The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today released a new study by scientists and conservationists showing that non-federal rangelands in the western United States are productive but that non-native grasses and shrubs pose a potential threat to the rangelands' productivity.
"American ranchers and farmers are at the front line of the effort to protect the health and productivity of our western rangelands," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "This new study not only provides valuable information about the current state of these lands but also sets a baseline that will enable USDA to make our conservation efforts more effective and efficient in the future."
The study, published today in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, was the result of collaboration between two USDA agencies-the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)-and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
The study reveals that less than 25 percent of non-federal rangelands have significant land degradation but that non-native plant species now occur on nearly 50 percent of all non-federal rangeland. While some of these species have significant benefits for soil conservation, others have negative effects. The study evaluated more than 10,000 field plots across western rangelands using National Resources Inventory (NRI) data, which is a statistical survey designed to help gauge natural resource status, conditions and trends on U.S. non-federal land.
Rangelands across the western United States support productive ecosystems and hundreds of millions of dollars are invested each year in public and private funds to manage and conserve them. Because rangelands are highly diverse, their accurate assessments depend on understanding how different types of land vary in their potential for supporting productive ecosystems while limiting runoff and erosion.
Details as they appeared in the Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment paper are available at www.frontiersinecology.org/ and in an NRI report released by NRCS is available at www.nrcs.usda.gov/technical/nri.