In the pursuit of better rangeland management

We have designed the Nevada Rangeland Monitoring Handbook to provide you a clear overview of the complex and often confusing world of rangeland monitoring. Included are a suite of short- and long-term monitoring methods.

Successful rangeland management is more likely to occur when you identify clear and achievable management goals and objectives. Attaining your management goals and objectives is best demonstrated through a focused and well-structured monitoring program. Furthermore, a focused and structured monitoring program will help you, as a primary steward of that landscape, identify current management actions that are not achieving your management objectives.

Even the most knowledgeable manager makes mistakes and has good ideas that result in unintended consequences. Focused and structured monitoring identifies these outcomes quicker than when no monitoring occurs. Quick changes in management, based upon sound monitoring data, can get you back on track toward attaining your management goals and objectives. Also it may reduce the potential of conflict among the many users and varied interests focused on Nevada's rangelands.

We welcome your suggestions to improve this Handbook.


The purpose of the Nevada Rangeland Monitoring Handbooks has been to provide a commonly agreed upon foundation of accepted rationale and practices for monitoring in the pursuit of better rangeland management. We expect this to guide the thinking of ranchers, agency personnel and others as they cooperate, prioritize and align the short- and long-term monitoring they commit to in monitoring agreements, contracts, plans and other documents. We expect that monitoring that uses these principles will be more useful, efficient, effective and trusted.

From 1980 to1984, Nevada rangeland managers, recognizing the importance of monitoring for managing livestock grazing, came together to create the Nevada Rangeland Monitoring Handbook Published in 1984 by the Nevada Range Studies Task Group of the Nevada Range Committee, the Handbook united rangeland managers behind an agreed upon set of procedures. It helped many people agree about monitoring methods and management changes without resorting to confrontation and courts. More important, progress in the management of Nevada rangelands led to better rangeland conditions in many areas.

The 1984 Nevada Rangeland Monitoring Handbook recommended long-term and short-term monitoring and the following studies to be conducted at key areas: 1) Production - The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) double sampling method and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) weight estimate vegetation inventory method, 2) Quadrat frequency, and 3) The modified key forage plant utilization transect method. Production data were compared with NRCS ecological site descriptions to determine ecological status. Frequency was recommended to indicate changes in plant composition. These methods are still valid. The modified key forage plant method has been replaced by the key species method.

While the first Handbook proved useful, it was more than 20 years old when rewritten in 2006 to emphasize goals and objectives set in a planning process that considers the best available science and society's mix of values and expectations. Monitoring in the 1980s focused almost exclusively on livestock grazing management. By 2006 we recognized that, as important as this is, herbivory is only one aspect of rangeland management. Monitoring of vegetation change is also needed to track and manage problems such as modified fire regimes and invasive weeds that may not be resolved with changes in livestock management alone. Riparian issues were not addressed in the first handbook. We also had learned the importance of riparian assessment and monitoring for adjusting management.

At that time, production data were often interpreted differently as ecological site descriptions were being revised to reflect evolving ecological concepts. Production data (with functional group composition) compared with ecological site descriptions help determine ecological state and phase. This identifies pathways for management among phases to reduce risk and increase resiliency and resistance while avoiding expensive and risky challenges for restoration after transitioning across ecological thresholds. Species composition may be compared with desired plant community (DPC) objectives. Frequency studies emphasized nested plots to make data more useable through time as communities change. More commonly cover has become the measurement of choice.

The Nevada Sagebrush Ecosystem Council Monitoring Committee recognized the need for the third edition of this Monitoring Handbook to reconcile issues of scale from a focus on sage-grouse. Land management agencies have now committed to monitoring at various scales. The BLM Assessment, Inventory, and Monitoring (AIM) Strategy and the BLM-Forest Service (FS) Sage-grouse Monitoring Framework (USDI-BLM & USDA-FS 2014) included commitments to use the broad-, mid-, fine- and site-scale indicators of habitat suitability provided within the Sage-Grouse Habitat Assessment Framework (Stiver et al. 2015).

This Handbook addresses resource management and monitoring issues at the allotment scale, or smaller. The AIM strategy addresses resource issues and questions at scales larger than the individual allotment. Data collected for one or the other cannot stand alone to answer questions related to the other strategy. Data collected at specific locations for one approach however, may add value to data from the other approach. A random sampling of monitoring plots called for in AIM, may display the overall effects of a management paradigm, but random plots across a landscape may only occasionally occur in key areas tied to specific resource objectives. Plots will often occur in low-priority areas that are unlikely to change in response to management in a timely manner. The addition of random plots can eventually cause one to land on a key area. Managers must still choose the plot(s) suitable to inform adaptive management for specific objectives, and collect suitable short-term data to supplement long-term monitoring. Simply adding random plots may be too costly to sustain, and adding key area plots to a random array requires separate analysis.

