Monitoring Rangelands Key to Continued Use
At the recent rangeland/livestock conference held in St. George the topic of monitoring the rangeland was discussed intensively. Earl Hindley who is a retired BLM rangeland specialist spoke to the topic and presented a series of photos.
Hindley said, "I work with historical photos in assessing change on the land. There is a widespread perception that grazing causes damage and then this perception is reinforced with photos. These photos of cattleguards or salting areas are then presented to the public. These photos show only a small fraction of public lands. What things looked like historically is often just a matter of perception, but with repeat photography; we can see what things looked like and get a different perspective. With same spot retakes, comparisons can be made. I have obtained many photographs through the geological survey archives in Denver. Also there is a photo documentation of the Manti-LaSal by Joel Frandsen that I have used.
"Old family photos can also be used. We completed the San Juan project and it's not perfect but it is a qualitive example which can be examined. Decisions and determinations can be made using these photos. My interest was peaked by these old geological pictures," said Hindley.
Hindley went on to show the audience the photos. The historical photo was on one screen and the repeat photo on a screen right beside it. Hindley would point out the differences in the photos and then would display the repeat photos in color.
Hindley said, "One photo from the 1880s shows a dry, desolate environment. The recent, repeat photo shows an area with vast improvements in the river channel and habitat. Improved vegetation has helped build a floodplain. Traditional plants have been reestablished along the bank. It has been shown that tamarisk can be displaced by strong riparian native plants. This photo shows the tamarisk is beginning to be pushed back.
"One environmental lawsuit lost their case because of this photo. All of the grazed areas have shown improvements in the recent photo compared to the pictures from the 20s and 40s. The photographic history of the San Juan shows that as a vegetative resource it is in much better shape and the diversification and age class of the ground cover and other plants has stabilized and the photographs are compelling evidence of these results," said Hindley.
G. Allen Rasmussen, Utah State University extension rangeland specialist spoke next. He presented the ranchers with a practical approach to rangeland management through photo documentation. "Taking photographs of your allotment is a protection. Train yourself to photograph and monitor. The Society for Range Management has defined monitoring as the orderly collection, analysis and interpretation of data to evaluate progress toward stated goals. To monitor is to watch, observe or check on for a specific purpose. Look, pay attention to what is happening and record your observations in some way. Why do we need to do all this? Because we are getting beat up it's not endangered species, it's the 'endangered rancher.'
"It is a six step process for your survival. The first step is to get some equipment, a camera, photo board, reference pole, film, notebook and maps so you can mark where you are. When determining the location for your photo use the key area concept. You need proof. Work with others and show the differences and improvements. You need a landmark that you can go back to time and again that is easy to find. Use your photo board to record where you are with the date and give the site a reference number. Make sure the landmark is in the photo and record that site. You will collect, analyze and interpret. You will also need a good storage system for your photos so get them in a file. Write notes concerning the use and events on the site. Record your interpretations of the management effects on the site. Then go to the next site and repeat the process.
"The United States Geological Survey takes aerial photographs every five years and these are available for public use through the state website. Next you need to get repeat photos preferably every year. Aldo Leopold once said, "If you learn to read the land, I have no fear what you will do to the land." Your monitoring data can demonstrate how you read the land, reducing others fear of what you might do. Monitoring is your chance to prove yourself by establishing a time line and a history.
"Old family albums, historic records at the courthouse and even the library are additional sources for photos you can use to tell a story about the management of your area. Look for old photos that have some identifiable feature maybe from a family picnic or a round-up, by finding that location today and putting yourself in the same location as the original photographer, you can take a picture that will show conditions today.
Jack Payne, vice president of the Extension and Continuing Education at Utah State University was the concluding speaker for the conference. He said, "Earl's photos are fascinating. Seeing is believing. This means we need to tell our story better. We need to inform and clear up misconceptions concerning grazing."
The documentation of the allotments through a photo history will become even more important in the future. A clear, concise record will be the only means of representing your allotment in court. All grazing permit renewals are being appealed in court by environmental groups.