Plant identification important in range monitoring

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Sep 5, 2008
by WLJ
Range monitoring requires a working knowledge of plant identification.
But acquiring the knowledge can be a daunting challenge that often prevents producers from implementing important aspects of range monitoring.
"However, one does not have to be a plant identification expert," says Chuck Lura, Extension rangeland specialist at the North Dakota State University (NDSU) Central Grasslands Research Extension Center near Streeter. "Simply knowing a few key species and monitoring their abundance can provide producers with valuable information."
Accurate monitoring helps rangeland managers determine whether their grazing management strategy is working.
Key species are species in a pasture that can serve as indicators of management effectiveness. They generally are species that are abundant, productive and palatable, and were dominant plants in the historical climax community of a particular ecological site.
A historic climax community is a plant community that existed at the time of European immigration and settlement in North America and was best adapted to the unique combination of environmental factors associated with a particular site.
Lura recommends rangeland managers select one to three key species for monitoring on a particular ecological site. For example, a key area in much of the Missouri Coteau in North Dakota is the loamy ecological site. The key species on this site likely would be some combination of western wheatgrass, slender wheatgrass, green needlegrass and needle-and-thread. Collectively, these grasses may account for up to one-half of the total forage production.
Monitoring the response of a few key species on key sites will help rangeland managers judge whether the management within a pasture has been successful.
"Generally, when range management principles are properly used, the entire pasture may be considered correctly used," Lura says.
The Central Grasslands Research Extension Center has a program to assist producers in implementing and maintaining range monitoring procedures. The program is made possible through funding from NDSU, the North Dakota Natural Resources Trust, and Ducks Unlimited. — WLJ
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