AoR 14: Jeff Herrick, Rangeland Monitoring for the 21st Century

The scientists at the Jornada Experimental Range have been at the forefront of research monitoring rangeland health for decades. Jeff Herrick, a lead soil scientist at the Jornada, discusses with Tip recent advancements in rangeland monitoring methods and tools, including a monitoring app that brings together big data and on-the-ground sampling. Land PKS is now available at, and developers will be rolling out several key modules over the next couple months. 


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>> Welcome to the Art of Range, a podcast focused on rangelands and the people who manage them. I'm your host, Tip Hudson, range and livestock specialist with Washington State University Extension. The goal of this podcast is education and conservation through conversation. Find us online at My guest today on the podcast is Jeff Herrick. He is a soil scientist with the USDA Agricultural Research Service Jornada Experimental Range in New Mexico. The Jornada Experimental Range has been at the forefront of research on monitoring rangeland health as well as research on ecological models of vegetation change, subjects that are clearly related. And Jeff has been active also in international work promoting rangeland health for many years. Welcome, Jeff.

>> Thanks, Tip. Happy to be here. This is a great service that you're providing to the community.

>> Thank you. What was your pathway to being a range researcher at the Jornada?

>> Well, Tip, I think that might be the shortest statement of a three-part question I've ever been asked to answer. We've got range, we've got researcher, and we've got Jornada. I'm going to start with researcher. I wanted a challenging, interesting career working outdoors, where there might be some chance of having a positive impact. I didn't know enough at the time to realize the most interesting, challenging, and high-impact outdoor career is producing food to feed out country and the world. So I ended up in research. I did though seriously consider one other career that I believe can have an even greater positive impact than farming, ranching, or research, and that's teaching. But I wasn't sure I had what it takes to be an excellent teacher. Rangeland is a tougher one. I guess it comes down to luck. When I finished college, I was pretty fortunate. I had some opportunities to work at a rangeland research center in Colombia, study soil and rangeland science in New Zealand, and then complete my dissertation research on rangelands in Costa Rica, all on pretty much a shoestring budget or below. I also started reading the Journal of Range Management. And by then I was hooked. Jornada is the third part of that three-part question. I ended up in Las Cruces for unrelated reasons. I did everything I could though once I got there to stay and continued to work at the Jornada and for the ARS because of its commitment to doing research with a purpose, which is what I wanted to do, and because of the leadership that was present at the time.

>> Am I right that the Jornada Experimental is one of the oldest ones in the ARS system?

>> It is. It was established in 1912 actually as a forest research station and then eventually became an ARS unit.

>> Okay. In Nathan Sayre's book, "The Politics of Scale," he notes that researchers at the Jornada were among the first to acknowledge the inherent and he says "driving variability in precipitation that makes vegetation change somewhat unpredictable and also somewhat uncontrollable." What kind of research is going on at the Jornada today?

>> Well, we certainly continue to do a lot of that basic rangeland ecology research through both our long-term ecological research program and now the new long-term agro ecosystem research program that we've got there. But we've moved on from that into a number of areas of applications. Obviously what we're discussing today in land monitoring and knowledge systems. I've got a big focus now, the Southwest Climate Hub is based there. I do a lot of work on science education, investing in the next generation of scientists and science literate-citizens through our work with the Asombro Institute for Science Education. And finally -- and this is probably the area that Jornada will continue growing in and what we're I guess becoming known for -- is really working on big data and how we can start to use the incredible number of data sources that are now available to help inform decision-making. And make sure that those insights and the data supporting them are transparently available to everyone who would like access and who may be able to use them to make better management decisions.

