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Many soils throughout the northern Great Plains (NGP) of North America possess attributes that support the successful delivery of multiple ecosystem services from grazing lands.
Anticipated changes in climate and land use in the region, however, suggest delivery of these services could be compromised in the future because of an increase in threats to soil function. These threats include soil organic matter decline, reduced physical stability, soil erosion, compaction, localized nutrient accumulation, acidification, and salinization.
Adaptive management to conserve existing soil functions in grazing lands is necessary and includes: 1) judicious management of forage resources, 2) strategic application of management to modify vegetation composition or soil conditions, and 3) use of restoration and conservation practices known to maintain vegetation cover and protect soil.
Management approaches to conserve soil functions in NGP grazing lands will likely require considerable adaptive capacity by land managers. Successful application of management will require timely information about soil and vegetation conditions to guide land-use decisions.
Grasslands in the Northern Great Plains and North Central Region are diverse, highly productive, and remarkably resilient.
Despite these advantages, these grasslands are being threatened by land use change, invasive species, and loss of biodiversity, as well as being presented with new challenges in how to manage for threatened and endangered species.
Between 2008 and 2012, approximately 2.3 million hectares of grasslands were converted to crop production, while on the remaining grasslands, invasions of perennial cool-season grasses have altered the forage cycle, reduced diversity, and negatively impacted pollinator habitat.
However, the high forage quality and productivity of the grasslands in the area suggest that there are opportunities to address these challenges.
Maintaining ranchers on the landscape to keep grasslands intact is a critical component in realizing these opportunities; therefore, efforts to maintain grasslands in the region need to focus on producer profitability.
The Northern Great Plains contains a diverse group of vegetative communities, primarily dominated by grassland communities.
Precipitation declines along an east-west gradient, ranging from 27.4 inches at Detroit Lakes, Minnesota to 12.4 inches at Miles City, Montana, and productivity follows a similar decline.
Precipitation falls primarily during the growing season, which combined with the lower mean annual temperature results in productive, high-quality, coolseason dominated grasslands.
Although the region is primarily dominated by areas of tallgrass, midgrass, and shortgrass prairie, there are outcrops of limber (Pinus flexilis) and ponderosa pine (P. ponderosa) along the Little Missouri River and stands of quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) in the Turtle Mountains.
Besides climate and soils, fire, drought, and grazing have also contributed to the rich diversity of communities in the region.
Recent invasions of perennial cool-season grasses are threatening historic plant communities; whether these invasions can be reversed and altered environmental services restored are the primary questions facing grassland managers.
Wetlands add significant ecosystem services to rangeland. These services include: sediment capture; groundwater recharge and discharge; stock water processing and purification; habitat and forage for plants and animals, including livestock; and climate protection via carbon storage. Services from wetlands occur at multiple scales, from local to global.
These services are lost when wetlands are permanently drained. Strategic management of wetlands in rangeland can sustain most services, diversify and improve ranch income, lower the costs of livestock production, and provide benefits to society beyond the ranch boundary.
New technologies may enhance management by enabling quantitative testing of assumptions of vegetation response to climate and management. State-and-transition simulation models can keep track of interactions that are too complicated for us to comprehend using only conceptual models.
This tool takes conceptual state-and-transition models to the next level, fostering greater communication and dialogue with stakeholders. Based on the models and climate data used here, increased drought may enhance transitions between vegetative states.
It is important to be as explicit and quantitative as possible as to how you expect vegetation states or ecosystem processes to transition between one another.
Conservation of California rangelands hinges on partnerships among ranchers, agency and nongovernmental organization managers, and academics.
A sustainable use perspective on conservation was predominate among ranchers, whereas a more preservation-oriented perspective was common among managers; the perspective of academics was in between the two.
Conservation priorities among ranchers and managers largely overlapped, except that ranchers prioritized livestock production and ranch succession, and managers prioritized habitat protection.
Land use change was a shared concern among the three groups.
Opportunities for rangeland conservation included improving communication among diverse stakeholders and applying recent scientific developments to on-the-ground range management.