Category Archives: Event

New technology helps ranchers maximize grass production


How much forage have producers lost to woody species? The Rangeland Analysis Platform can provide answers. Photo: ShutterStock/Max Voran.

The NRCS hosted a free webinar about how RAP can help incorporate economics into area-wide planning efforts on Thursday, February 25 at 3:00 p.m. ET.

>>Watch an on-demand replay of the webinar here<<

By Brianna Randall, USDA NRCS Working Lands for Wildlife

Did you know that one out of every three acres in the U.S. is rangeland? Two-thirds of these rangelands are privately owned, mainly by ranchers who graze their livestock in the vast open country of the American West.

From the Great Plains to the Great Basin, our rangelands produce premium beef, quality wool, and creamy dairy. But it’s the plants that feed these livestock that are the foundation for profitable agriculture in the West.

But ranchers haven’t had a good way to measure how their grass is faring — until now.

The Rangeland Analysis Platform (RAP), developed in partnership with the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, Bureau of Land Management, and the University of Montana, allows producers to track changes in the amount and types of plants (like perennials, annuals, or trees) growing on their property.

This free online resource combines current and historical satellite imagery with thousands of on-the-ground vegetation measurements and displays them near-instantaneously as simple graphs and maps.

The RAP is a free online resource that provides easy-to-access data on vegetation trends across the West from the mid-1980s to the present day. Plus, this web application calculates how productive those plants are. A combination of long-term datasets show landowners how their lands have changed over time, which translates directly into how profitable their operation is.

“We can finally quantify outcomes of rangeland conservation in terms of dollars and cents,” says Tim Griffiths, western coordinator for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Working Lands for Wildlife.

Closing the gap to boost grass growth

Farmers in the central and eastern U.S. have been using technology to closely track changes in crop production for decades. As soon as they see data showing that their plant productivity is declining — and revenues following suit — they can take steps to address the limitations and boost productivity again.

RAP provides the same power to ranchers.

This technology can show ranchers the gap between their potential production and the actual production they realize in terms of pounds-per-acre of grass (typically called  “yield gap” in farming circles). It helps landowners understand how much they can potentially gain by changing management practices to boost available forage and close the gap.

RAP can help identify yield gaps by pinpointing where woody species are reducing forage.

Landowners can see how their plant production has changed within a single month or over the span of several years. The technology can be used to visualize plant productivity in an area as small as a baseball diamond or over a landscape as large as several states.

“Basically, RAP can prevent lost revenues by showing producers where their land is less effective at growing grass. It helps ranchers put the right practices in the right places,” says Brady Allred, the researcher from the University of Montana who helped develop RAP.

Preventing trees from robbing ranchers

One of the main threats to production and profitability on western rangelands is the expansion of trees onto grasslands. From eastern redcedar destroying tallgrass prairie to juniper marching across sagebrush grazing lands, woody species are costing producers millions of dollars in lost forage.

For example, a now-forested property in Nebraska produced 0 pounds/acre of grass in 2014. But in 1985, RAP reveals that same property produced 2,200 pounds/acre of grass — before eastern redcedar consumed the once-fertile prairie.

This used to be a Nebraska prairie. When woody species dominate a landscape, native grasses, shrubs, and other plants that wildlife and livestock need, can completely disappear. Photo: Courtesy of Dirac Twidwell

“Last year, we quantified that western rangelands missed out on tens of billions of pounds of forage due to trees taking over prairies and shrub lands since 1990,” says Dirac Twidwell, rangeland ecologist at the University of Nebraska and science advisor for NRCS Working Lands for Wildlife.

This yield gap, says Twidwell is “costing producers hundreds of millions in lost revenue each year.”

Take the Flint Hills of Kansas, America’s most productive grasslands and the fourth-largest intact prairie left in the world. In 2019, RAP shows that this region produced 21.3 billion pounds of forage.

But RAP also shows that ranchers in the Flint Hills were cheated out of another billion pounds of forage in 2019 due to encroaching trees. That adds up to nearly 800,000 round-bales of hay lost last year.