>> Good. I have some more questions about that when we come back around to discussing monitoring. Just for some context, the podcast is focused on rangeland-based livestock production and a variety of risks that are part of livestock production on rangelands. You know, I feel like this is really the only method of food and fiber production that maintains naturally-occurring plant communities and intact ecosystems. And, you know, to make the connection to monitoring, rangeland grazing, especially on public lands, may only be socially sustainable if we get that right. By right I mean not doing harm and maintaining intact, functional, healthy ecosystems. And I think the way to get there is to understand rangeland health attributes and processes. And that is something that you guys at the Jornada have been really pushing for some years now. Can you describe the trajectory of or the history of thinking about rangeland health, say, over the last 75 years? You know, if we picked up an old Stoddard, Smith, and Box, it would define rangeland health as the degree of similarity to some conception of historic climax. And if I understand these things right, we've jettisoned the idea of climax as well as the idea that we can predict a trajectory of species composition change based on our management inputs. Can you trace those changes in the fundamental understanding of rangeland health over the last 50 to 75 years?

>> Boy, I can try, but I'm certainly not the best person to do this. I can name a dozen folks in our society that could do a better job of that. But I guess my take on that is that, while there has certainly been a shift in the way we think about what the reference is and how we manage towards that reference. So in other words, what's possible and what's realistic? So we now recognize that it is no longer realistic and it may not even be possible to manage for that climax plant community. Furthermore, it's often not desirable. It's often not what we actually want to be doing based on our management objectives. Instead, the focus has shifted gradually over the years to an emphasis on the functioning of that ecosystem. Are we getting water into the soil? Keeping the soil from running off and into our waterways? Are we producing a good plant community that can support a variety of values from livestock production, wildlife, aesthetics, etcetera? And I think in terms of the function and the focus on the health of that system, that was actually there. If you go back to Aldo Leopold and you go back to the early writers, E.O. Wooton, at the Jornada, they actually talked about the health of the land. And they understood a lot of these things. Our management though was largely driven by this vision of being able to basically achieve a historic climax plant community. And so I think what's happened is less a transformation as a shift in emphasis. So we now take those observations of what's going on with the soil and water and the vegetation, the litter composition, etcetera, and we put those at the forefront as a guide. And I think that's really been the evolution that I've seen, at least over the course of my career. And of course I came in, you know, as things were just starting to change, 1994 is when I started at the Jornada. And that's when the reports came out from the Society for Range Management and the National Research Council suggesting that we needed to start to making more of a focus on the ecosystems functions and health.

>> Was that where the indicators of rangeland health that are present in the ecological site descriptions came from?

>> It was stimulated by that. So that's an interesting history in itself. That publication basically motivated the agencies to start working on new ways to evaluate rangeland health. And NRCS and BLM were working on that independently and had come up with a couple of systems that looked somewhat similar to what you see today in the interpreting indicators of rangeland health -- so that Rangeland Health Assessment Protocol, 17 indicators. But not identical. And so they came down to the Jornada. We visited for a while. And then they came back again. And over the course of a week or so, we basically hammered out a system that both agencies were comfortable with. And now actually forest service is coming on with Version 5 and we'll be joining in with their logo on that document that describes those indicators.

>> And are those indicators present on all ecological site descriptions for rain sites nationwide where in NRCS has done it, or only for some states?

>> Well, there are some -- and this is a question of whether or not they've been completed and also whether or not they're available on the relevant website. Which is now the edit website, the Jornada's edit website. And the question is, not everywhere but some descriptions are available in all states. And I think everyone is working hard to make sure that those will be much more widely available and ideally for all ecological sites in the future.

>> I think we have a pretty wide audience for the podcast. For those who are not aware, can you give a brief overview of what is an ecological site description and why is it useful?

>> Sure. So to understand an ecological site description, we've got to start with the ecological site. And then there is what it's describing. So an ecological site is a type of land that has similar potential to produce particular types and amounts of vegetation -- so similar productivity, similar plant communities -- on that soil or that group of soils and is likely to respond similarly to management. And so an ecological site description then basically describes that. It describes what that site is, what soils and what the climate is, what the typography is for that ecological site. And then it describes the dynamics. And so it actually describes what's likely to occur. And it includes something called a state and transition model, which is basically a box and arrow diagram that just describes what plant communities and the soil conditions associated with those plant communities -- so in other words, not the texture, which is the long-term -- but short-term, you know, how much carbon is still in the soil and so forth. So it describes those things and it describes the transitions between them and what management actions might promote or prevent transitions between those communities and states from occurring.

