Riparian Vegetation Monitoring - GreenLine Method

Stream side zones provide habitat for terrestrial animals as well as food sources, shade, and filtering on incoming water for aquatic creatures. The relatively lush vegetation and availability of drinking water makes riparian zones seasonally attractive to both wildlife and domestic livestock, especially in semi-arid or arid areas. The riparian zone is, therefore, often a focus for habitat monitoring. Monitoring riparian areas is especially challenging because many quite different plant communities often occur in patches as soil and moisture conditions change with recent hydrologic activity and proximity to the stream. Streams are themselves often very dynamic, changing their course over time. The U.S. Forest Service has developed a monitoring protocol called the “Greenline Method”, which builds upon climax community based assessments such as the “Rangeland Similarity Index”. It differs from other rangeland community assessments by looking at the stability of the entire riparian zone rather than the stability of individual sites or habitats within the zone. This allows it to recognize the mix of disturbed and more stable vegetation types that one would expect to see along a healthy dynamic stream.

Rangeland Monitoring - Photo Monitoring.


Beginning in the mid 1940's, rangeland condition and trend was routinely measured on US Forest Service lands using a score card technique often referred to as the Parker 3-Step. This technique included collecting measurements of plant cover as well as reference photographs showing the general area sampled as well as more detailed close-up photos of the actual plots sampled. These photos proved to be so useful in documenting vegetation change that the cover measurements were gradually phased out, leaving the photos as the primarily data collected today.  Photo monitoring is rapidly spreading to other users such as ranchers and environmentalists who want a quick, inexpensive, but reliable way to document vegetation change over time. Although simple in concept, use of paired photos taken at different times to detect plant community change, requires strict attention to detail to ensure that the photos are really comparable. 

Vegetation Monitoring in Ecological Services Contracts. 


....Livestock can be a valuable tool for rangeland, pasture, watershed, park, and other land managers. Sometimes called Targeted Grazing or Prescription  Grazing, controlled herbivory by livestock can be used to control weeds, promote forest regeneration, reduce fire fuel hazards, clear brush, and improve wildlife habitat. Livestock owners are selling environmental services, not harvesting forage for livestock production. So, they charge a fee. It is important to project success that vegetation be monitored during grazing so that proper distribution and degree of grazing are applied, and that follow-up monitoring be done to document the actual degree to which environmental goals are achieved. Monitoring is, therefore, a fundamental part of Targeted Grazing Management.

Trading Carbon Credits from Western Rangelands.



Trading Carbon Credits from Western Rangelands

Dr. Steven H. Sharrow
Professor – Rangeland Ecology and Management
Oregon State University

 Landowners in the western U.S. are being approached by aggregators and traders who are seeking to contract carbon sequestration credits in anticipation of national greenhouse gas (GHG) regulations that may substantially increase demand and prices over those of the current voluntary U.S. market.  The U.S. did not sign the Kyoto Protocol regulating emissions of greenhouse gases. However, 34 states have adopted or are adopting their own GHG regulations. Most will use cap-and trade systems to first stabilize, then reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) emissions that are believed to be contributing to global warning. Cap and trade systems work by establishing a quota (the cap) of allowable emissions (credits). These emission credits may be distributed either directly to current emitters or may be sold to the highest bidder at open auction. Emitters with extra credits may sell them while those needing additional credits may either buy them or may create them by reducing emissions of other unregulated emitters or by recapturing and sequestering the pollutant. For instance, under Oregon’s current GHG program, power plants have met the required 17% CO2 emissions reduction by sponsoring mitigation projects such as planting riparian forest along the Deschutes River to capture and store carbon, and by installing newer more energy efficient heating systems in local schools. Forests, pastures, and rangelands store large amounts of carbon in vegetation and soil organic matter. Additional carbon stored as a result of changed land management may be sold if the amount sequestered can be adequately estimated and if assurances that it will remain sequestered are credible. The major U.S. market for trading carbon credits is the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX). It sells large diversified carbon contracts to businesses and other large users through an open auction process. The CCX will accept and sell carbon sequestration credits from forest, permanent grassland, and rangeland projects. The amount of carbon sequestered is estimated from computer models of specific land management practices within Natural Resource Conservation Service Land Resource Regions. Most land owners will probably need to join others through an “aggregator” in order to offer sufficient total carbon offset credits to interest the CCX in brokering their contracts. Aggregators may be commercial firms or existing local organizations such as woodland owners associations, soil conservation districts, or watershed councils. Once carbon credits are verified by CCX, they are auctioned off and the proceeds are distributed. Typically, the CCX retains 20% of contracted credits as a contingency reserve. The CCX takes 5% commission, the aggregator typically takes 10-15% commission, and the landowner gets the remaining 80-85% of the money. Auction prices of credits vary with supply and demand. Currently, the price is about $2/ton of CO2. This would yield about 24 cents/acre/year for well managed Eastern Oregon rangeland. It is generally expected that the price will rise significantly if U.S. government regulation imposes a cap and trade system. However, the price will vary with the cap set, mitigation techniques allowed to offset emissions, proportion of cap emissions issued directly to current emitters, and other regulatory details.  Terrestrial carbon sequestration projects on forests, pastures, and rangelands will have to compete favorably with other allowed mitigations. In Oregon, these alternatives have included increased energy efficiency projects, renewable energy, materials substitution, and transportation efficiency projects. This makes future prices for carbon credits very hard to accurately predict.

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About DoctorRange

Dr. Sharrow's pictureDr. Sharrow is Professor of Rangeland Ecology and Management at Oregon State University, USA, where he has taught undergraduate and graduate level natural resources classes for the past 31 years.

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