Put in terms of dollars and cents, those unwanted trees cost Kansas producers $8.3 million in lost revenue in a single year.

This graphic highlights the amount of forage lost in 2019 due to woody species expansion. Each small figure represents a different landscape scale. Image: NRCS

Stemming the tide of trees with technology

Luckily, we are now armed with data that helps landowners take action to prevent future losses in rangeland productivity. Using RAP’s satellite imagery, ranchers across Nebraska are working together to burn seeds and saplings before they become trees. Regular prescribed fires also improve soil health and promote fresh grass growth.

And in Kansas, ranchers are using RAP, along with Farm Bill funds and technical know-how provided through NRCS’ Working Lands for Wildlife, to cut trees across ownership boundaries to restore prime grass grazing lands.

New technology like RAP is exciting because it helps all of us “help the land” in order to sustain wildlife, provide food and fiber, and support agricultural families long into the future.

Learn more about RAP and what it can do for you: Watch the NRCS’s webinar from February 25 at 3:00 p.m. (ET).

Getting the most forage per acre is important for producers, but stemming the loss of grasslands and sagebrush range due to woody species encroachment benefits wildlife, too. Photo: MT Stockgrowers Association.

Western Working Lands for Wildlife 2019 Workshop

Day one collage

Photos and post by Greg M. Peters.

For the past several years, the Sage Grouse Initiative, part of the USDA-NRCS’ Working Lands for Wildlife, has organized an annual workshop that brings together producers, land managers, SGI and USDA-NRCS staff, and nonprofit partners for a two-day event. The annual gathering provides opportunities to share lessons learned, network, and get training and tips on the most current conservation practices that help achieve wildlife conservation through sustainable ranching.

Participants at the first annual Western Working Lands for Wildlife workshop get ready for the day’s presentations.

Astor Boozer

Astor Boozer, USDA-NRCS, Regional Conservationist-West, addresses the crowd at the beginning of the day.










This year, organizers broadened the workshop to include more than 200 partners and producers from across the West, including Great Plains states like the Dakotas and Texas all the way to California and Washington along the Pacific Coast. This expansion brought many folks associated with the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative to the workshop. Rather than focus on a particular species like sage grouse or lesser prairie-chicken, the conference instead encouraged participants to keep their eyes to the horizon and simply work to achieve rangeland resiliency. Presenters shared inspiring stories about how they’ve worked across boundaries, both literal and figurative, to implement conservation efforts that have improved rangeland resiliency in highly diverse landscapes.

Rangelands are a truly western resource and make up 33 percent of the entire lower 48 states. These “see forever” landscapes provide critical ecosystem services like forage for livestock, habitat for wildlife, water storage and provision for communities, and more. They are also the foundation upon which many rural economies are anchored. Rangeland resiliency focuses on tactics that improve or maintain rangelands’ ability to provide these services even when things like fire, drought, or shifts in vegetation types threaten rangeland health and productivity.

Day One

The first-day “classroom” session focused on success stories and inspiring examples of how private landowners, nonprofits, and agencies like USDA-NRCS have teamed up over the past decade to improve rangeland resiliency with a voluntary and win-win approach.

Participants take a short break to enjoy the incredible view from the Canyon Crest Event Center.

Participants, more accustomed to riding the range and getting things done than sitting in a conference center, paid close attention to the presenters until the final panel wrapped up at 4:30 in the afternoon. Excitement and energy filled the room as side conversations and one-on-one conversations bubbled up during breaks. Across each of the presentations, a few key ingredients for building rangeland resiliency stood out.