>> And at the back of most of the ESDs, it lists rangeland health matrix with the different attributes of rangeland health, not all of which are easily measured. So that would guide a user through some kind of an assessment of rangeland health. But assessment is not monitoring. Can you compare and contrast assessment versus monitoring?

>> Sure. And let me just briefly continue on your explanation of what's there in the site description, then we'll get to assessment and monitoring. So basically the site description includes two ways that you can use to assess the land. One is simply figuring out which state and plant community you're in and that state and transition model. And then you can actually look at the ecological processes using those indicators, which are then combined into three attributes of rangeland health. And the matrix -- basically if there is a full matrix -- it's going to describe first what the reference is and all of the site description should include what the reference conditions are for each of those indicators. And then what departure from those reference conditions looks like for each of those indicators. And so we use those two things to make an assessment of the current status of the land. Determining the current status of the land, it's really important that we get it right. And that's what scientists call accuracy. Then we want to track changes in the status of the land. And for that, we want to monitor. And for monitoring what we really need to do is make sure that we're getting the changes; so were actually detecting changes. And for that we need what scientists call precision. So in the case of like a bull's-eye -- we're doing archery practice or target shooting -- and we've got a cluster of points and those cluster of points are not near the bull's-eye but they're pretty far from it. That's a good example of what precision is. If those are clustered around the bull's-eye, we've got accuracy. So we've actually gotten the right answer. So assessment and monitoring are two complementary things but they actually require different types of indicators. Assessment -- and this is what rangeland health indicators focus on, the interpreting indicators -- requires you to really understand, is something happening. So for example, if I want to know if runoff is occurring from my land, I want to look for indicators of runoff. But it's really hard to measure runoff. Nobody's going to go out and measure it. So instead, what I do is I go back and measures things that are related to runoff. So I could measure things like plant basal cover. And if planet basal cover increases in general -- as long as you don't cross the threshold -- your runoff is going to decrease. So we use assessment and monitoring indicators -- different indicators for assessment and monitoring because of the nature of what we're trying to get at.

>> You mentioned basal area. Basal area is one of the indicators that can be measured that is less sensitive to interannual variation of precipitation, and therefore a good indicator. You know, if I'm a rancher and I want to do some kind of formal monitoring so that I have some idea whether my management is improving or degrading a landscape, I may not have the ability to collect a wide range of information. And so I'm interested in, you know, what indicators are easily measurable and less sensitive and something that's achievable and maybe not so sensitive to the time of year. You know, a canopy cover on June 15 may not have much to do with rangeland health if there's been no rain since March 15, or if we just pull the cows off of there and there's not much canopy. You know, most of the people who are supposed to be doing rangeland monitoring in the real world have to get monitoring done when they can, you know, and possibly can't do it all at a specific point in time every single year. So I guess back to the question: What other indicators are easily measurable without a great amount of technical training and potentially are less sensitive to variation in precipitation?

>> I think you've got to start with the question: What are the objectives of the monitoring? In your previous podcast, Sherman Swanson did a great job of emphasizing repeatedly I think the importance of setting objectives. If my objective is -- as I think you're discussing here -- to detect long-term changes in the land, as a way to determine generally, is my management working, then, yeah, I want to be looking at relatively stable indicators. Basal cover is a good one, depending on the system that you're working in. It's obviously not going to work in an annual grassland particularly well. The aggregate stability that we measure in the field is a relatively good one. It changes sort of the two to five year timescale. And it can be either a leading indicator -- meaning it changes before the vegetation -- or a lagging indicator -- meaning it changes after the vegetation, if you're looking at the soil surface aggregate stability. And that one does though still have some sensitivity to drought. If you've got a drought year, it's going to drop. And so you want to be a little bit careful with it. The third one that I would look at is composition, vegetation composition. And again, that can be, you know, sensitive, the relative contribution of each species or groups of species -- which is what we like to use because it's a lot simpler -- can shift, you know, with different times of the year and so forth. But it tends to be more stable than, say, cover itself. So that's long-term monitoring. If what I'm trying to do is just keep track of trying to decide when to move my animals, livestock, I'm going to be looking at things like cover, like residual cover, canopy, litter, and so forth. And so again, it really depends on what decision are we trying to inform and then also what kind of system are we in, is going to drive. So when we went through the process of deciding which would be the standard indicators and methods that would be included in the monitoring manual that the agencies use, we spent actually over 10 years doing that. And a lot of it had to do with back and forth about the question of, which indicators are going to work well enough in all systems? Recognizing that some indicators are better and some systems than others.

