AoR 67: Land Potential Knowledge System Revisited with Jeff Herrick

Grazing managers of any kind and in any place must answer the questions of what is and what is not possible and how to manage toward meaningful landscape change.  LandPKS was developed to make basic rangeland site data available to anyone and enable time-efficient long-term monitoring based on the rangeland health principles. Jeff Herrick has been working with graziers and managers across the globe for some years to develop an easy-to-use system to "support farmers, ranchers, gardeners, land-use planners, and other natural resource managers with open-source tools that allow them to easily access knowledge and information, and to collect, share, and interpret their own soil, vegetation cover, and management data. LandPKS data, information, and knowledge can be used to improve soil health and productivity. It supports all approaches to land management including traditional, regenerative, organic, and holistic." Listen to this practical discussion between Tip and Jeff about recently updated features of the LandPKS app and data portal as well as general principles supporting rangeland monitoring of grazing areas and adaptive management.

To hear an earlier interview about LandPKS, take a listen to episode 14.


[ Music ]

>> 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 Art of Range is Jeff Herrick. Jeff is a soil scientist at the Jornada experiment station down in New Mexico, and we have talked before about LandPKS, the Land Potential Knowledge System, a pretty versatile rangeland monitoring applications they put together a few years ago. So, we're going to cover some of that again and also discuss a bit of what's new in LandPKS since this is still a relatively fresh technology. Jeff, welcome.

>> Thanks, Tip. Good to be here.

>> I think the last time we talked, you were preparing to hire someone into a full-time position to manage LandPKS internally and promote it externally. And looking at the LandPKS blog, it looks like sometime during the year that shall not be named, you hired somebody into that position?

>> We did. We hired Carolyn Kerchof as our Communications and Storytelling Lead, and she's really done a tremendous job here not only upgrading the blog, the website, but also helping us develop and actually developing a number of training materials including videos. So, there's actually a knowledge hub now on the website where you can go and just search on any topic, and we've covered actually pretty much everything you'd want to know with probably still a few gaps there, but about LandPKS in a bite-sized form. And she's currently now designing what we're calling a Learning Management System where she will actually put together something where you can take curriculum bites or essentially a series of videos that will be pre-packaged, which we think will make it even easier for folks to get into LandPKS. Of course, those that are, you know, under the age of 30 and familiar with apps can just jump right in without any orientation at all. But for those of us that may have a few more years and a little less comfortable jumping in on apps, sometimes that video is helpful.

>> Good. Let's come back to that in a few minutes. Even though we have had one prior interview about what LandPKS is, there's likely an awful lot of podcast listeners that have not heard of LandPKS and haven't heard that initial interview. So, we'll link to that in the show notes. But if you were talking to somebody who had no knowledge of what LandPKS is, how would you describe LandPKS and what it is and what it's for?

>> So, LandPKS, of course, stands for the Land Potential Knowledge System, and we named it that because we wanted to provide a tool to help people better understand the sustainable potential of their land. And of course, that means rapidly and easily accessing soil information. You've got to know something about your climate. And then obviously, the topography comes into that in terms of what you can use your land, how you can use the land and then allow folks to be able to link directly to soil survey information and also, for those of you that are familiar, the ecological site information. So, Ecological Site Descriptions are developed by NRCS, and they basically provide information about the potential condition of the land and the kinds of management actions that can help you move the land in the direction that you want to go. So, that was really the primary objective of LandPKS was to provide that kind of management relevant information for a specific location because of course there's a lot of management relevant information that's not relevant for a particular location because it's on the wrong soil or wrong climate, what have you. And then, we also wanted to be able to provide people the ability to collect data, to do some monitoring on their land, and do that in a pretty simple way. There are a lot of monitoring tools out there that are pretty complicated, but we wanted to make that easy and for both vegetation and for soil health.

>> I think I've been underusing LandPKS. I've mostly used it to compare with some existing data that I've got using line-point intercept methods described in your monitoring manual just to compare data and see, you know, if I have similar data quality with significantly less time expended, and I feel like I have that. In using it some, I've been pretty impressed at how quickly I can gather data using specifically like the cover monitoring feature, and those data correlate closer than I would have expected with the data that I've collected using LPI, but I have not been very successful in using some of the other features, like trying to understand land potential. What was the -- what was the initial impetus to produce this program? Was it primarily understanding land potential or doing monitoring? Or was monitoring more of an afterthought as a followup, you know, as a means of conducting some adaptive management to be sustainably using land according to its potential?