  • Recognize that there threats impacting rangelands that affect everyone.
  • Work with partners towards a solution to address rangeland threats. This takes effort, trust, open-mindedness, and a willingness to work together for a common good.
  • Take the long view and recognize there aren’t silver bullets that will solve rangeland health problems immediately. Rangelands and watersheds can recover, but it takes time and sustained commitment to produce the desired outcomes.
  • Carefully plan the needed conservation practices to simultaneously address the resource concerns and meet the operator’s unique needs. All lands should be actively managed pre- and post-project to achieve and monitor outcomes. Conservation practices that build resilient rangelands don’t work in a vacuum, proper planning and management create the foundation for healthier rangelands.
  • Leverage science and technology to improve outcomes and make conservation efforts more efficient, successful, and scalable.
  • Don’t fear failure. Accept it and adaptively learn from it. This will improve long-term conservation outcomes.


In the evening, a wonderful barbecue banquet provided time for socializing, volleyball and networking along with stunning views of the Snake River running alongside Twin Falls’ Centennial Waterfront Park.

BBQ photo

The evening BBQ at beautiful Centennial Waterfront Park provided time for socializing and networking.

Day Two

The second-day field tour found participants on yellow school buses as they bounced across Idaho and Utah to see landscapes and project sites and to visit with ranchers whose work has benefited wildlife and their operations.

Up first was the Burley Project site in Idaho where USDA-NRCS, the BLM, and rancher Dennis Erickson have removed nearly 50,000 acres of encroaching conifers across private and public lands. Themes of whole-watershed planning, working lands, leveraging partnerships, focusing on efficiency, and commitment to outcomes echoed themes from the previous day.

Burley Site Photo

Connor White, SGI SWAT staffer, speaks to the crowd about the Burley, Idaho conifer removal project.

Dennis Erickson

Rancher Dennis Erickson shares stories about this ranch and the Burley, Idaho conifer removal project.









From Idaho, the buses rattled on to Utah where the group was hosted by the Tanner Family on the Box C Ranch, part of the Tanners’ Della Ranches operation. Jay Tanner provided a wonderful background and history of the multi-generational ranch and shared some of the successes from their nine-year long partnership with the Sage Grouse Initiative. Today, Della Ranches hosts golden eagles, beavers, sage grouse, big horn sheep, and more, testament to the fact that improving habitat for ranching and livestock can benefit wildlife as well. Just before the group sat down to lunch in the Tanners’ barn, the Working Lands for Wildlife team presented the family with an award for their outstanding stewardship. Read our Featured Rancher post about the Tanners here.

Lunch at Della Ranches

Jay Tanner, owner of Della Ranches, addresses the crowd prior to lunch on the field tour.

Following lunch, the buses traveled to a portion of the Tanners’ ranch along Grouse Creek where participants heard from Tyler Thompson of the Utah Watershed Restoration Initiative and from the Utah BLM office about cross-boundary partnerships like the one on the Tanner Ranch that have resulted in whole watershed restoration. The tour wrapped up when participants pulled out their brand new “Low-tech Process-based Restoration of Riverscapes Pocket Field Guide” and analyzed the health of Grouse Creek.

To cap off the day, participants put away the field guides and donned WLFW work gloves to do some restoration. With gloves on, they added woody debris (the results of the conifer removal efforts on site) to Grouse Creek by tossing juniper limbs (some particularly eager members of the group grabbed entire trees) into the incised creek. While this limited restoration effort won’t reconnect Grouse Creek to its historic floodplain, it gave folks a quick primer in low-tech riverscape restoration techniques and provided a great example of using free materials found on-site – one of the key tenants of low-tech riverscape restoration.

Tree photo

Some participants went above and beyond by tossing whole trees into the creek.

Howard Vincent, President and CEO of Pheasants Forever, rolls up his sleeves to get the job done.








On the final ride back to Twin Falls, one might have expected folks to nap or catch up on emails. But instead, conversations about the previous two days filled the air. Folks excitedly reflected on the first-day presentations and talked about how to implement some of the practices they learned about on the field tour. Many of the participants noted how the conference’s theme of rangeland resiliency resonated with them and provided an exciting new way of approaching rangeland conservation across the West.

The organizers would like to thank all of the participants and presenters for taking the time to attend, bringing great ideas and stories, and helping create a shared vision of resilient rangelands across the West.