>> Yeah, you're right. Sherman is adamant that you have to have -- identify the question before you begin to try to answer it. Maybe just some hypotheticals that I'm acquainted with with ranchers in the Pacific Northwest. You know, say, Rancher Joe recently took over some rangeland that had been beat up by the previous lessee. He is managing in a different way than the previous guy was. And he wants to know, is it improving? You know, he's not likely going to go out and set up, you know, a three-line transect, kind of like the spokes on a wheel and drop pins and write down species' codes. What would you recommend that he do to try to document that whether and potentially how his range ground is improving?

>> Well, the first thing I'd do is I'd go out and see if it's really beat up. It might not be. It may be that instead of buying beat-up land, the rancher bought a piece of land that just doesn't have that potential.

>> Right.

>> And so that's where those ecological site descriptions come in and can be incredibly valuable for making that termination. We don't want to manage for something we can't achieve. Now, following that assessment -- for which you can use rangeland health or other indicators or what have you -- if I do determine that in fact there is some potential for improvement there -- that I'm well below the potential for that land -- I'm going to be looking for some pretty quick things. Because if I've got land that needs work, I'm going to need to be focusing on that work. So that's one of the reasons that we've developed a simpler system that provides consistent indicators. With those indicators that the agencies are collecting -- you indicated the spoke and so forth -- but can be collected in a small fraction of the time. And I think that system and also, you know, the systems, some of the methods that are included in the Nevada Monitoring Manual that Sherman mentioned. There are a number of tools available for collecting basically. And I would argue that it is valuable to collect data that are consistent with what the agencies are collecting. So again, you've got something to compare to at the regional or national level, but something a little bit quicker.

>> I think it might be worthwhile to go ahead and jump to that. But before we do, I wanted to throw out some of these other hypotheticals that I think likely represent a lot of people's experience and I think that your Land PKS Tool may be applicable for all of them. You know, say, Rancher Joe says, I feel like my range is pretty healthy, but I want -- I see monitoring as being sort of a canary in the coal mine, an early warning system of impending degradation. They're wanting to do, you know, more general surveillance to know, am I at risk of moving toward a threshold that's going to be a transition into a less desirable stable state? You might also have somebody who says, I've got what I think is healthy public rangeland, but I'm in a spot that there's a lot of political pressure against public lands grazing and maybe a lot of recreational traffic from people that are antagonistic towards public lands grazing. That person wants to know, how can I protect myself, you know? How can I collect some data that shows that my grazing management is objectively maintaining a truly healthy rangeland? Or you might have somebody who says, I've got what I'm pretty sure is degraded range, and I would like to know whether I'm on the right track with a new grazing management program to improve it. What can I measure that lets me know whether I'm headed that direction? My sense is that you're trying to accomplish some of all of that with this Land PKS Tool that gets at what is the potential and where are we, you know, with reference to the potential. Is that accurate?

