Recommended Monitoring Protocols for Targeted Grazing Projects
Targeted grazing is used to address numerous conservation issues including but not limited to: noxious weed and non-native plant species invasion, woody vegetation invasion of grasslands, grass and broadleaf woody vegetation invasion of regenerating forests, and manipulation of vegetation and litter to reduce fire hazard or enhance habitat for species at risk and other wildlife.
This resource helps guide the use of targeted grazing to enhance the success of outcomes and to minimize or eliminate any negative consequences.
Prepared By Sue Michalsky – Paskwa Consultants LTD. and Marilyn Neville – Gramineae Services LTD.
Targeted or prescriptive grazing can be defined as the use of a specified kind of livestock at a determined season, duration and intensity to accomplish defined vegetation and landscape goals (Launchbaugh and Walker 2006). Targeted grazing is used to address numerous conservation issues including but not limited to: noxious weed and non-native plant species invasion, woody vegetation invasion of grasslands, grass and broadleaf woody vegetation invasion of regenerating forests, and manipulation of vegetation and litter to reduce fire hazard or enhance habitat for species at risk and other wildlife.
Targeted grazing with livestock to reduce weeds and undesirable vegetation has increased over the last decade as land managers look for options to facilitate integrated vegetation management plans. Research regarding the effectiveness of targeted grazing treatments in western Canada is lacking and projects are often not monitored in any consistent manner. This project engaged urban park ecologists, livestock producer organizations and stewardship organizations to discuss existing projects and to review monitoring programs. Most of the published research regarding targeted grazing has been conducted in the United States and other countries, often in specific ecological settings that are very different from western Canada. Currently, there is considerable promotion of the methods used in the United States. However, research has not been conducted to determine the effectiveness of the methods when applied in western Canadian ecosystems.
In some cases, targeted grazing projects may achieve reduction of the unwanted vegetation, but at the expense of other components of ecological integrity such as litter abundance or impact to non-target vegetation. In addition, there remains considerable scepticism of the effectiveness of targeted grazing as an ecological service, and therefore many organizations and agencies are reluctant to facilitate implementation on conservation lands. Monitoring programs can help address these issues. Targeted grazing projects include a wide array of logistical components, ranging from knowledge of plant ecology, to animal husbandry, to communications with public and enforcement agencies. The implementation of sound monitoring protocols and effective use of monitoring information are key to the success of targeted grazing projects (Bailey et al 2019).
This component of our targeted grazing investigation is aimed at developing suitable protocols for monitoring the effects of targeted grazing projects. The project engaged a variety of partners from both urban and rural landscape management with common stewardship goals, providing an opportunity for dialogue, education and a connection to the livestock industry. Monitoring programs can be designed to address the following questions:
- Is the livestock species sufficiently grazing the targeted vegetation?
- Is the targeted grazing program having the desired impact?
- Is the targeted grazing program having any unintended or undesirable consequences on other values such as ecological integrity?
The results of a monitoring program can be used for many purposes (adapted from Newman 2020) such as:
- Determining the effectiveness of a targeted grazing project.
- Identifying and mitigating impacts to other values.
- Adapting or designing targeted grazing projects.
- Evaluating or ranking sites or grazing options (e.g., livestock species, grazing intensity) with a goal of determining how and where targeted grazing might be most successful.
- Providing information for technical transfer of knowledge or public awareness/outreach.
- Providing baseline data and a sampling framework for incremental research.
- Contributing data for associated assessments such as economic evaluation, wildfire risk reduction, forage and timber productivity, and wildlife habitat quantification.
Our goal for this phase of the project was to evaluate the effectiveness of current and recent targeted grazing projects in Alberta and Saskatchewan and recommend appropriate monitoring protocols that land managers and municipalities can use to assess their own targeted grazing projects. This resource helps guide the use of targeted grazing to enhance the success of outcomes and to minimize or eliminate any negative consequences.