>> Yeah. So, I wouldn't necessarily say it was an afterthought, but it was certainly an add-on, although it was a very early add-on because we quickly recognized that, you know, once you figure out what the potential of your land is and you start managing it towards that potential, you've really got to have some feedback if you're going to adapt your management, as you said quite appropriately, adaptive management. We need to adapt that management based on some information and monitoring data. And so, the initial impetus was actually globally. USAID funded this initially for use in Africa and in other parts of the world where people have even less access to knowledge and information than we do in the United States where we can actually get on the web and access a lot of this information. And so, essentially, in the United States, we're making it easier to do something that wasn't even possible in a lot of parts of the world, and that was where this whole thing started.

>> There are a few new modules -- I suppose that's what you would call them -- in LandPKS. One of them is the Habitat Module. Is that right?

>> It is, yeah.

>> What is that for and how does it work?

>> So, the Habitat Module is, like the other knowledge functions in LandPKS, designed to allow users to learn something about, in this case, the habitat for where they are. And so, based on location alone -- and we've tried to make navigation a little bit easier, too. As soon as you create a plot or a site in LandPKS, it's going to come up with a set of information. And the tabs -- so, if you open the app up, create a site, it immediately opens up to two tabs. And on the report tab, which is the one that it starts with, you'll see a bunch of sub tabs. And those that have leaves on them, green leaves, have new information. And just based on your location alone without you having to enter any data at all. And if you click on the Habitat tab, it opens up to a list of species, and those are all species that have been mapped as having the range including where you are. Or if you create your plot using the map function down at the bottom of the tab and, you know, wherever you create that site for. So, you can go down to the little globe at the bottom, click on a location in that map, and it'll bring up -- again, if you create a site, it'll bring up the list of information for that location including that list of species. And currently there's only about 25 or so nationally, and this is just a U.S. function here at this point. But our cooperators -- it was actually The Nature Conservancy that developed this -- is going to expand that now to close to 100 species, I believe, here in the next few months. So, of that 100 species, only those where there's -- they've been -- the species range includes your location. Now, of course, that alone is not enough to figure out if that's an appropriate -- you know, if the species could exist at your location. Just because it's in the range doesn't mean that your land is appropriate for that, and the next thing you've got to do is learn a little bit more about what the habitat requirements are. You know, does it need shrub cover or grass cover? Bare ground in some cases? And so, it then brings up a brief description of what those requirements are. And then, the feature I think that is kind of unique for LandPKS, in addition to simplifying a lot of this information, is if you collect data using exactly that module that you just described, Tip, it'll automatically populate that next to the habitat requirements. So, you can actually compare your land directly. And of course, the app makes no judgments, and it's very clear that this is not making any judgments about the condition of the land. It's just allowing you as a user to make those comparisons. Yeah.

>> I think I saw that there's also a module for annual use or utilization monitoring. Is that correct?

>> There is. There's -- utilization was just added. It's not something we've promoted yet very widely, so this will be one of the first opportunities for folks to learn a little bit about it.

>> I have not played with that one yet, but I've done a fair bit of different kinds of utilization monitoring. Yeah, tell me how that works.

>> Yeah. So, again, like everything else in LandPKS, it's designed to be pretty flexible. So, basically, you can go into the vegetation. So, on the data input tab under vegetation, you go to the field calendar, pick any date, current date or past date -- of course, this is not a predictive tool. So, it's a little hard to predict into the future. And then, it provides two different options. One is the landscape appearance method, and the other is the key species method. And in both cases, it allows you to enter multiple observations, as many as you'd like. And then, it basically summarizes those based on your inputs.

>> I'm going to have to try that. Now, that brings up another question I wanted to ask you. There is a bewildering array of information out there about rangeland monitoring for grazed areas. And as somebody who gets paid by a university to think through these things and try to make recommendations, I'm even a little bit overwhelmed at all of the different options, and I've landed on a few and have used some. I mentioned earlier that I've used the monitoring manual for grassland, shrubland, and savanna ecosystems to collect a few different kinds of data, and I've also used LandPKS. I've used Land EKG, which was a proprietary monitoring system that Charlie Orchard built kind of after the -- trying to get some of the stuff in the new rangeland health matrices. But say I'm -- say I'm Rancher Joe and I took over a grazing permit 15 years ago, and it had been used pretty hard, and I think that the land condition is changing positively in response to the way that I've been grazing it differently than what had been done for a few decades prior to that, and this is a real scenario that I get asked about pretty regularly, and I feel like I still don't have really solid answers. So, I feel like everybody has got this imaginary land condition scale in their head. And so, I look at this landscape, and I think on a scale of 1 to 10, I feel like it was maybe a 4 when I started doing something different. And today, it's maybe at a 7. But I'm talking with the range con who is responsible for my permit, and he or she thinks that it's a 5. And so, in my mind, I've made pretty good progress from a 4 to a 7 in the last little while, and I should be continuing doing what I'm doing in order to allow that progress to continue, but my range con thinks that 5 is not good enough, in their opinion, and that we should be doing something a little bit different, more aggressive, change the rotation, reduce the stocking rate, something. So, question number one is, "What are your suggestions?" Whether or not it has anything to do with LandPKS, what would be your suggestions for Rancher Joe in how to document -- or say you could start giving him advice on day one when he took over the permit. What would you tell him to do in a way that isn't taking a ton of his time, isn't requiring him to pay, you know, some technician or a consultant a lot of money to collect data independently from him? What could he do in order to document that change over time, regardless of what it might be?