>> That is absolutely accurate. This has been the holy grail of my career, has been trying to get to the point where managers actually have a tool they can get on the land with and do exactly that. The early warning -- before I come back to that though. The early warning signals, those are going to depend not only on where you are in the country but also what kind of land you're on. Because those thresholds, those degradation thresholds, are different on different soils. So even out on the Jornada in Las Cruces, if I'm on the sandy basin floor, my early warning indicator is big gaps between plant canopies. Because I know from all the research we've done that once those canopies get more than a yard or so apart, soil is going to start to move and I'm going to start to lose that surface. I'm going to start to lose the ability of my black grama plants to reproduce. And you're spiraling down. Whereas if I'm up on my gravelly fans up on the slopes there, I'm not worried about wind erosion at all. There, I'm just worried about getting water into the soil. And so there what I'm watching is explicitly my basal cover and looking at that soil surface condition. And as soon as I start to see a change and start to see, you know, crowns dying off when I wouldn't expect them to be, or more crowns dying off during a drought, that's the indicator I'm going to be looking for. And then, you know, relating that back to how I'm managing the canopy. But I think -- so aside from the early warning -- which is really one you've got to be dialed in on -- the other two questions, staying on track and also making sure that, you know, everybody can come to a consensus on a particular piece of land and its condition. Rather than just going out there and saying it looks bad or it looks good. And for that, the best way to do that is to apply the methods that are generating indicators that are consistent with the indicators that are being generated by ELM, NRCS, and are then being used to drive and generate these satellite-based predictions. So you can go on to the rangeland's app website and you can see predictions of what bare ground is for every 300 yard or so diameter pixel anywhere in the United States, going back a couple of decades. Those predictions are based on calibrating satellite data with the tens of thousands of plots that have been measured by BLM and NRCS. If somebody comes on to a ranch and says, hey, there's a big red spot here, you've got way more bare ground than everybody around you does. Again, the first question you've got to ask is: Are we comparing apples to apples? What ecological site am I on? What soils am I on? Maybe I'm on gravelly, low-water holding capacity site, and everything around me is on these deep longy sites. Well, of course mine's going to be red. The second thing you do is you go out and you do some rapid measurements that are compatible with those BLM, NRCS data. Sherman last week mentioned pace points. I think pace points are great. You make sure you're using actually a pin rather than just the big toe of -- your boot or my boot's got a big toe on it, usually stumbling over. Or, in the case of Land PKS, we've included a method that basically involves taking a yardstick out with five points on it and you drop that yardstick 20 times in an area. Five points, you get 100 points. And you just count the number of points out of 100, and that gives you your percent of bare ground. You come back and you say, well, you know, those satellite systems are really cool, but in this case, it got it wrong. And the developer will tell you exactly that. He'll say, you know, if you really want to know what's at your location, get out there on the ground and measure. This will give you a prediction.

>> So let's shift to the Land PKS. What does the acronym stand for? How did it come about? You mentioned this is the holy grail. I'm intensely interested in this. I've been doing some rangeland monitoring on a contract on some public land that was related to a lawsuit with Western watersheds about 10 years ago. And there are some high stakes in the outcome of monitoring on, you know, a couple different pieces of ground for a local agency. And so I've used your monitoring manual methods on this ground. And am interested in how Land PKS may dovetail with that. I'm also aware that what I've been doing is not something that your average rancher is going to do, or even your above-average rancher is going to do. So I'm really interested in the Land PKS. How did this come about and what is the intent with it?

>> If I may, I'm going to start with a of couple stories.

>> Yeah.

>> One was when we first started developing the monitoring manual, believe it or not, we had methods that were more complicated and took three to four times as long to complete. But as a young PhD, they made perfect sense to me as a scientist. And I remember demonstrating these to a cooperator of ours who happened to be wearing a cowboy hat on that day. Actually worked for one of the agencies. And demonstrated these. And I was just so proud of them. And thought, these are great, they're reflecting the indicators that we need to reflect and so forth. All I remember was seeing the top of his hat wagging back and forth, back and forth. It was pretty clear he didn't think we were anywhere on that. We made some progress. We ended up with a system that actually made sense and was cheap enough and we did do some cost-benefit analyses to be implemented. And has generated some pretty high-value data. But it still wasn't the kind of thing that I as a producer would find time to implement on my land. It also really didn't include a very simple system at all for asking that first question, which is: What is the potential on my land? And so basically with the advent of mobile apps, we realized that we had an opportunity to develop something that would help anyone, regardless of whether they've got a background or training in soil science, to identify their soil. Which then allows you to determine, together with topography and climate, the potential of your land, answer that first critical question, so we can compare apples and apples. Compare two pieces of land that are similar to each other instead of two pieces of land that were different. The second thing is, we needed a way to then monitor changes in the condition of that land. And we didn't -- we knew we didn't need to do what BLM and NRCS are doing. They're collecting data to a standard that is necessary, because it is the gold standard, and in fact, it's the best in the world right now in terms of national monitoring programs. And it's being used it to drive the development of all these other products, like the rangelands app. But we didn't need that level of precision. A manager doesn't need to know exactly what species are on their land or all the species. They need to know a key few. And they don't necessarily need to be recording as much information as we would when we're doing a statistical program. So the idea then for this approach actually came from when I was asked actually for about the tenth time and I finally agreed to go to Africa and work with them. Because they wanted to apply our methods. And I got there and I realized that that wasn't going to work. But I noticed that everybody was carrying a stick. Just like most of us have access to a yardstick. And we realized we could use that stick to collect pretty much the same methods or same indicators. And that's basically how it came about. It was a combination of just being driven to want to create something that would allow people to answer both those questions -- what's the potential and where am I, or how am I progressing towards reaching that. And then, you know, making it as widely accessible as possible.