Day two collage


WATCH NOW – Working Lands for Wildlife Presentations from Society for Range Management’s 2019 Conference

Working Lands for Wildlife video presentations from the 2019 Society for Range Management Conference now available for viewing

Did you miss the Society for Range Management’s 2019 Conference in Minneapolis this past February? Even if you were able to attend, you may not have caught all the different presentations during the packed few days.SRM 2019 Logo

Fortunately, we recorded the presentations that Working Lands for Wildlife sponsored under the “Harnessing Technology to Improve Conservation Effectiveness on Western Working Lands” symposium.

These nine presentations detail new technological innovations that are revolutionizing how managers, ranchers, and others can monitor, study, evaluate threats, and improve working rangelands across the West. Each presentation features the Lesser Prairie Chicken Initiative and Sage Grouse Initiative-affiliated researchers who helped develop these technologies for Great Plains and sagebrush ecosystems.

Through these informative and engaging presentations, range management professionals and producers can learn how to apply these innovations to their respective ranges.

All nine presentations are collected in one place on Sage Grouse Initiative’s YouTube channel and are available for viewing at your leisure. Each presentation is roughly 20 minutes long and includes clear audio and clear images from each presenter’s slides.

Read the full list of presentation titles, what you’ll learn from each presentation, and the presenter below or visit the playlist on SGI’s YouTube channel. While you’re there, check out the other videos we have, including prior SRM Conference symposium presentations.

Video One

PRESENTATION TITLE: Rangeland Analysis Platform: New Technology Revolutionizes Rangeland Monitoring

IN THIS VIDEO: See why the Rangeland Analysis Platform was created with a sneak peek into its future utilities

PRESENTER: Brady Allred – University of Montana

Video Two

PRESENTATION TITLE: AIM and Shoot: Delivering and Sharing Range Data Quickly

IN THIS VIDEO: Learn about the BLM’s new online app for faster processing and use of monitoring data

PRESENTER: Colin M. Dovichin – Bureau of Land Management

Video Three

PRESENTATION TITLE: Optimizing Productivity Models for Enhanced Rangeland Monitoring

IN THIS VIDEO: Hear how plant productivity is being remotely mapped to enhance conservation planning

PRESENTER: Nathaniel Robinson – University of Montana

Video Four

PRESENTATION TITLE: Mapping Riparian Sensitivity to Drought Stress: An Index for Evaluating, Targeting, and Monitoring Restoration

IN THIS VIDEO: View new remotely-sensed maps that can help managers improve riparian drought resiliency

PRESENTER: Nick Silverman –University of Montana

Video Five

PRESENTATION TITLE: Large Scale Rangeland Resilience Planning

IN THIS VIDEO: Get the latest on incorporating resiliency as an emerging theme in rangelands

PRESENTER: Dirac Twidwell – University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Video Six

PRESENTATION TITLE: Mapping Cross-scale Transitions in Rangelands

IN THIS VIDEO: Learn how technology is enabling early screening for undesirable vegetation transitions

PRESENTER: Dan Uden – University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Video Seven

PRESENTATION TITLE: Synchronizing Conservation to Seasonal Wetland Hydrology and Waterbird Migration in Semi-Arid Landscapes

IN THIS VIDEO: Understand the benefits of timing irrigation to aid in waterfowl migration

PRESENTER: Jason Tack – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (on behalf of Patrick Donnelly – USFWS)

Video Eight

PRESENTATION TITLE: Conifer Management in Context: Prioritizing Tree Removal Projects for Sagebrush and Woodland Obligates

IN THIS VIDEO: Learn how to incorporate spatial tools for songbirds into conifer management

PRESENTER: Jason Tack – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Video Nine

PRESENTATION TITLE: Quantifying Restoration Across the Sage Steppe: Mapping Conifer Cover, Removal Efforts, and Fire

IN THIS VIDEO: See how remote sensing is being used to track progress in conifer management

PRESENTER: Jason Reinhardt – University of Minnesota-Minneapolis

Video recordings are courtesy of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service-led Sage Grouse Initiative and the Bureau of Land Management

WEBINAR: Mapping Cross-Scale Transitions in Rangelands


Mapping Cross-Scale Transitions in Rangelands


Join NRCS Working Lands for Wildlife researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the University of Montana for this webinar. Learn how new technological innovations in rangeland monitoring are allowing unprecedented tracking of vegetation response to wildfires, brush management, and drought.

