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Hamilton Commonage Grassland Monitoring Project:

A History of Stewardship

Introduction

hamiltonThe Hamilton Commonage Demonstration Project was initiated in 1998 in cooperation with Gerard Guichon Ranch Ltd. to develop a range management strategy for the northwest quarter of the Hamilton Commonage that would maintain or enhance biological diversity, and improve grassland and riparian condition. Early in the project, it became clear that ongoing monitoring was an essential part of managing the range resource. Building on the experience gained from this project and a growing recognition that British Columbia needs a consistent, practical and easy to use tool for ranchers to assess grassland ecological condition, the Grasslands Conservation Council of British Columbia (GCC) initiated the Hamilton Commonage Grassland Monitoring Project - Developing a Qualitative Approach for Assessing Grassland Ecological Condition.

Rationale

While many techniques have been used for research, inventory and monitoring of rangelands in British Columbia, none have gained universal acceptance as a monitoring tool for range condition and trend. In addition, virtually all of the monitoring methods used previously in BC were considered unsuitable for operational monitoring because they were complicated, time consuming and not accessible to ranchers.

From a grassland stewardship perspective, this presents a significant problem. British Columbia needs an appropriate, standardized qualitative monitoring procedure for ranchers to practically and willingly assess range condition. In recognition of these problems, the GCC initiated a process to bring stakeholders together to develop, or adopt, a qualitative method for assessing grassland ecological condition, or grassland health, that will be appropriate for ranchers and consistent with government standards and requirements.

Goal and Objectives

The goal of the Hamilton Commonage Grassland Monitoring Project is to develop and test and a qualitative approach for monitoring ecological condition and trend on grasslands.

The objectives of the project are to:

  • Establish a technical advisory committee that will guide the testing and refining of a qualitative method for grassland monitoring.
  • Develop and test a method for grassland monitoring that is suitable and practical for the ranching community, and consistent and acceptable to government standards.
  • Select two or three pilot project sites in other regions of the province to test and refine the methodology further with ranchers. This will ensure that the methodology is applicable and tested in other grassland types.
  • Develop a qualitative grassland-monitoring manual for BC.
  • Develop materials for training workshops.
  • Organize a training workshop for ranchers and range managers on the qualitative approach to assessing grassland health and application of the monitoring tools.

Description of the Study Area

The project area is located approximately 22 km north of Merritt, BC and comprises the northwest quarter of Hamilton Commonage managed by Gerard Guichon Ranch Ltd. The commonage contains about 6,475 ha of “upper grasslands” at elevations ranging from 1150 to 1250 metres. Annual precipitation varies from 375-510 mm and averages about 440 mm (Lloyd et al. 1990).

The grasslands within this area are interspersed with wetland, riparian areas, aspen copses, coniferous forest groves and rocky outcrops. This diversity of vegetation provides a wide range of habitats for plants and animals, and a variety of opportunities for cattle grazing. It also provides opportunity to develop and test a monitoring system in a variety of plant communities in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

Agreeing on a Qualitative Approach

There is broad agreement that BC needs a qualitative approach for grassland monitoring that encompasses key features. The method should:

  • Be practical, simple and easy to use in the field by ranchers and range managers.
  • Be adopted or built from existing science, knowledge and methodologies from BC and other jurisdictions.
  • Be rigorous enough to evaluate environmental change at an acceptable level of accuracy and be repeatable over time.
  • Be based on indicators relevant to BC’s grasslands that enable assessment of condition and trend.
  • Be consistent with government standards and requirements.

Proposed Process

The Project Team proposes a four-phased process to develop a qualitative approach for assessing grassland ecological condition:

Phase 1: Conceptual Development

Phase 1 will examine and analyze current approaches to qualitative monitoring, identify strengths and weaknesses, and determine which approaches are most appropriate for British Columbia. The preliminary examination will result in selection of biotic, soil and hydrological indicators that relevant to local ecological conditions (the project site is the starting point).

Phase 2: Development and Field-Testing

Phase 2 builds on the Phase 1 analysis to collect information in the field using the selected biotic, soil and hydrological indicators (the qualitative approach) and compare this information against the data collected using the canopy coverage method (the quantitative approach) to evaluate relative accuracy in assessing each indicator.

The qualitative method will be evaluated to determine its ability to describe overall ecological condition. This methodology will be refined based on the knowledge gained in first year of field data collection and development.

Once appropriate indicators have been selected for the monitoring procedure, thresholds and benchmarks will be defined and refined, as required and a scoring procedure will be developed.

Phase 2 will develop and produce pilot forms and a draft manual that describes basic terminology and methods for conducting qualitative assessments. The anticipated format for the forms and manual will be similar to the Rangeland Health Assessment for Grassland, Forest and Tame Pasture Field Workbook produced in Alberta.

Phase 3: Operational Testing

Operational testing of the forms and the manual is a critical step that must be conducted by ranchers and other user groups. Pilot project sites will be selected with ranchers in the Thompson – Nicola Region, and potentially other regions, to test and refine the methodology. Feedback from these pilot projects will be used to evaluate and adjust the methodology, including indicators, scoring procedures and format and usability of the manual and forms

Phase 4: Re-Evaluation & Adjustment 

A final manual will be produced upon completion of operational testing. This phase of the project will include:

  • Production of manual and forms.
  • Workshop training materials.
  • A workshops for ranchers.
  • Further testing of the qualitative methodology in other regions of BC.
  • Assimilate feedback from continued field-testing by broader group of users.
  • Adjust methods, indicators and scoring procedures as required.

For a more detailed look at the Hamilton Commonage Grasslands Monitoring Project, please see the project annual report.

Progress Summary

Over the past 18 months, some important groundwork was completed. The project team examined and analyzed current approaches to qualitative monitoring, identified some strengths and weaknesses, and determined which approaches were most appropriate for British Columbia. Through this process the project team selected vegetative (biotic), soil and hydrological indicators that are relevant to local ecological conditions on the Hamilton Commonage grasslands.

Building on the completed analysis, the project team collected information in the field using the selected indicators and compared this information agaist the data collected using the canopy coverage method (the quantitative approach) to evaluate relative accuracy in assessing each indicator. The first year of field work and its finding will assist in defining a qualitative methodology, as well as assess its ability to describe overall ecological condition and trend over time.

The learning process is just beginning. We anticipate several months of hard work ahead with the newly formed Technical Advisory Committee to select appropriate indicators for the monitoring procedure, define thresholds and benchmarks, and develop or adopt a scoring procedure. This process will rely on the knowledge gained from the work completed to date, and build on the Rangeland Health Assessment for Grasslands procedures developed in Alberta.

Annual and Progress Reports

2004 Annual Report:

Hamilton Commonage Grassland Monitoring Project - Developing a Qualitative Approach for Assessing Grassland Ecological Condition

Other Related Document

Field Assessment for Grasslands

Range Health Assessment Book

The Hamilton Comonage Grassland Monitoring Project is funded by:

  • The McLean Foundation
  • Agriculture Environment Initiatives
  • BC Ministry for Water, Land and Air Protection
  • Grazing Enhancement Program
  • The Brink/McLean Grassland Conservation Fund
  • Beef Cattle Industry Development Council


A sincere thank you also to the Gerard Guichon Ranch for their commitment to this project and for their stewardship ethic.

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