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Laramie – “To sum it up, we’re looking at something in the neighborhood of a three- to four-degree temperature increase by mid-century. The precipitation outlook is a toss up,” explained Wyoming State Climatologist and Director Steve Gray on the future of Wyoming’s climate and water situation.
Gray spoke during the 2010 Wyoming Section Society of Range Management (SRM) annual meeting on Nov. 8 in Laramie.
“In many cases, people use this low confidence in precipitation predictions as an excuse not to include climate change in what we do, or how we prepare for a changing climate. But, we need to focus on the fact that we know enough about temperature change alone to start planning and adapting to climatic change,” noted Gray. He added that it’s important to not look at the change as the end of the world.
“Saying that by 2050 we will, on average, have a three degree Fahrenheit temperature increase doesn’t seem like much. But, the fact of the matter is, these seemingly small increases in average temperature have the possibility for major impacts on ecosystems in Wyoming and the Rocky Mountain West.
“A big part of that is what you might think of as a statistical artifact. If you shift the average for a variable average temperature, what you wind up with is a situation where you’ve greatly expanded the potential for extremes on the high end, or more hot weather. That in and of itself has the potential to impact the ecosystems that we work in and try to manage,” explained Gray.
He noted the point can also be illustrated using real data from events that have occurred in the western mountain region in the last century.
“Focusing on what’s happened in western Montana, it’s about three degrees warmer now than it was at the beginning of the 20th century, for whatever reason. The three-degree increase in average temperature has really impacted what happens at the hotter end of the spectrum. There are more hot days, and more days over 90 degrees. You start to get those hot days much earlier in the spring, and they last much later into the fall. There are major potential impacts on the ecosystem due to the lengths of time you’re experiencing these hot days.
“Also in this case we looked at highest elevations, and the warming trend was much steeper up there than in the valleys. This is where the water comes from, and in terms of climatic change in the high country, that three-degree temperature increase results in 50 fewer days a year where the temperature gets below freezing. This has some major impacts on length of growing season, evaporative demand, fire impacts, pest outbreaks and other aspects of the ecosystem,” said Gray.
In terms of drought, Gray said it’s easy to see what the combination of warmer temperatures and possibly less precipitation can do in the future.
“There is the potential and physical possibility that, on average, we could be looking at conditions dryer than anything we ever experienced in the 20th century, and that may be the average by the mid to late 21st century,” said Gray. He added this will also impact water use and availability for irrigation, municipal, industrial and other uses.
“One case study looked at the Yellowstone River Basin and asked what would happen to the Palmer Drought Severity Index if the temperature increased by three degrees and the precipitation stayed the same as in the 20th century. It showed 15 percent less water in the river just because of the increase in temperature and the impact of the extra warmth and energy on the system.
“When you look at the study during the driest years, we looked at the 10 lowest snow years in the 20th century and increased the temperature by three degrees. According to the models we would be looking at between 20 and 30 percent less water in the streams than during the driest 20th century years,” said Gray.
“The fact that the climate has changed is not the end of the world. I suggest we look at it as a game changer for sure. We know enough to start preparing today. We have challenges coming down the pipes, and there’s no reason we can’t starting getting out in front of the problem today,” noted Gray.
“If we know the climate is changing, and that it will have an impact on how we live and make a living, it behooves us to do something in terms of adaptation if not mitigation. The fact of the matter is, if we’re planning for drought, we’ll also plan for climate change. If we’re better prepared to deal with the impacts of drought as we know we’ve always faced them in the past, then that will, in turn, help us prepare for climate change.
“Sound conservation and management practices put into place today will still have a value tomorrow. In terms of opportunities, preparing for climate change will also help us prepare for any number of challenges we’ll face in the future. If we’re monitoring climate, water availability, range conditions or whatever it might be, this will help us, regardless of what we’re talking about.
“The fact of the matter is that no matter what happens with climate change, you can’t go wrong if you can prove your ability to share information and data and get it to the people who need that information and data to make decisions and policy about the way we manage resources in a place like Wyoming,” concluded Gray.
Heather Hamilton is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Cheyenne – Terry Booth of the Agriculture Research Service (ARS) High Plains Grasslands Research Center, Sam Cox of Wyoming BLM and consultant Robert Berryman were recognized at the Federal Laboratory Consortium Mid-Continent Region (FLC) meeting this August for the development of new technology for monitoring rangelands.