>> So how does it work?

>> So basically what you do is you go out, you download the app from iPhone or Android either one. It's called Land PKS. It stands for Land Potential Knowledge System, which is Land PKS is the app. It's free. Once you download it -- currently it asks you for a Gmail address. And that's just so you can basically find your data later on. We actually don't see your password. We don't see any of that. Google basically manages all this in the background. And it's been an education process for me. I'm certainly not a software developer. But we've got some smart ones working for us. So basically what it does then is when it looks like you're logging into Gmail or your Google address. It's actually just sending a verification to Google that says, yeah, you know, you are who you say are. And then they send us a message back that says, okay, this is the same person that logging in the last time. And that's all we need to know. We don't care who you are. We just need to know it's the same person that logged in last time so we can make sure that your data stays with you. The next thing that happens is there's a couple of screens. The first screen opens up. And currently, you can click on some tabs, and most of them don't have anything in it, it says report. It'll tell you what the climate is for your area. In a couple of months, when you click on a tab that says soil ID, it's actually going to list the soils that have been mapped in your area. And there's a link there and you can click on through to the description of the soil and if there's been one that's been correlated with it, to the ecological site description. So it'll take you outside the app and link you to those. And those soils are ranked in terms of dominance or will be in two months. In other words, what the most likely soil is just based on what's been mapped in the area. But of course we still don't know the way soil maps work, because they don't tell you exactly what your soil is, they tell you what soils might be there. If I want to figure out what my soil is, an ecological site, to determine the potential, I flip over to that second tab for data input. And I go down to the texture tab, and it actually leads me through the process of describing the texture of my soil. So a little video is embedded, if you haven't textured soil before. And it'll come out and it'll tell you whether you're on a sandy loam or clay. That information then is stored on the phone, and again, in a couple of months. We've got this on our beta testing this right now, it's working pretty well. So then when you hit synchronize on the app, it'll basically resort those soils based on similarity to your inputs. So it's going take your location -- which tells us some idea of what your soils might be there -- and then it's going to take the information you've provided, and it's basically going to run a pretty complex algorithm, similar to a lot of the things that are running in background all the time on our cell phones and on the servers that are predicting what ads we want, that kind of thing, or don't want. What they think we want. And it's going to resort them and tell you which soil is most likely to be your soil and therefore which ecological site. So that's the first step. Current version, if you download it tomorrow, it'll actually take you to the process of describing your soil. Within a couple of months, hopefully less, we'll release a new version that will actually then use that information to better predict which soil you're on. And then -- and this works in the current version -- you can click on another button that says that you want to look at land cover. And the land cover button takes you to a screen that has five boxes on it, four boxes that range around a center. And if you click on one of those boxes, it's going to open up four bars -- five bars. And each of those bars is one of your sticks. And you pace out five yards, five paces, drop the stick, record what the cover is at each point on that stick using little pictures. So it's all picture and icon based. Tried to make this as simple as possible and quick as possible. And then pace out another five yards, do another one. If you'd like, you can swipe the screen to the right and you can record the height of your vegetation. You can record whether or not you've got any big gaps in the vegetation. Again, if you're on one of those sandy soils at the Jornada, that's real important. Some of the areas in Eastern Washington as well where you get a little drier. And you can also record plant density. So if you're doing a seeding or something and you want to record plant density, all of that takes less than a minute per stick. Once you get rolling, you can easily do one of these plots in well under 20 minutes. And that's the idea. Then on the phone without any Internet connection, if you go back over to the report side, it will actually graph your data. And it'll pop up and show you that your bare ground, your perennial plant cover, your basal cover, rock cover, tree cover, shrub cover, basic categories there. We're not going to go into detail on species. If you'd like, on the first screen of that land cover function, you can note what you believe to be the two dominant herbaceous and woody species on the plot. Again, all of this is optional. What happens then is that these data are currently saved on a server, okay. So they're saved in the cloud. They're also on your phone. And they are currently open for anyone to see. We are going to change that. We're going to provide privacy functions. So the first thing you do when you'd open the app is decide who you want to see your data. Just you, maybe your extension agent, maybe someone you're working with brush control, maybe your family. You'll be able to have the ability to basically control access then to your data. We'll try to get that out by early next year, those privacy functions. And that's basically it. There are a number of other tools, modules, that are available or are being developed on the app, including one for optionally recording some soil health indicators. Another one for documenting some of the management actions, and so forth. But again, it's modular. And as we redesign it, it and integrate those privacy functions. We're going to make it a lot simpler to use so that you'll basically go into one screen. It'll ask you some questions about what you want to do, what your objectives are, and then it'll lead you through the process of collecting the data you need and then provide that report out.