>> Yeah, that's a fantastic question and actually, coincidentally, one that we dealt with very directly a couple weeks ago in Monte Vista, Colorado. We actually ran an Interpreting Indicators of Rangeland Health Training Workshop, which I think you referenced. You said that Charlie Orchards' Land EKG was in part based on that protocol. So, just in brief, and then I'll go into a bit more detail, my recommendation is, if at all possible, try to get out with whatever agency you're working with and see how it is and learn how it is that they're making those evaluations. The workshop that we ran was a little unique a couple of weeks ago in that it actually included ranchers. It included BLM agency folks, both managers, but also the people that are out there actually collecting the data, so the technical staff. It also included an environmental group that was involved in, as I understand it, and we didn't get into this during the training because that's not what the training is about, but involved in some lawsuits. And I was warned ahead of time that this could be pretty contentious and maybe I might have to shut it down and send everybody home. And I said, "I don't think that's going to happen." And the whole idea of interpreting indicators of rangeland health is helping folks come together and look at the land and the processes that are occurring on that land to come to a consensus about what the current status of the land is relative to its potential. And in fact, that's --

>> Using a common language and a common scale.

>> Absolutely. I mean, it's kind of like accounting, you know? You can't use five different accounting systems to balance your books. You've got to choose one and go. Interpreting indicators happens to be the one that BLM and NRCS are using and a lot of consultants are using as well. So, you get out there, you learn that system together, and you learn how to look at the land through that lens, and by the end of the week -- -- the consensus -- unless people weren't, you know, sharing their true thoughts, and I think they were -- was -- you know, that was -- those three days was the best opportunity a lot of folks had had to understand how everybody's looking at the land. And once you do that and once you start to break it down -- and I never say -- at least I try to avoid it -- saying that any piece of land is bad or good or in bad or good condition. What I try to do is understand, "Okay, which processes are working for us?" You know, it's capturing water. I've got a good species mix out there. Production is doing pretty well. And which maybe aren't working as well as we'd expect. Is soil moving off the land? So, interpreting indicators provides one lens to do that with. Land EKG is another. You know, there are a number of ways that we can do it. The advantage, of course, of interpreting indicators is it is becoming or has become, I guess, a common language as a starting point. Once you've got that starting point and you've decided, "Is it a 3 or a 5 or a 7 for water, for the biotic integrity, or how, you know, how our species and so forth are looking out there from a soil stability perspective? Once we've got that, then we can start doing that monitoring and look at trend. But until people are kind of on the same page, boy, that situation you described, that sure resonates every time I get out there, whether it's with a rancher or, you know, a mountain biker I run into on the trails who's ranting about this, that, or the other thing. And, you know, or not ranting, but just observing. And it's a way to start a conversation.

>> Yeah. I would agree. That reminds me that probably a decade ago, I hosted a horseback tour with a bunch of biologists, and we tried to pick on a grazed area and tried to pick a number of people that I knew to be pretty antagonistic toward livestock grazing of any kind, and we wanted to take them out to look at a piece of grazed rangeland that I felt was being handled pretty well and asked people, you know, "What are the dysfunctions that that you see here? And what are the things that are functional that are occurring in this landscape? And are there things that -- are there ecosystem functions that people think might be impaired as a result of livestock grazing, period, or poorly managed livestock grazing. And it was extremely productive. There's just -- I've had so many experiences where you can sit in a room, you know, arguing about principles and practices until you're blue in the face and nobody's opinion gets changed. But looking at an actual piece of ground relative to its potential, the context of its management history and discussing, you know, "What is here? What was -- what could be -- you know, what could we reasonably expect?" Then, you discover that oftentimes there's about 90% agreement in our respective, you know, idea circles on what should be there, and we can identify and have a discussion about the 10% that we disagree about, and that tends to be much more productive.