Each year, FLC honors regional laboratories in five categories: the STEM award, Notable Technology Development Award, Outstanding Laboratory Award, Excellence in Technology Transfer Award and Outstanding Laboratory Representative Award.

Booth, Cox and Berryman received the Notable Technology Development Award for their Range Management Software Systems. The team developed five software programs for rangeland monitoring: SamplePoint, ImageMeasurement, Sample Freq, LaserLog and Merge.

Booth, who served as project lead, says, “In 2,000, I changed my research program to rangeland monitoring using what we called very large scale aerial photography.”

“Between 2000 and about 2004 we developed our aerial photographic system to achieve resolutions as great as one millimeter per pixel (mmpp), which was the highest resolution aerial photography in the world,” continues Booth.

For comparison, one mmpp resolution is 30,000 times greater resolution than that obtained by the well-known Landsat satellites and is a resolution capable of resolving blades of grass.

“From about 2004, we began working on methods for making measurements from our one mmpp images. This resulted in the development of the SamplePoint program by 2006,” adds Booth.

Cox, a natural resource specialist with the Wyoming BLM, explains, “The way that SamplePoint works is that it puts an array of dots on the image, and the user goes through and classifies what each of those points is sitting on, whether that is grass, shrub or bare ground.”

He adds, “The beauty of this software is we don’t have to go out into the field at all. We principally used it with aerial photos that we gathered with light sport airplanes.”

In a paper written by Booth and Cox, published in Rangelands, the pair says, “What SamplePoint analysis does is reduce analysis time, cost and environmental stress. Most importantly, users can work from a permanent photographic record.”

“These advantages are important because they reduce user-related variation in data,” continues the paper, which is titled Art to Science: Tools for Greater Objectivity in Resource Monitoring.

The software also works with photographs taken using handheld cameras while walking across transects of land.

“Once you have the imagery, photos can be uploaded into the software and the dots are placed on the image,” explains Cox. “The user simply has to go through and classify what each dot is sitting on. That data is directly put into a spreadsheet.”

SamplePoint is most useful for trend monitoring, but has been used in a variety of projects across the country and around the world.

“It works well in invasive species to detect the early stages of invasion,” explains Cox. “There was not a resource base available to do a widespread survey for weeds that aren’t abundant yet.”

A common method for detecting weed invasion is driving along county roads and simply looking for stands of weeds, but the exploration into areas without roads is much less practical.

“In Idaho, for example, we covered about 10,000 acres in a few days with the airplanes and are able to look at the photographs to determine the density and cover of spotted knapweed,” says Cox. “We were able to identify not only the areas where this weed was just starting to establish itself, but also areas outside what the public land managers already knew about. We were discovering new invasion points, based on using the software and aerial photography.”

SamplePoint technology is available on the web and can be downloaded for no charge. Currently, the software has been downloaded in 28 countries around the world and is being widely used by the UW Extension, Wyoming BLM, the University of Wyoming, North Dakota State University, New Mexico State University and Colorado State University.

“SamplePoint is not limited to agency use, by any means – it is for anybody to use,” says Cox. “The software is very simple to use and a tutorial is included. The idea is that ranchers, BLM or Forest Service can use it easily. All the software requires is that you provide an email address and location for us to keep track of where it is being used and how many people are using the program.”

SamplePoint is only one of five programs created by the team for rangeland monitoring. ImageMeasurement, a second program, provides the user with tools to determine the width or length of an item of interest or the area of objects using images.

“We used it for measuring the width of streams or the width of a weed infestation patch,” explains Cox. “It is similar to what can be done using GIS, but the difference is these images don’t have to be geo-referenced.”