>> That's pretty exciting. You said the website for that is

>> No. The website -- yeah, probably should have, huh? No, the website is

>> Okay.

>> Okay? But if you search on the app in the app or the play store, you're going to search on Land PKS.

>> Got it.

>> And again, remember that what you're going to see today isn't anything like what you're going to see in a couple of months. And that'll be even updated and improved by the end of the year. So one suggestion there is when you go to that website,, click on the button in the upper left corner of most of the pages -- it should be there on the homepage certainly -- and it says, sign up for updates. And we don't spam. We don't obviously we don't sell those lists. You should get no more than an update or so a month. And it'll basically tell you when those new features are available.

>> Okay. Yeah, I'm excited about that. I'm anxious to try it out. Going back to some of the work that Jornada is doing with big data. Most of us are working with large heterogeneous landscapes that have tremendous variation and is rather large and you have a lot of variation even at small scales. You know, maybe every 10 steps, you might be at a different soil type, a different plant community. So I have been frustrated in doing quite a bit of different kinds of monitoring over the last 15 years at what feels like an inability to capture what's going on over a whole landscape with a handful of monitoring sites. And it seems like with satellite imagery that's now available at much lower cost and at the same time, at much higher spatial resolution and even temporal resolution with more frequent satellite flyovers. Is that going to solve that problem? Are some of these ground-based methods, like Land PKS, and the satellite-based methods complementary? Are some of the satellite-based applications, like you mentioned the rangelands app -- user friendly enough that that, you know, a rancher or a ranger can do something with them? What's out there right now?

