| 03.24.2018

Two years later, UI Rangeland Center presents new projects to legislature


Since it opened its doors in 2011, the University of Idaho Rangeland Center has begun many projects to help its students learn more about their field of study.
Dr. Karen Launchbaugh, the director of the UI Rangeland Center, presented an update of the center to the Senate Agricultural Affairs Committee  Feb. 14.
Launchbaugh said  the center was established for different problems Idaho rangelands were facing, such as unsustainable grazing practices, invasive plants and fire regimes.
“Sagebrush grasslands in Idaho are suffering from much more frequent and intense fires than ever before,” Launchbaugh said.
Another factor in the establishment of the rangeland center is climate change and human development. Launchbaugh said the center is beginning to look ahead at effects on Idaho rangelands climate change may bring with it.
Launchbaugh said agricultural production, such as graze land and beef, rely heavily on healthy rangeland.
“Range is really at this certain unknown base of our ecological and economical health in Idaho,” Launchbaugh said.
The rangeland center also worked with the Idaho Range Resources Commission to create a “backpack guide” to plants commonly found on Idaho rangelands.
“If you’re going to manage range, you’ve got to know plants,” Launchbaugh said. “That’s the way that you read the land.”
Launchbaugh said the rangeland center is also working with the rangeland extension program and creating rangeland science guides with the Owyhee Initiative Group. The center created an online database for range science information. Launchbaugh said this brings the best science available to decision makers.
The UI Rangeland Center will also work on a new journal for rangeland applications.
“Unlike most journals that are written by scientists for scientists, this journal will be written by scientists for land managers,” Launchbaugh said.
The majority of the UI Rangeland Center is made up of students who work alongside ranchers on long-term monitoring projects. Undergraduate students participate on rangeland teams working on sage grouse candidate conservation agreements. Launchbaugh said graduate students do the majority of research.
“These students are going to go out and change the world. they’re going to make decisions that are going to make the world better or worse,” Launchbaugh said. “It’s up to us as educators to make sure they’re armed with the right information.”
In 2008, the program had about 20 students. There are now 60 students active in the rangeland center.
Launchbaugh said 80 percent of students in the program are employed within six months of graduation in land or range management careers.
“We’re really growing at a time when other programs are staying more stable,” Launchbaugh said.
Launchbaugh said the rangeland center was also involved in bringing information to Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter’s Sage-Grouse Task Force.
Dr. Beth Newingham, UI assistant professor, said post fire restoration is a large project the rangeland center is working on.
Newingham said the project includes two different restoration seed drills. The project focuses on recovery, and effects on the soil.
Another project UI has been working on is the restoration of the Birds of Prey National Conservation Area.
A new group of four Ph.D. students are working on disciplinary and interdisciplinary projects at UI. The team is called the Sage Brush Interdisciplinary Graduate Education and Research Training. It is funded by the National Science Foundation and the program creates workshops to learn how stakeholders perceive changes relating to rangeland issues such as fire and invasive species.
“It’s a really good chance for them to not only learn how to communicate with other scientists across their disciplines but also with those stakeholders that have some investment in those rangelands,” Ewingham said.
A final project the UI Rangeland Center is working on is sage grouse management. It looks at three different sites in Idaho and how spring grazing influences survival and demographics of sage grouse. Launchbaugh said this project will take about 10 years to find all the answers.
“This will take time and foundation to find those partners to bring them together to answer this important question,” Launchbaugh said.
Emily Johnson can be reached at arg-news@uidaho.edu

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