Monitoring is a critical component of proper rangeland management. It is often required to ensure that management activities are being implemented and to document that the effects of management activities are achieving or moving resource conditions towards desired objectives and goals. However, funding and staffing to achieve this critical task are far too often insufficient and inadequate. This is true for governmental agencies and ranchers alike, and yet both must adequately fund and staff, and consistently complete essential monitoring. It is also necessary that monitoring be well planned to be efficient and effective.

Appropriate use of the Handbook assumes basic levels of professionalism, common sense, objectivity, education, experience and mentoring, and proper application of techniques. Every rangeland management and monitoring case is unique, depending on the initial conditions, site potential, objectives, level of management capabilities (economics, personnel, logistics, etc.), and the relationships among the participants. Where differences (real or imagined) among agency regulations, policy or guidance and the information provided in this handbook arise, the relevant regulation, policy or guidance will be used. However, it is intended that the Handbook and the Ranchers' Monitoring Guide meet and inform agency requirements.

Glossary – Terms hyperlinked to the glossary are blue.


  • Sherman Swanson, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension (Editor in Chief)
  • Brad Schultz, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension
  • Patti Novak-Echenique, Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • Kathryn Dyer, Bureau of Land Management
  • Gary McCuin, Nevada Cattlemen's Association and Cooperative Extension
  • James Linebaugh, Nevada State Grazing Boards
  • Barry Perryman, Nevada Agricultural Experiment Station
  • Paul Tueller, Rangeland Consultant
  • Rixey Jenkins, Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest
  • Bettina Scherrer, Nevada Conservation Districts Program
  • Tara Vogel, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • David Voth, Nevada Department of Agriculture
  • Mark Freese, Nevada Department of Wildlife
  • Ryan Shane, Nevada Division of Forestry
  • Kelly McGowan, Nevada Sagebrush Ecosystem Program

With special thanks to reviewers:

  • Jeff White, Elko Land and Livestock Company
  • Steve Abele and Justin Barrett, US Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Gene Fults, Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • And others

This handbook is also available as a PDF suitable for printing upon request. Contact Sherm Swanson,, for more information, 775-784-4057.

graphic: book cover
Nevada Rangeland Monitoring Handbook | First Edition
graphic: book cover
Nevada Rangeland Monitoring Handbook | Second Edition
graphic: book cover
Nevada Rangeland Monitoring Handbook | Third Edition
Swanson, S., Schultz, B., Novak-Echenique, P., Dyer, K., McCuin, G., Linebaugh, J., Perryman, P., Tueller, P., Jenkins, R., Scherrer, B., Vogel, T., Voth, D., Freese, M., Shane, R., McGowan, K. 2018, Nevada Rangeland Monitoring Handbook (3rd) - Introduction , Extension | University of Nevada, Reno, SP-18-03

Learn more about the author(s)


Also of Interest:

A Change in the Ecological Understanding of Rangelands in the Great Basin and Intermountain West and Implications for Management: Revisiting Mack and Thompson (1982) Perryman, P., Schultz, B., Meiman, P. 2021, Rangeland Ecology & Management Vol 76, Pages 1-11
Historical Fire and Ventenata dubia Invasion in a Temperate Grassland
Ventenata is an invasive annual grass that has rapidly expanded its range across temperate grassland and shrub-steppe ecosystems in western North America.
Luke W. Ridder, JoAnna M.Perrena, Lesley R.Morris, Bryan A.Endress, Robert V.Taylord, Bridgett J.Naylore 2021, Rangeland Ecology & Management, Vol 75, March 2021, Pg. 35-40
Strategies for Grazing Management
Informational publication on various strategies for grazing management, such as targeted grazing, for fuel management, or with multiple grazing species.
Swanson, S., Voth, D. 2019, Extension, University of Nevada, Reno, IP-19-02
Firefighters with firetruck in the foreground; hillside on fire in the background
Up in smoke: University ecologists help firefighters protect Nevada's lands
Fires unleash devastating losses on Nevada ranches, grazing areas, and habitat. Each leaves Nevada lands more vulnerable to future fires. Knowing how to care for Nevada's land before and after disturbances is key to reducing wildland fire risk and repairing lands post-fire. This ...
Andrews, A. 2019, Nevada Today
Nevada Rangeland Monitoring Handbook (3rd) | Chapter 01 - A Framework for Monitoring Swanson, S., Schultz, B., Novak-Echenique, P., Dyer, K., McCuin, G., Linebaugh, J., Perryman, P., Tueller, P., Jenkins, R., Scherrer, B., Vogel, T., Voth, D., Freese, M., Shane, R., McGowan, K. 2018, Extension | University of Nevada, Reno, SP-18-03