This hour-long webinar is focused utilizing the powerful new Rangeland Analysis Platform in the Great Plains ecosystem to improve rangeland management.

The Rangeland Analysis Platform (RAP) is a new mapping technology that allows for the tracking of vegetation change at unprecedented scales in both space (United States rangelands from the Great Plains to the Pacific Ocean at a 30-m resolution) and time (annually from 1984–present). The RAP is free, readily available online, and developed for use by landowners and natural resource managers to track vegetation through time and plan actions to improve America’s grazing lands.

The RAP can be used to inform strategies to improve productivity of grazing lands, manage weeds, mitigate impacts of wildfire and drought, and benefit wildlife habitats. Powered by Google Earth Engine, RAP merges machine learning and cloud-based computing with remote sensing and field data to provide the first-ever annual cover maps of rangeland vegetation. This new platform, when combined with local knowledge, allows users to better understand vegetation change through time and to aid in conservation planning and outcome evaluation. This webinar provides an overview of the innovative breakthrough in the monitoring of rangeland vegetation and examples of how the technology is being applied to advance key missions of existing science-agency-landowner partnerships in the Great Plains.


(No pre-registration required)


  • Dr. Dirac Twidwell, Associate Professor of Rangeland Ecology, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE.
  • Dr. Brady Allred, Associate Professor, Rangeland Ecologist, University of Montana, Missoula, MT
  • Dr. Matthew Jones, Research Scientist, University of Montana, Missoula, MT

CEU Credits / Certifications offered:

  • Society for Ecological Restoration (SER) – 1 hour SER-CERP Credit   [credits applied for]
  • Society for Range Management (SRM) – 1 hour SRM Credit   [credits applied for]
  • Certified Crop Advisors (CCA) – 1 hour CCA – CM Credit
  • Certificate of Participation

UPCOMING EVENT: Society for Range Management’s Annual Meeting, Technical Training & Trade Show


Mark Your Calendars— the Society for Range Management’s Annual Meeting is coming soon!

When: Jan. 29 to Feb. 2, 2017

Where: St. George, Utah

Description: Forums and workshops are designed to provide an opportunity for in-depth, interactive discussion of current and emerging topics of interest to the rangeland community.  The theme for the 2017 conference of the Society for Range Management (SRM)  is “Red Rock & Rangeland.” Click here to register or learn more.

On Tuesday, January 31, the conference will host an all-day symposium on recent research related to woody encroachment on grouse habitat in the Western US, including the issues of redcedar and mesquite encroachment on lesser prairie-chickens. The symposium will showcase recent research recently published in SRM’s on-line journal “Rangeland Ecology & Management–a special issue dedicated to studies related to reducing woodland expansion.

You can watch the symposium presentations live on the Sage Grouse Initiative website on  January 31, 2017. (We’ll post live-streaming details as they are finalized).

Hosted by Oregon State University’s Rick Miller, a 30+ year veteran of woodland expansion science topics, the full-day symposium will include 10 morning presentations covering history, ecology, and management of woodland expansion, along with 10 afternoon talks covering sage-grouse and lesser prairie-chicken response to woodland management.

Presentations will cover a range of woody encroachment topics, including songbird benefits from conifer removal, the effect of woody plants on soil water retention, the impacts of redcedar and mesquite encroachment on lesser prairie-chicken habitat occupancy, and a new mapping tool that will help range managers fine-tune management of encroaching woody plants.

Stay tuned for details on how to live-stream presentations or watch on-demand replays of the symposium.