Upland Threat Based Land Management

The SageSHARE partnership presents the Threat-Based Land Management in the Northern Great Basin: A Manager’s Guide and A Field Guide as a tool to support conservation in sagebrush habitats across the Northern Great Basin.

Photo Credit: Lori Ziegenhagen

The Field Guide and Manager’s Guides, linked above, are peer reviewed Pacific Northwest Extension publications produced by the SageSHARE partnership. Building off of threat based models developed originally for sage-grouse management arising out of the need for a threat based land  management approach for management plans developed for the candidate conservation agreement with assurances (CCAAs) this comprehensive guide presents a simplified framework to help land managers assess and monitor these threats at large scales. By mapping out different ecological states on your land, identifying their level of risk, and estimating how those states might change, managers can choose appropriate management actions.

Why use a threat-based approach?

Albert Einstein suggested that our perception of space is relative to the speed at which we move through it. Inspired by this principle, we modified it into a new take on land management: Our perception and understanding of the natural world depends on how fast we travel across the landscape. Walking slowly through sagebrush, we can notice an ant trail and the species of forb leaves they carry. We see richness and nuance, complexity and diversity. But when covering hundreds or thousands of acres, we don’t have the luxury of going slow. Management at these scales requires us to move faster, and as we do, the landscape blurs and details grow coarse. We need to find the right ratio of area to detail.
Threat-based land management, the framework presented in this manager’s guide, is a 60-mph approach. Driving at that speed, we see the patterns and problems affecting our rangelands: sagebrush seas and bunchgrass hues, annual grass patches and juniper woodlands. Sagebrush rangeland managers are responsible for vast acres. They cannot slowly observe every detail, especially when the primary threats to the ecosystem — annual grass invasion, conifer encroachment, and wildfire — dwarf finer-scale habitat needs and local management progress.
Threat-based land management was built on the premise that primary ecosystem threats need to be our assessment and management priorities. Consider the changes that large-scale wildfires bring to millions of acres throughout the West year after year. In a matter of days, one wildfire can erase all the gains of small-scale restoration and render any knowledge of habitat composition and conditions obsolete. Effective response to this pace and scale of change requires our management to move faster and focus on primary threats before implementing finer-scale and localized endeavors.
This guide presents an ecosystem framework to prioritize the primary threats to intact upland sagebrush rangelands: annual grass invasion, conifer woodland expansion, and associated wildfire relationships. A single model of nine distinct ecological states  represents a spectrum from intact native plant communities to those converted by primary threats. The associated resource, Threat-Based Land Management in the Northern Great Basin: A Field Guide (PNW 723), was specifically designed to help practitioners map ecological states. In this manager’s guide, graphics (adapted from the field guide) illustrate how to determine ecological states including the invasive annual grass threat, juniper expansion threat, and dual threats.

Photo Credit: Lori Ziegenhagen

This framework uses vegetation states, ecological threats, and plant community trend to suggest management actions at relevant scales.
We use a six-step process to explain threat-based land management:

  • First, this framework uses functional groups to categorize current vegetation and focus managers on the important relationship between perennial bunchgrasses, site availability, and primary threats.
  • Second, this guide discusses primary threats, their landscape context, and why simplified state-and-transition models are useful for sorting different vegetation conditions into categories relevant to management.
  • As the third and fourth steps, this guide introduces the nine distinct ecological states, teaches practitioners how to use them, and discusses implications at different management scales.
  • Fifth, this guide introduces apparent trend, a method to quickly assess whether a site’s trajectory is moving downward to less desirable conditions, remaining stable, or moving upward to favored ecological conditions.
  • Finally, the sixth step connects the framework to management decision-making and explores adaptive management, management tools, and sage-grouse habitat requirements. This step is not intended to be prescriptive, but rather to provide an approach for making decisions.

