Indicators of Rangeland Health

Science Center Objects

Rangelands are natural ecosystems where the native vegetation consists predominantly of grasses, grass-like plants, forbs, or shrubs. Rangelands include natural grasslands, savannas, shrublands, oak and pinyon-juniper woodlands, many deserts, tundra, alpine communities, marshes, and wet meadows.

It is important for land managers and technical assistance specialists to be able to assess the status of rangeland ecosystems in order to know where to focus management efforts. The term “Rangeland Health” has become a publicly accepted term that relates to status of rangelands. It is defined as “the degree to which the integrity of the soil, vegetation, water, and air, as well as the ecological processes of the rangeland ecosystem, are balanced and sustained.” Integrity in this context means the “maintenance of the functional attributes characteristic of a locale, including normal variability.”

In a collaborative effort, the ARS, BLM, NRCS, USFS, and USGS have jointly developed a system in which 17 indicators are used to gauge three attributes of rangeland health: soil and site stability, hydrologic function, and biotic integrity. The Interpreting Indicators of Rangeland Health (IIRH) protocol is designed for assessing ecosystem function on rangelands and woodlands and has been in use by for two decades. Version 5 of IIRH is the third published edition of this protocol and reflects changes learned through 13 years of teaching and applying previous versions. These changes should improve the consistency of the application and interpretations made using this protocol. Future revisions are anticipated as science and experience provide additional information on indicators and assessments of rangeland health. The evaluation is used widely by the BLM, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and many private rangeland consultants. 

Pellant, M., Shaver, P.L., Pyke, D.A., Herrick, J.E., Lepak, N., Riegel, G., Kachergis, E.J., Newingham, B.A., Toledo, D.P., Busby, F.E., 2020, Interpreting Indicators of Rangeland Health, Version 5: Bureau of Land Management Technical Reference 1734-6, p. 187, https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/70215720