“If we had to bring those images into a GIS program, we would have to spend a lot of time geo-referencing them before doing any sort of analysis,” continues Cox. “With ImageMeasurement, the user can bring it in immediately and start measuring. All users have to know is the image resolution, so it is a much simpler, quicker way to do that.”

ImageMeasurement software is also free and has been distributed to a number of university researchers, BLM and the Forest Service.    

“There are plans to get ImageMeasurement on the web and available for download as well,” says Cox.

SampleFreq, the third program, is currently in development.

“It works a lot like SamplePoint,” Cox says. “The only difference is that SampleFreq measure plant frequency rather than plant cover.”

Merge and LaserLog are programs that were developed to aid in aerial photograph collection.

“LaserLog was a program we developed to record the height above ground of the airplane and the reflected light coming off the ground so that we could correlate that with image exposure,” says Cox. “Merge is a program for image location with the actual image files, based on time synchronization.”

While the programs are utility programs, they were essential to putting the images into a database so Cox and Booth were able to work with them.

The five programs work together for easier rangeland monitoring practices.     

“The main things that are important is that anyone can download the software, and all of the software is freely available, although not easily available yet,” says Cox. “We hope to get the other software programs on the web for an easy download soon. At this point, SamplePoint is the only program available online.”

Booth adds that ImageMeasurement is ready for release, except for the development of a technical support plan. Additionally, SampleFreq is in a continued testing and improvement phase.

“SampleFreq might be released sometime next year, depending on the outcome of tests,” says Booth.

In receiving the Notable Technology Development Award, Booth facilitated contact with the awards committee. Berryman of Berryman Consulting in Boulder, Colo. wrote the computer programs associated with the rangeland monitoring technology.

“Bob Berryman’s contribution in authoring the computer code for all the software programs shouldn’t be understated,” says Cox. “He came up with some very creative methods of writing computer code to make it all happen, and has constantly updated all the programs in response to user feedback.”

Saige Albert is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Rangeland ecologists at the USDA are now utilizing high-resolution digital cameras and taking panorama pictures to track changes in landscapes.

According to hydraulic engineer at Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Southwest Watershed Research Center in Tucson, Ariz. Mary Nichols, there are approximately 770 million acres of rangeland in the U.S.

The high-resolution digital photographs should be able to accurately help ecologists assess the condition of rangeland and riparian areas.

Nichols has used the technology since October of 2008 when she took photos of an Arizona rangeland to evaluate whether digital panoramas could be used to monitor riparian areas, plants or wildlife.

“The resulting panoramas were so detailed that she could count the number of elk in a distant herd, and even evaluate the condition of each animal,” says ScienceDaily.

Nichols was also capable of documenting the numbers of invasive buffelgrass stands through the photos and will be able to track the extent to which the species is spreading through nearby mountain ranges.

The ability to not only identify animals, but plants as well, will allow researchers to monitor rangelands in the lab, rather than in the field, as well as keep more detailed records of monitoring.

An additional benefit of the photographs will be the ability to collaborate by posting the panoramas online.

In her paper Very-High-Resolution Panoramic Photography to Improve Conventional Rangeland Monitoring, Nichols says, “Advances in image sensors, storage media and image- processing software allow enormous amounts of information to be collected efficiently and inexpensively, so multiple pictures taken at full zoom can be combined into a single high-resolution panoramic image.”

Previous use of photography only allowed researchers to take single images that were low resolution to capture entire landscapes. However, with the advent of easy-to-use computer programs, single, zoomed images can be “stitched” together digitally and automatically to reveal a highly detailed photo of an entire landscape.

In collecting these photographs, Nichols says, “The system consists of three technological developments: a robotic camera mount for automating camera positions and shutter release with a standard digital camera, custom software for constructing very-high-resolution gigapixel panoramas and alignment and image extent parameters are stored in the robot’s memory.”

The value of this technology for rangeland ecologists is monumental.

