Rangelands in the western U.S. form a vast and varied landscape that provides important habitat for wildlife, grazing land for economically-important livestock, and recreational opportunities. Ecological processes that occur on rangelands generate clean water to drink and air to breathe. Periodically assessing the general ecological health of rangelands is key to supporting the long-term sustainability of rangelands. Since 1974, the USDA has been charged with conducting a “comprehensive assessment of present and anticipated uses, demand for, and supply of renewable resources from the nation’s public and private forests and rangelands.” The Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) conducts a similar inventory of private rangelands across the nation. However, interpreting rangeland conditions has always been controversial, especially when debates over public policy and resource allocation occur. Furthermore, collating assessments of private lands with those from various public land units into a cohesive national report has been difficult because different agencies have used different criteria. A single, unified method for assessing rangeland condition is clearly needed, but identifying a method that accurately measures rangeland health across a broad spectrum of climate, geology, soil types, and ownership patterns is complicated.
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