nest boxes for western cavity nesting species.
An easy-to-use guide to habitat restoration and enhancement for riparian and oak woodland habitats in Marin and Sonoma Counties, California.
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.
A handout on how to attract and support quail on farms, ranches or in yards.
A tip sheet discussing the actions you can take to keep birds at your feeder safe from disease and predators.
A two sided identification card to some of the most common waterbirds in California.
A pocket-sized guide to common birds of the Sierra Nevada, containing tips for their protection and conservation.
A pocket-sized guide to common birds of the sagebrush habitats, containing tips for their protection and conservation.
A pocket-sized guide to learning about sagebrush plant species.
A pocket-sized guide to common birds of San Francisco Bay, containing tips for their protection and conservation.
A pocket-sized guide to common birds of California’s beaches, and tips for their protection and management.
A handout summarizing Point Blue’s science showing that habitat restoration works for protecting birds.
A two-sided quick guide created with the Natural Resource Conservation District on how to maintain healthy oak woodland habitats on your land.
A two-sided quick guide created with the Natural Resource Conservation District on how to maintain healthy riparian habitats on your land.
A two-sided quick guide created with the Natural Resource Conservation District on how to maintain healthy mountain meadow habitats on your land.
A two-sided quick guide created with the Natural Resource Conservation District on how to maintain healthy grasslands on your property.
How to assess mountain meadow health and find resources in your area to restore your meadow.