“Riparian areas are often difficult to monitor because they are often extensive and can exhibit a high degree of variability longitudinally through the channel corridor,” writes Nichols. “Transect measurements channel cross-section measurements, and inventories of bed and bank condition are often insufficient to characterize an entire riparian reach.”

Nichols continues that the photographs show enough detail to make observations for rangeland monitoring.

Finally, Nichols classifies the use of digital panoramas as a “significant opportunity to improve current photographic techniques.”

Nichols writes, “Integration with well-established monitoring programs will improve our ability to manage watersheds and riparian area, restoration efforts and livestock grazing.”

Nichols’s paper can be read at Saige Albert is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

A Department of the Interior (DOI) document labeled “Internal Draft – NOT FOR RELEASE” and detailing prospective conservation designations has caused quite a stir among the 12 western states it names.
A portion of the document proposes lands that could be added to create 17 new national monuments under the American Antiquities Act of 1906.
President Theodore Roosevelt signed the American Antiquities Act of 1906 on June 8, 1906, which was followed in a few months by his first monument designation – Devil’s Tower in northeast Wyoming – on Sept. 24. He declared it a ““lofty and isolated rock… to be a natural wonder and an object of historic and great scientific interest.”
According to the National Park Service (NPS), “The bill’s sponsors originally expected that national monuments would be proclaimed to protect prehistoric cultural features, or antiquities, in the Southwest and that they would be small. Yet the reference in the act to ‘objects of ... scientific interest’ enabled President Theodore Roosevelt to make a natural geological feature, Devils Tower, Wyoming, the first national monument.”
Following Devils Tower several presidents designated over one million acres as national monuments in Alaska and Arizona under the Antiquities Act, but none encountered significant opposition until 1943, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed Jackson Hole National Monument in Wyoming.
According to the NPS, Roosevelt’s proclamation unleashed a storm of criticism about use of the Antiquities Act to circumvent Congress. A bill abolishing Jackson Hole National Monument passed Congress, but was vetoed by Roosevelt, and congressional and court challenges to the proclamation authority were mounted. In 1950 Congress finally incorporated most of the monument into Grand Teton National Park, but the act in doing so barred further use of the proclamation authority in Wyoming.
Because of that 1950 change to the Act, no Wyoming lands are included under the Antiquities Act portion of the document, but two locations are listed under other sections of the draft – the Red Desert, particularly mentioning Adobe Town, and the Upper Green River Valley, from the Wind River Range to the Wyoming Range. The document also proposes consolidating checkerboard land, particularly in Nevada, Oregon, California, Wyoming and Utah.
The Red Desert is listed as an “area worthy of protection that is ineligible for Monument Designation and unlikely to receive legislative protection in the near term.”
“The Red Desert’s rich landscape offers spectacular desert structures and wildlife habitat. The Desert provides world-class pronghorn and elk hunting; the area is home to the largest desert elk herd in North America and the migration path for 50,000 pronghorn antelope,” says the document. “Early explorers, pioneers and Mormon settlers used the unique features in the Red Desert as landmarks to guide them westward. The Pony Express Trail traverses the northern section of the Red Desert. One of the unique features in the Red Desert is Adobe Town, an astonishing and remote set of badlands and geologic formations. Visitors can see fossils of long-extinct mammals, reptiles and invertebrates.”
Regarding the Upper Green River Valley, the document states the initiative would focus on conserving large private ranches that are located at the base of the Wyoming and Wind River Ranges to benefit sage grouse, big game species and the path of the pronghorn antelope.
