Writer: D'Lyn Ford
ALBUQUERQUE - Ranchers in north-central New Mexico can learn basic techniques to monitor changes in rangeland, streambanks and water quality March 19-21 in hands-on workshops from New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service.
The workshops are designed to help ranchers strengthen their management capabilities and improve their land stewardship, said Terrell Baker, Extension riparian management specialist who will teach the riparian, or streambank, segment.
"Ranchers are coming under increased scrutiny from the public and regulatory agencies, creating mounting pressure on them to explain why their rangelands look the way they do and to show that they are managing their land appropriately," Baker said. "Range monitoring is a good way for ranchers to be prepared to explain the changes taking place on their land and to demonstrate their stewardship. It's also a mechanism to improve management and communication between ranchers and regulatory agencies."
Participants will learn about three levels of monitoring, from a simple level 1 that uses easy, practical methods to document general changes in range condition to a complex level 3 that allows monitors to gather much more detailed information. The bulk of the workshops will focus on level 1, providing field demonstrations to teach ranchers how to begin the monitoring process.
Level 1 monitoring relies primarily on photographing rangeland and riparian areas and maintaining careful, written records of changes observed, with an emphasis on vegetation growth, soil erosion and wildlife patterns, said Edmund Gomez, executive director of NMSU's Rural Agricultural Improvement and Public Affairs Project, based in Alcalde. It also teaches ranchers to take water samples to monitor changes in quality.
"These will be real hands-on workshops that will begin with classroom discussion in the morning about what monitoring is, why it needs to be done and how to do it, followed by a trip to the range in the afternoon where participants will directly learn out in the field how to do things," Gomez said. "We're taking a walk-before-you-run approach, so that by the time the workshop is over, they will be able to do level 1 monitoring on their own. Workshops on level 2 and possibly level 3 would be held at a later date for those who want to learn more complex monitoring methods."
In addition to improving rangeland management and stewardship, the workshops will allow ranchers to take up the current slack in range monitoring, given that budget constraints have forced agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service to cut back on their monitoring activities, said Chris Allison, Extension range management specialist who will teach the rangeland workshop segment.
"Somebody needs to step in and gather this type of information and we feel the best person to do that is the rancher, the person who is out there on the land every day and the one who has more of an idea of what the rangeland needs are," Allison said. "The government cannot do it all for us, so we think the best thing is for ranchers to step up, with some training, and become important players in the process."
All three workshops are free of charge, as are a limited number of monitoring kits that will be given to participants. The kits will include a small disposable camera, marker boards, rain gauges, rulers to measure vegetation height and data forms for recording information. A variety of publications on range management will also be handed out, Gomez said.
The workshops will be held March 19 at the Taos County Agricultural Center at 202 Chamisa Road, March 20 at the Santa Fe County Fair Building at 3229 Rodeo Road, and March 21 at the Mountainair Ranger District Office in Mountainair.
Participants are strongly encouraged to preregister. For more information, call Gomez at (505) 852-2668.
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