>> Yeah, Tip, I couldn't agree more. And actually, I'm increasingly coming to the conclusion that -- and as you know, I put a lot of faith in the value of apps and app development and technology and so forth, but real change occurs when we get together on that piece of land, and I've seen that over and over again. And just start looking at it through a similar lens. And what I find maybe not surprising, but certainly gratifying, is once you start doing that, you find the people that thought that they were on completely opposite sides of the fence in terms of how they're looking at the land will often literally cross over when you actually start looking at specific indicators and processes. And then, it makes it a whole lot easier to come back to the center or a center of consensus.

>> Yeah, and I would agree. In a situation like that where there's a fair bit of contention, say a situation like the one you described at the training in Colorado -- -- do you feel like collecting data using LandPKS would be sufficient to communicate some of these things externally? Or should it be primarily used, you know, for making decisions internal to a decision team? And that's related to a question you could follow up with if you like. I'm curious about the observer bias in LandPKS compared to something like line-point intercept methodology. And so, are there situations where you would recommend something other than LandPKS because that maybe is more statistically robust?

>> Wow. You just -- you ask a lot of questions, and big ones.

>> Sorry.

>> Let me see if I can start to unpack that. Yeah, let's start with the internal/external. So -- and I'm actually going to back up even a little bit more. So, we were just talking about interpreting indicators of rangeland health, which is of course that 17-indicator, 3-attribute approach to assessments. So, it's a point in time assessment of land relative to its potential that is actually not currently included in LandPKS. It's something we've talked about. It could be added in the future. But that's really a process, an evaluation process. That's really where you want -- you really need to have a group coming together and looking at the land together using that process if at all possible. LandPKS then comes in because part of that process requires you to make some estimates of certain things like bare ground. Litter cover is another indicator that's it's in there. And the relative proportion of different, not species, but functional groups. So, perennial cool-season grasses, warm-season bunchgrass, you know, whatever those groups are, short-statured shrub. And so, what LandPKS allows you to do -- and in fact, this is how we used it in Monte Vista with that training -- is to eliminate a lot of that observer bias where we get out there and we make estimates. And one of my favorite and most, I guess -- -- humility-inducing exercises is to -- for all of us, including me -- is to have everybody estimate bare ground. And then, go out there with LandPKS, which is essentially a point-intercept method. It's just doesn't happen to be a line-point intercept method, and that's why you can compare between the two --

>> Right.

>> -- and have people do that. And -- -- suddenly, people end up much closer in their estimates. And it only takes 12 to 15 minutes to get 100 points on 20 sticks. So, I'm now describing the LandPKS method that's kind of baked into it. And now, you've got a good number. So, again, now, you can go back and start to talk about interpreting that number rather than arguing about what that number is, "Oh, it looks like 50% bare ground to me," or, "No, I think it's 20%," "No, I think it's 60%." And we actually had that range last week. And yeah, that's pretty typical for people with ocular estimates. So, the observer bias is one that LandPKS does a really good job with. Of course, if you stretch out a tape and you get 300 points instead of 100 points, you know, you're going to get a more precise answer, but not necessarily a more accurate answer, meaning you're still going to get into that ballpark. So, I think LandPKS and similar tools -- it doesn't have to be LandPKS, but tools that allow you to rapidly get a quantitative assessment using some sort of a point-intercept method so you can compare it to BLM and NRCS' standard, you know, line-point intercept method. That's going to help you out quite a bit. And then, I think, to come back now to your internal/external question, now you've actually got some numbers that you can start to share externally and say, "Yeah, we rated this land as being at moderate departure from potential and from expected using interpreting indicators, and we've actually got a few numbers to back that up.

>> Yeah, I like that. Now, while we're on that topic, how would you describe the distinction between precision and accuracy? I like that comparison.

>> Yeah. Yeah, me, too. And it's one that I'm always trying to keep at the front of my mind because what we ultimately care about is the right answer. And the right answer is accuracy. You know, basically, I want to make sure that I've got an accurate assessment of what's going on out there. Precision is being able to say with a very, very small margin of error what the right answer is. So, to me, accuracy is a lot more important than precision in most cases because what I care about is the right answer. If I have a high level of precision on the wrong answer -- so, I always imagine this, and an example people often use is a target, and I like to get out in the evenings occasionally and shoot at my archery target, and precision is where I've got a cluster of arrows in the upper left-hand corner and I cannot get those things moved down to the bullseye for anything.

>> Right. It's a tight pattern, but they're 12 inches away from the target.