Our framework is not a stand-alone tool. It supports a toolbox of products for assessing biotic and abiotic conditions at multiple scales. Managers are most effective when they can interpret current biotic information with abiotic indicators of site potential and performance. Our framework focuses on efficiently categorizing current biotic conditions, and works in concert with other assessments of abiotic properties, including resistance and resilience.
Few tools address the need for both a broad perspective and local specifics. Tools informing planning and policy issues often deal with regional scales and larger. Tools providing detailed management guidance, such as Ecological Site Descriptions, are
typically site-specific. Our framework occupies a middle ground, linking management actions to landscape-level conservation concerns.
Management needs to move fast. Rangeland managers care for large acreages on tight budgets. Conifer encroachment and annual grass invasion affect entire landscapes. The level of detail visible at 60 mph matches the management realities of scarce resources and large-scale threats. It also allows managers to strategize at scales that can be measured in tens or hundreds of thousands of acres. This framework moves at the speed of management, optimizing the science to help rangeland professionals efficiently and effectively categorize, prioritize, and strategize at practical scales.

Who can benefit from this guide?

Photo credit: Tony Svejcar

This manager’s guide is designed for rangeland managers, professionals and stewards. It is an answer to the repeated requests from practitioners and administrators who want to use the threat-based approach but need a detailed resource. Here, we provide the science and rationale behind threat-based land management.
A general audience may need additional background information on key concepts, and we encourage those individuals to consult our additional resources. For specific use in the field, especially classification of ecological states, users should refer to the field guide (PNW 723) and the associated threat-based land management field documentation form

Using threat-based land management in grazing management

Managing grazing to maintain or improve rangeland health is challenging in an environment that experiences variable forage production and ecosystem threats. To be successful, we must understand current conditions, identify realistic desired conditions and plan how to get there. Threat-based land management provides a simplified framework for efficient identification, evaluation and communication of current and desired conditions, and management actions needed to achieve rangeland goals. Read the extension publication below where we build on the threat-based land management framework and, using a hypothetical 10,000-acre ranch as an example, demonstrate how grazing can help achieve desired ecological conditions.

Which systems work with a threat-based approach?

This framework is designed for upland sagebrush ecosystems in the northern Great Basin, including eastern Oregon, southwest Idaho, and northern Nevada. The general approach we present is relevant to a much broader geography within the sagebrush biome, but specific ecological states, threats, and vegetation dynamics would need to be adapted for different areas.
Similarly, non-sagebrush ecosystem vegetation can be managed with a threat-based approach, but relevant ecology for those systems will be different than what is described here. We designed this framework for the pasture and allotment scale, but it can be, and has been, adapted for larger areas.
Finally, this framework does not exist in a vacuum and is not comprehensive to all scales. To maximize management effectiveness, managers should pair this framework with other resources, including local knowledge and site-specific information such as Ecological Site Descriptions.

The Pilot Study: Using Threat-based Land Management in Bureau of Land Management’s Land Health Evaluation

The land health evaluation is a process that Bureau of Land Management district office staffs use on public rangelands to determine the health of the ecosystem and management interventions needed to maintain or improve the condition of renewable public resources. Many methodologies are used within the land health evaluation, and this report (purple button below) details a pilot study to explore the applicability and utility of incorporating the threat-based model approach into the land health evaluation process for a grazing allotment within Greater Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) habitat in Oregon. The threat-based model approach uses simplified ecosystem models to identify and map primary threats and determine potential management interventions. The study team found that the threat-based model supported the findings from the BLM’s land health evaluation for the O’Keeffe allotment. The threat-based model approach offered another line of evidence in assessing upland standards. It also proved to be a valuable tool for communicating with stakeholders, as it provided a spatial depiction of habitat condition and threats through maps and a framework to link threats to management actions. The BLM needs to further
apply and study this methodology, but there is potential to use the threat-based model to streamline the land health evaluation process and provide a consistent assessment framework across public and private lands.

The Pilot Study Technical Report

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