Riparian meadows occupy a small proportion of the public lands in the western United States but they provide numerous ecosystem services, including the production of high-quality forage for livestock grazing. Modern conservation management strategies (e.g., reductions in livestock stocking rates and adoption of new riparian grazing standards) have been implemented to better balance riparian conservation and livestock production objectives on publicly managed lands. We examined potential relationships between long-term changes in plant community, livestock grazing pressure and environmental conditions at two spatial scales in meadows grazed under conservation management strategies. Changes in plant community were not associated with either livestock stocking rate or precipitation at the grazing allotment (i.e., administrative) scale. Alternatively, both grazing pressure and precipitation had significant, albeit modest, associations with changes in plant community at the meadow (i.e., ecological site) scale. These results suggest that reductions in stocking rate have improved the balance between riparian conservation and livestock production goals. However, associations between elevation, site wetness, precipitation, and changes in plant community suggest that changing climate conditions (e.g., reduced snowpack and changes in timing of snowmelt) could trigger shifts in plant communities, potentially impacting both conservation and agricultural services (e.g., livestock and forage production). Therefore, adaptive, site-specific management strategies are required to meet grazing pressure limits and safeguard ecosystem services within individual meadows, especially under more variable climate conditions.
Environmental Management – Springer Journals
Published: Jun 2, 2017
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