However, the document does note that the BLM, the State of Wyoming, Conservation Fund, Jonah Interagency Office, Green River Valley Land Trust, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Wyoming Wildlife Foundation, the Bridger Teton National Forest and “a host of other private/public partnerships” are all working cooperatively in the area to provide big game migratory corridors and wildlife habitat improvement through easements and landscape-level improvement projects.
The cost estimate for the Upper Green River Valley projects totals over $2.3 billion, assuming an asking price of $6,000 per acre. The document notes that nearly a quarter of the BLM field office area in the region is state and private land totaling almost 400,000 acres.
For the checkerboard consolidation, the BLM estimates the initiative could be accomplished, “where consistent with BLM land-use plans and in areas where there is a willing seller,” over the next 10 years at an annual expenditure of approximately $5 million.
In early March the Senate Western Caucus, led by Chairman John Barrasso, of Wyoming, sent a letter to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar in opposition to the overhaul of public and private lands in the West.
“Implementing this strategy would break trust with the people of the West,” said the senators. “Americans enjoy a variety of benefits from our public lands, but many westerners rely on public lands for their very livelihoods. For that reason, Congress has ensured that public land management decisions are made in a process that is both public and transparent. Pursuing the strategy outlined in the released documents would threaten western livelihoods and violate the multiple use management framework that is relied upon in western communities. Americans should never live in fear that the stroke of a pen in Washington could forever change their lives.”
“Land management is most successful when built from local consensus and stakeholder involvement,” said the letter. “Grassroots conservation efforts are succeeding in communities across the West. In contrast, top-down land management directives from Washington are recipes for failure.”
The senators pointed out that expansion of federal land holdings is an unsustainable policy.
“The bureaus of the Department of the Interior are already overloaded with acreage and responsibility. The Bureau of Land Management faces budget shortfalls annually, and the National Park Service faces a maintenance backlog on its existing facilities of over $9 billion,” they wrote.
“Unilateral action will not be successful in the West. Western communities have a long, successful history of land stewardship. We urge the Department to defer to local land use decision-making and grassroots conservation efforts,” said the senators.
Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY), Senator Bob Bennett (R-UT), Senator John Ensign (R-NV) and Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE) signed the letter.
“This draft is indicative of the direction this administration would like to go,” says Wyoming Stock Growers Executive Vice President Jim Magagna. “Whatever comes out of the administration may not include everything in the draft, but we need to be very concerned they’re looking at limiting multiple use on more lands in Wyoming.”
Because it’s not a formal proposal there’s little Wyomingites can do at this point other than be aware of the issue and keep in close touch with the Congressional delegation.
“Any special designation gives priority to something other than grazing and mineral development,” notes Magagna. “I would say it wouldn’t prohibit grazing, but it would be a threat.”
Magagna says several other western states, including Utah, which had a bad experience with the Antiquities Act at the end of President Bill Clinton’s term, are seeking an exemption from the Act similar to Wyoming’s. He adds there is some concern an eastern Congressman may bring legislation that would remove Wyoming’s exemption.
Christy Hemken is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