>> Exactly. I'm jerking up and to the left every single time I release that arrow, darn it. And whereas accuracy is I'm getting them into the general center of the target. And yeah, they're not super tightly clustered, but at least I'm hitting the part of the target that I'm supposed to be, and that's accuracy.

>> Right. So, yeah, one of the objectives I feel with -- well, I guess two things that I have found personally to be useful with LandPKS is that I feel like I'm getting -- -- a pretty accurate answer because of the methodology, and maybe it would be worth describing that here in just a minute. The other reason is that it takes a lot less time compared with stretching out tapes and measuring along a line where there is still a fair bit of need for -- there are a number of subjective decisions to be made in collecting data. You know, when you're trying to -- you're still trying to estimate a one-dimensional -- -- you know, a one-dimensional read when you're working along a line. And I've found with LandPKS, it seems that there's a little bit of randomness that's introduced into it, even where you're still following some structure to data collection. And I'm curious if that matches other people's experience with LandPKS.

>> Yeah. So, the biggest error that comes in in both line-point intercept using a line and the point-intercept method where you're just doing five points on a stick and then dropping the stick and so forth, the biggest error is typically getting people to just not overthink dropping the pin. Both of them rely on that. And if you overthink dropping the pin and you start thinking about what you think is going to be out there, you're going to find some way to drop that pin and make it hit litter every single time or make it hit that grass every single time. If you just let go and don't think about it, you do pretty well with both a tape and with a stick. Now, the one thing that you do need to be a little bit more careful with with the LandPKS method where you're just throwing a yardstick or a meterstick or a stick off a tree with five points on it instead of a tape down is how you put that that stick down. So, you know, it's kind of -- you can think of the LandPKS method as being halfway between a pace pinpoint method where you're actually pacing but then dropping a pin in front of your -- in front of your boot and the line-point intercept method where you've got the tapes run out. In the sense that -- with that step pinpoint method -- -- you've got, you know, always a risk that you're going to walk around a shrub or you're going to step extra long to either step on or not step on, you know, a bunchgrass or something like that, you really need to -- as you're pacing, you need to be looking towards the horizon, not down at your feet, while of course trying to avoid twisting your ankles, which is a bit of a challenge. And you need to do the same thing with the LandPKS method because you're pacing out whether it's, you know, 2, 3, 5, or 10 paces between the sticks. And it doesn't really matter. We have a default of 5. But depending on the area you're trying to cover, you just want to spread those sticks out across that area. So, you're basically stepping out x number of paces and then dropping that stick right in front of your -- right in front of your boot and then recording the 5 points along there. So, you do need to be a little bit careful with that. But the reality is, from both a precision and accuracy perspective, the thing that's going to -- both methods are should be accurate if you apply them without bias. And the second is that from a precision perspective, it depends entirely on the number of points. And so, 100 is generally viewed as kind of the standard minimum by a lot of folks, and that's what LandPKS is currently set up for. We could make it more flexible in the future if there's a demand for that. The line-point intercept method, of course, you can do any number of points on that. It depends on your need for precision.

>> Yeah, I would echo that -- -- that caution about where to drop the stick. I've been recently collecting some data in shrublands with large shrubs and shrubs with a pretty tight canopy and a little bit of brush, you know, a big sagebrush, and if you're going -- if your pace lands you right in the middle that shrub, it can be a little bit difficult to figure out where to put the stick and to force yourself to avoid going around it.

>> Absolutely.

>> For those that are not familiar with it, can you describe just briefly what that land cover methodology looks like? I know we've kind of talked around it a couple times, but I think it'd be worthwhile to describe it for those that maybe have wrestled with or have need of finding a relatively time-efficient method of cover monitoring specifically.

>> You bet. And again, for those that are interested in learning more, we do have now some videos out where you can actually watch me, unfortunately, out there talking about it and demonstrating it. But essentially, the way we've got it set up in LandPKS currently is you stand in the center of the area that you're interested in, figure out what that boundary is that you're in, and walk towards that outer boundary in a northerly direction. And the default is 5 paces, but if your boundary is 100 yards out, you might want to walk, you know, a dozen paces between each of them or probably more like 20. And you walk out that number paces, let's say 5, and I take my yard or meterstick or whatever stick I got, and it's got 5 marks on it. They're equally spaced, and I set that down in front of me. And then, I take my pin, generally a wire pin flag without the flag on it so it doesn't go blowing in the wind, and I drop that pin just like I would for any other point-intercept method, and I record everything I hit on the way down. So, if I hit a grass blade and then I hit the grass base, I record those. If I hit a grass blade and then I hit some plant litter, I record those. And basically, they're just little picture icons in LandPKS. So, all you're doing is literally clicking on those icons. So, you can have your pin flag in one hand, your phone in the other, and you record that, and you've got 5 points. You do that for 5 sticks going out to the north, 5 to the east, south, and west. You've got 20 sticks times 5 is 100 points. And then, you flip back to the report screen and click on vegetation, and it's going to open it up to some pre-populated screens there that actually show you the greenness trends, so how -- which is related to production. So, that's a new feature, another new feature there. But it's also going to graph your data. And it's going to give you -- and whether you have -- whether you've got connectivity or not, this is all done on the phone. It's going to calculate your bare ground, your perennial grass cover, your basal cover -- -- the shrub cover, etc., right off it, and you can look at that.