>> Tip, you're absolutely right. Right now, with the current versions of the products that ARS and forest service has developed for productivity -- the satellite-based products -- and the rangelands app for the sort of longer-term vegetation trends and so forth, those are products that will predict over large spatial areas at a fairly high resolution what the patterns are. Once you know what the -- and the patterns are generally pretty good. Meaning, if something looks different on the imagery, it's probably going to look different on the ground. What it doesn't tell you is whether or not that that absolute prediction is correct. So it'll tell you that the bare ground is higher here than it is there, and it'll probably be pretty good. But it won't tell you what the actual value is at that spot on the ground, number one. And number two, it won't tell you what the potential is for perennial cover or any other indicator. And that's where Land PKS comes in. And so you're absolutely right, these are extraordinarily complementary tools. And it's kind of amazing how completely different sets of technology are converging to make it possible to do now things that I never dreamed of when I started working at the Jornada over 20 years ago. It's just amazing. You can go out -- anybody can get online. They can look at an image. They can basically make some hypotheses about that image. They can make some educated guesses about what that means. And then they can go out on their own land with their mobile phone, collect exactly the same data that was used to produce that image, and compare it directly. You can click on that point. It'll come up and it'll say, you know, 43% perennial cover. And you go out and you can measure that and you come up with 52% perennial cover. Basically pretty similar numbers. You can make some sort of a confirmation. That's powerful. And again, it's all thanks to big data. Because basically BLM, NRCS committed to collecting these large data sets that could then be used to calibrate and validate basically essentially inform those imagery. Because satellites are dumb. All they do is measure colors. Some colors we can see. Some colors we can't. The only way to transform that information into indicators that we care about is by calibrating with the data we have. And we now have those big data sets, thanks to work, hard work, of NRCS and BLM in collecting tens of thousands of plots.

>> There are a couple tools out there that people can play with now. You mentioned the rangelands app. That's the Rangeland Analysis Platform, right?

>> That's correct, yeah.

>> And what is the objective of that one?

>> Well, I probably need to get the developer on to give a better answer for that.

>> That's a good idea.

>> But I think what Brady Allred, professor at Montana, and his collaborators would say is that they're just trying to provide as much access to information about the land in as transparent a way as possible to people who can use that information to make decisions. And that information, in their case, is vegetation cover. And they're hoping then to also move into some of the other information and data that's available through I believe through the NRCS and BLM datasets. But right now it's really just looking at cover and composition to some extent.

>> Relative composition, right. What do you think is the future of some of the satellite data-based applications?

>> Well, I think it's just going to get better and better. You know, the remote sensing folks have been promising us the world for decades, almost since before I was born -- well, not quite but pretty close. And I think we're now starting to get to the point where, you know, the information they're providing can actually be used to help inform decisions. I don't think we'll ever get away entirely from having to go out and field check some of that stuff. I think we're going to have to do less and less field checking over time in the next five to 10 years, as we get higher and higher resolution imagery and more and more of these large data sets that, again, the agencies are continuing to collect. So you basically get a broader distribution of time and droughts and everything. Those will get more accurate. And the other thing I think you're going to start to see is those are going to start to be pushed out as decision-support tools. And you're going to see private companies already doing this and, you know, basically pushing the boundaries on that. And telling farmers and ranchers, you know, how to manage, when to do certain things, and so forth. And so, you know, if I've got any fears for the future, it's that we're going to stop going out and looking at the land. And that's when you start to get it wrong. So I think we're going to have better and better information. It's going to give us greater confidence. We're going to make better decisions. But only if we continue to go out and actually spend time on the land ourselves.

>> I think that's a great conclusion. If people are going to remember one thing from our conversation today, what would that be good? Go to

>> No, actually. Yeah, just real briefly, when you do go to, you are going to notice that there is an awful lot of images from Africa on there. And that's because this project was initially funded by our US Agency for International Development and it was funded as a counterterrorism tool, ultimately, that's where the funds came from. The idea being that if we can figure out how to better manage land throughout the world, people will stay on the land, and they won't turn to other activities to support their families. And so the US government basically supported that. And you'll see that reflected on the website, where we've found that the tool is equally applicable in the United States on our lands as it is in rangelands throughout the world.

>> Excellent. Jeff, thank you very much for your time.

>> Thanks, thanks very much.

>> Thank you for listening to the Art of Range podcast. You can subscribe to and review the show through iTunes or your favorite podcasting app, so you never miss an episode. Just search for Art of Range. If you have questions or comments for us to address in a future episode, send an email to For articles and links to resources mentioned in the podcast, please see the show notes at Listener feedback is important to the success of our mission, empowering rangeland managers. Please take a moment to fill out a brief survey at This podcast is produced by Connor Communications and the College of Agricultural Human and Natural resource Sciences at Washington State University. The project is supported by the University of Arizona and funded by the Western Center for Risk Management Education, through the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

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