When members of land trusts throughout Wyoming are asked about financial health through the current economic low times, they generally respond the organizations are doing just fine and they credit the stability to those who offer financial support.
Land trusts work with two different funding streams – project dollars used to purchase easements and operations dollars used for staff, travel, etc. Pam Dewell of the Wyoming Stock Growers Ag Land Trust in Cheyenne says grants like those from the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust (WWNRT) are used only for projects, while their operations are funded through private contributions and foundation grants.
“With our organization the lion’s share of funding comes from private donors,” says Dewell. “We have not experienced a downturn, and our supporters have been tremendously supportive of our work in helping to fund our operations.”
Andrea Erickson Qui-roz, state director of The Nature Conservancy Wyoming Chapter (TNC) in Lander, says the TNC has seen effects, but not nearly to the extent of other states. “It’s been a difficult year for people here, but not as bad as other parts of the country,” she says. “I hope that carries forward as the economy begins to recover in a slow but sure way, and we hope Wyoming will continue to stay a little more positive than the rest of the country.”
Of funding, Jordan Vana of the Green River Valley Land Trust (GRVLT) in Pinedale says, “We’ve been fortunate. Our inclusive mission allows us to work with a broad spectrum of supporters who have helped us weather the economic downturn.”
Vana says GRVLT not only made budget last year, but also helped landowners in the area conserve more working ranchland, wildlife habitat and open space than any year since 2007.
“We suspect that interest in private land conservation continues to advance because landowners see it as a good choice to help them meet their goals,” he continues.
However, Dewell says where project dollars are concerned, there’s never enough funding. “We have such a backlog of wonderful ranchlands and ranching families who would love to put easements on their properties, and we cannot raise enough project dollars to support them all,” she says.
Dewell notes that currently the WWNRT project dollars cover 20 percent of the cost of a conservation easement. “That’s an incredibly critical 20 percent,” she says. “Without that cash component we’d be unable to apply for some of the federal funding. Those dollars are incredibly important in attracting dollars from out of state.”
Dewell explains the initial WWNRT funding attracting matching funds from out-of-state, both federal and private. “Upwards of 75 percent of our project costs comes from private foundations out of state and federal agencies through the Farm Bill, and that’s all money we wouldn’t be able to bring in without the WWNRT seed money.”
Erickson Quiroz agrees, saying TNC has more support from public dollars than in the past. “The last time we had a downturn there were no public dollars like the WWNRT to help us continue projects. The public funding keeps us going and gives us a better set of tools for raising private dollars, even though the economy’s tough. The work we’ve done to set up long-term conservation funding is really paying off.”
“We were privileged in 2009 to work with a number of partners to raise more than $5,000,000 that helped the Thompson family conserve its centennial Cross Lazy Two Ranch west of Big Piney, modified 75 miles of existing fence to make it wildlife and livestock friendly, and educated adults and kids in our community about the benefits that conservation provides for them and their families,” states Vana.
In all, the GRVLT worked with landowners to conserve nearly 5,000 acres of working ranchland, wildlife habitat and open space in 2009.
An “incredibly interesting” component of conservation easements, says Dewell, is what the landowners choose to do with the income. “Many talk about paying down bank notes so their kids will have less of a burden with the ranch, and that frees up dollars that banks can then loan to other producers. Some landowners have taken the dollars and invested in additional land to increase the size of their operation, while others increase their herd size,” she explains.
“It’s really interesting that this potential to attract dollars from out of state is a tremendous opportunity to bring in dollars to spend on pivots, bank notes, fences and cattle,” says Dewell, adding that she thinks it’s an under told piece of the story.
As far as funding into 2010, Dewell says some foundations provide multiple-year grants for operations, while others pledge an amount with annual payments. One foundation enables two employees to be paid with out of state funds. Another Wyoming foundation supports activity in a specific geographic location.
“We’ve had more interest than ever before,” says Dewell of ranches considering conservation easements. “Each year we receive more interest from traditional ranching families throughout the state.”
She says with aging demographics in the ranch population, many are thinking ahead to estate planning. By placing an easement on a property and removing development rights, that land’s value can be brought down to a level where a young ranching family could afford to purchase it.
“The second-home market and the trophy ranch situation are real threats to the agricultural, rural way of life, and conservation easements are one tool that can be used to keep the value of lands at ag value, because if you take away the development right the land is closer to ag values going forward,” says Dewell. “It’s an opportunity for a landowner to raise capital without liquidating, and for a family that intends to stay in agriculture, conservation easements are a great tool.”
Of fundraising, Erickson Quiroz says TNC always tries new things. “The important thing is spending more time with contributors and trying to be more available to members so they know more about the work,” she notes. “The more they know, the more they get excited and the more they contribute. We stay really mindful that people need to know what they’re accomplishing with their contributions.”
“Landowners have a lot of choices, and with the downturn it’s hard for them to think about long-term financial health,” adds Erickson Quiroz. “It’s amazing that even with the slower economy many landowners have donated easements.”
“Interest in conservation has been steadily increasing and we do expect it to continue as more people move to Wyoming and the state’s major private landowners — working ranchers — continue to face challenges like estate taxes, limited profitability, drought, and uncertainty about grazing on federal lands,” says Vana.
“Most of the funding opportunities are primarily wildlife oriented,” says Dewell of current donations. “One day it’d be great to see opportunities to receive funding for other values, like historic and keeping the next generation of ranchers on the ground. That’s becoming more of a goal of our organization – to help support the next generation of ranching.”
Christy Hemken is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..