>> Yeah, I've been pretty impressed with the functionality and with the ability to access the data. The one thing I want to go back to -- maybe we're taking these things in reverse order, but I'd like to ask you about site selection. Monitoring site selection is a pretty big deal. It's the most difficult decision I think in going about this. You know, clean data collection isn't worth all that much if you're not measuring in a location that's meaningful. So, say somebody has got a 5,000 acre range pasture with a dozen soil types across it. What would be some of the questions to ask to begin determining where to put a stake in the ground and start doing some LandPKS monitoring?

>> So, I think the first thing you want to ask is what you just did, which is, "What's the management unit? And then, what are the primary sources of variability within that management unit?" Is it 12 different soils, but they're all pretty similar? They're all loams and sandy loams and they're all pretty deep? But you've got significant differences in aspect where you've got some northerly-facing and some southerly-facing. What is it that's driving differences in potential productivity? And that's where, you know, just clicking around either on SoilWeb or Web Solar Survey, any of those soil tools, or in LandPKS itself on that map. Just literally drop a point, you know, at various locations in that pasture, and it'll tell you what the potential soils are and likely ecological sites, and that'll tell you what that variability is. So, figure out what the underlying variability is and how much of that really matters from a potential production and management perspective if you've got erosion risks or what have you. Try to get a handle on that and basically divide that area up, that 5000 acres, based on that. The next thing I want to do is I want to think about, "Okay, why am I out here monitoring? What do I want to know? Am I only interested in managing my grazing or am I actually interested in all of the impacts and all of the changes?" So, if I'm only interested in grazing and grazing is likely to be the primary impact out there, then the old key area concept that was developed decades ago has not changed. It still has tremendous value. And that key area concept is basically getting out far enough from water where livestock are going to likely congregate, but not so far out that they're not likely to use it. So, you want some place that's sensitive to changes in grazing management, but not in a sacrifice zone. On the other hand, increasingly, we've got multiple uses out there now. We've got four-wheelers. We've got people camping, if it's public land, for extended periods of time. We've got mountain bikes out there. We've got hikers. We've got people, if you're up towards the forest, out searching for mushrooms and drops on antlers. And so, in that case, you may want to look at a little bit more of a randomized approach, which is what the agencies are doing now because, you know, in the past, they were historically just focused on one use, and that was grazing. And now, they've got to deal with the fact that, you know, a lot of the challenges we've got out there are not livestock. A lot of the challenges are recreation related. There could be some, you know, disturbance associated with energy development, and we've got a lot of different types of energy development going on now. It could be that, you know, it's related to hunting uses. And so -- and it's hard to predict what those uses are going to be in the future and what those patterns are going to be like. So, some kind of randomization to where you put those things could make sense for you. And then finally, there's the case where we're simply trying to document that we've got a problem. Okay. So, we've got horses that are concentrating in some particular areas. To find what those areas are, randomly select a few points in those areas and get some monitoring going.

>> And say in a situation like that -- -- either you're trying to get a handle on whether grazing is having a negative effect or not or from domestic livestock or horses that are perhaps present nearly year round, how often would you re-measure those areas? Annually? Every three years? Decadaly?

>> So, it depends on how fast it's changing. You don't want to waste your time monitoring things that are not going to change very fast. So, if I'm out in the Mojave Desert, unless I've got a specific acute issue like a whole bunch of people having a festival --

[ Laughter ]

-- every year --

>> A festival that shall not be named.

>> -- yeah, a festival that shall not be named, in which case, yeah, I'm probably going to want to go out and monitor twice a year, once before and once after that festival. You know, in that kind of situation, every 5 or 10 years is probably enough. And it's going to be hard to detect change any more frequently.

>> Right.

