High-tech land management for healthy rangelands

Sagebrush steppe rangelands support complex plant communities that sustain wildlife populations, recreation and rangeland-based cattle production. Today, they are under threat by both juniper encroachment and exotic annual grass invasion and sadly now only occupy a mere 56% of their historical range.

The Livestock and Rangeland Field faculty at the College of Agricultural Sciences have devised a strategy through their extension efforts with land managers to address those threats and promote rangeland stewardship and health.

The rangeland stewardship program is based on the premise that rangeland resources can only be effectively managed if they are known and measured. For the past two years, extension faculty have worked with land managers to equip them with geographic information systems (GIS) skills and rangeland monitoring awareness using Google Earth Pro (GEP).

Because GEP is free and relatively user-friendly, it has proven effective in both adoption and use. Extension Service field faculty developed a GEP-GIS course, for land managers, containing seven modules. These courses are now taught in Umatilla and Morrow Counties, Baker and Union Counties, Harney county, and Malheur county, as well as Owhyhee, Ada, and Bear Lake counties in Idaho.

Since its inception, the GEP-GIS course has reached 33 private land managers and natural resource professionals in Oregon and Idaho who manage nearly 721,000 acres of private land and 432,060 acres of public lands. The tools and strategies taught in the course has resulted in land management plans aimed to improve rangeland health on nearly 50,000 acres of public and private lands. Furthermore, participants have mapped 15,000 acres using the skills directly acquired in the course.