My time at the Carson City BLM office has illuminated a novel type of land use that I have not experienced in other places that I’ve lived- Range. This traditionally significant practice still plays a large role within the BLM, often overshadowing other endeavors and projects, and we find ourselves continually pushed onto one rangeland assessment after the other. We recently attended a Rangeland Health conference in Reno, NV, which was a truly enlightening experience, providing considerable insight into how a great portion of western lands are currently managed. The practice of Rangeland Health first gained popularity in the 1970s, when most of the primary evaluations of grazing allotments were made. This qualitative assessment tool paints a broad picture of the landscape of interest, cataloging a variety of indicators at the site such as erosion, invasive species composition, decadence, and soil compaction. This initial inventory is known as the reference state, which is the basis of all comparisons for future assessments and the purported true state of that ecosystem. This is after a century’s worth of grazing, of course. Further evaluations of rangeland health are made in reference to this first documented assessment, and the quality of the landscape is summarized into how far it departs from this reference state. For example, an allotment that is historically 85% Bromus tectorum and has high levels of soil erosion is found 20 years later to hold similar characteristics, the health assessment is labeled as a “None to slight departure from reference”, and range practices such as cattle grazing are permitted to continue. I find it endlessly intriguing to see such remnants of archaic ecological principles still in high use as a primary tool for evaluating the health of our western landscapes.

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