>> On the other hand, if I've just set up a new riparian management system where I put in controlled access in a riparian area, riparian -- you know, water is the magic potion for everything and particularly for rangelands. And if I got water coming into a system, things can change pretty fast in either direction. And in that case, yeah, annual monitoring would probably make sense. The other thing that's I think important to keep in mind here is we all know that, you know, a series of dry years or a series of wet years is going to throw your numbers, you know, up or down. And --

>> Independent from management.

>> -- yeah, independent of management or interacting with management in a lot of cases. You know, you can -- a series of good years and good management and you're going to improve a whole lot faster, a series of bad years and bad management and you're going to degrade a whole lot faster. These are sort of basic range management concepts we all know. So, I think the other important thing, and this is one of the values of using a point-intercept-based method, whether it's LandPKS or line-point intercept, is you can actually compare your data to the big datasets that BLM and NRCS are collecting with AIM and with NRI, BLM with AIM and NRCS for the NRI program. And in the future -- and the future is coming very soon -- you're actually going to be able to pull the data for all the plots that were collected on ecological sites in your area that are similar to your own or even the same ecological site and look at what the trend was for the data collected on those ecological sites say over that 10-year period. And then, compare your own data and your own trend. And again, you know, this allows you to kind of fill in the missing years. And so, let's say that you collected data in 2021 and, at least in Southern New Mexico, we've had a phenomenal year for moisture. And then, you collect it in 2025, four years later. And let's say -- I hope not, but let's say the next few years are pretty dry. Well, you're going to show an increase in bare ground. It doesn't matter how you manage it. But if you've managed it well, if you've been able to de-stock in response to that drought, if you've been able to manage your livestock so they're on more resilient parts of the landscape, then it's not going to go down as much as that average does. And so, you're actually going to be able to show improvement because you're comparing your data with data that were collected on the same types of soils in that same area that were exposed to, you know, maybe not exactly that same moisture because thunderstorms, as we know, are pretty spatially variable, but at least generally. And that's going to make these conversations about trend a whole lot easier in the future. And that system that's being developed now is called the Landscape Data Commons. And essentially, it's a product of the Jornada. Somebody else you might want to talk with someday, Sarah McCord, has developed that, and it's basically pulling all those data together in a single location in a way that allows us to make these kinds of comparisons so that we don't have to worry about, "Oops, you know, my first monitoring year was a wet year, and then my second one and third one were both dry years." We'll be able to filter some of that out.

>> Yeah, that's fascinating. That reminds me of something we discussed just before we got on the recording. I believe the last time we talked, all of the data that was collected in LandPKS was, by default, publicly available, meaning anybody could go on to the data portal based on the Google Earth engine and look at data from everybody else's site. As somebody who's involved in education and working directly with ranchers one-on-one, you know, I have mixed feelings about that. My default tends to be that I think it's useful to have that data visible because I think in most cases there's no reason to, you know, to hide anything or to fear, but I understand that there are circumstances where people don't want to have data collected. And a person can now decide, specific to each individual LandPKS site, whether or not they want that data to be public or private. Is that right?

>> That's absolutely correct. And that was something we implemented partially in response to your feedback, Tip, and others that we've been talking to around that time. And so, when you create the plot, there's a little radio button, one of those little simple sliders down at the bottom of the screen, and you can click that, go private, and your data will be stored on the servers, but not accessible on the public website. If you realize halfway through the data collection process that, "Oh, wait a minute, I forgot to click that," at the bottom of the data input tab just below photos and notes, that radio button is sitting there all the time, and you can always hit that, and the next time you hit synchronize, which means it's the next time your data are getting backed up in the cloud, that will get added. And then, if you change your mind later on and you realize, you know, this is not something I really want to worry about -- I need to worry about, and in fact there's benefits to sharing my data publicly. For example, eventually, although not currently, it'll go into that Landscape Data Commons dataset and allow others, and you're helping your neighbor out in that case. It'll help everybody adjust based on weather over the past years. So -- but if you want if you want to keep it private for whatever reason -- and one reason might be that you're just messing around on it and you're not putting real data in, and I often use it that way if I'm doing a demo or something. The other thing you can do of course is just go ahead and delete that site after you're done playing around with it. But absolutely, we believe very strongly that that's an important function, and it's there.

>> One last thing I wanted to ask you about is rangeland health, say 50 years ago, was largely based on species composition, I would say, and whether or not the composition that's there -- or the degree to which the species composition for a given site matched or did not match with, you know, say, some reference condition, whatever you want to call that, the climax or -- -- the potential natural community, and I think in response to the rangeland health concepts, there's been a movement more toward functionality. You know, we see that in the categories that are currently in the rangeland health matrix, hydrologic function, soil stability, and biotic integrity, the ability of the plant community reproduce itself and stabilize the site. Do you see a place for evaluating species composition? And I guess, you know, if I was playing the devil's advocate there, I would say, "Well, yeah, it's great if you've got some species diversity and you've got lots of cover. But if all the cover is invasive annual grasses and your species diversity is rabbitbrush and some other stuff that maybe is less than desirable -- -- to what extent does current methods of measuring rangeland health get at the specific dysfunction of having species composition that is mostly undesirable.

