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 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.