>> You know, I think it actually does a pretty good job. And again, having just finally gotten to get out in the field and reacquaint my own self with interpreting indicators of rangeline health, I think it -- and it's been 20 years now or more than that I guess that we've been working with that and continuously improving it. But what it does is it allows you to look at that plant community through a functional lens, water, cell stability, and that biotic integrity. And that biotic integrity attribute does very much consider the diversity on the site. What it doesn't do is worry quite so much about the distinction between two species that are functioning the same. So, if I've got crested wheatgrass and western wheatgrass sitting there on the site or down in my part of the world in Southern New Mexico, I've got Aristida, Threeawn, and Sporobolus, a dropseed. They're not functioning exactly the same. But if I lose one and I gain the other, I'm not going to worry near as much as if, say, I'm in a sagebrush system and I completely lose my perennial grass component or I completely lose the shrub component or I completely lose both and I've just got cheatgrass. And interpreting indicators is actually super-sensitive to that. And in fact -- and this might be a subject for another interview with somebody at some point -- version five of that actually does a nice, a much better job of capturing that in the way that the functional structural group's indicator, the indicator number 12, is evaluated. And it actually -- I was pleasantly surprised because I hadn't actually used it in the field since we made that revision. And how well it did exactly what you're suggesting, which is, you know, "Let's not get bogged down in the details of whether, you know, this trace species is there or not. Let's focus on the functional diversity of that site." And LandPKS, of course, was designed to do the same thing. It doesn't get bogged down in the individual species identification. You identify your two dominant woodies and your two dominant herbaceous species. And instead, it keeps you focused on what I believe is the endgame, which is, "Are we maintaining that functional diversity on the site and the relative proportion of those different groups of species?"

>> Yeah, I just recently completed a rangeland health worksheet for some CSP ground at somebody's request and went through the instructions on that new version of the rangeland health interpreting indicators guide, and I was pretty impressed how they handled the indicator 12 functional structural groups, invasive plants and reproductive capability of perennial plants. Yeah, I think that's been pretty well done. Well, is there anything else? We'll finish with discussing a couple of the places where people can go to get some training on this. Is there anything else that you wanted to talk about that I haven't asked about yet?

>> Sure. Yeah, I'll just -- you've done, as usual, a great job of covering the bases. I would just flag one more new feature that we've got in there, which is the Soil Health Module. And that was implemented just a few months ago -- or actually upgraded a few months ago -- and it allows you to go in and make observations on soil health-related indicators that were designed -- the initial list was actually designed for croplands. So, it allows folks that have some cropland on their site to complete the NRCS Cropland In-Field Soil Health Assessment or collect the data they need to do that. It includes a couple of extra indicators that we think are important for rangelands. And again, that little question mark symbol that occurs all over the place in LandPKS is fully functional there in the Soil Health Module. And basically, it describes how to evaluate each of those indicators. In a number of cases, there's multiple ways that you can select from. So, like compaction. There are several different ways to evaluate compaction. And so, that's a new feature that some of your listeners may be interested in.

>> Okay. Well, let's see if I can direct people to where they're supposed to go, and you can correct me if I'm wrong. There are training materials on the website at, and you can click on Knowledge Hub and find the training videos there. And where do people go if they want to get the app? Do they go directly to The App Store?

>> Just directly to The App Store or, in the case of Google and android users, The Play Store, and just search on LandPKS, no spaces, and it should pop right up for you.

>> Got it. Well, I would encourage people to try that out. I have been using it for a couple years now and have kind of drifted toward using LandPKS as my primary rangeland monitoring system, mostly because the time required is significantly less than methods where you're stretching out a tape and dropping pins and because once you've collected the data, there's not another few hours' worth of work once you get back home or in the office. So, thanks again, Jeff, for your time. We'll put some of these links on the show notes for the episode, and I hope people will try it out.

>> Thanks. And as always, we welcome feedback. Of course, this is, you know, constantly under development and improvement and even rebuilding. So, please do send us your comments.

>> 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 Connors Communications in 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.

>> The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed by guests of this podcast are their own and does not imply Washington State University's endorsement.

Mentioned Resources

Land PKS training modules.
Land PKS data portal.
And to install the app and begin working . . .

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