Monitoring rangeland condition

Page last updated: Wednesday, 22 August 2018 - 9:33am

Please note: This content may be out of date and is currently under review.

There are many benefits from monitoring and assessing pastoral rangeland condition, and monitoring can be done at several levels to meet the needs of rangeland managers, researchers and government administrators.

Pastoralists can use information from monitoring to track changes in livestock carrying capacity and resource condition, and improve management and long-term condition of the rangeland resource.

Why monitor?

To know whether your management is successful and sustainable, you need to:

  • know the current condition
  • record your management
  • measure change over time
  • assess the effect of your management on the changes.

Monitoring is how you get the information about current condition and changes over time.

Monitoring systems

Systems can range from complex (based on detailed on-ground data collection), to remote sensing, to simple observations.

Western Australian Rangeland Monitoring System

The Western Australian Rangeland Monitoring System (WARMS) used by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development provides information on pastoral rangeland condition trend at a regional or land conservation district (LCD) scale, not the lease scale.

Department staff collect photographs and other data from 633 grassland sites and 989 shrubland sites. The data includes physical attributes of the soil surface and vegetation. Grassland sites are monitored every 3 years and shrubland sites are now monitored every 6 years (they were monitored every 5 years until the end of 2015 but the frequency was changed to better align with grassland monitoring). The seventh assessment of the grassland sites was completed in 2014 and the fourth assessment of shrubland sites was completed in 2015.

Grassland assessment

Grasslands are characterised by perennial tussock and hummock grasses, and occur primarily in the Kimberley and Pilbara regions. Grassland condition is based on the frequency of indicator grasses, soil surface condition and woody vegetation cover.

Shrubland assessment

Shrublands are characterised by shrubs with a variable mulga (Acacia aneura) or eucalypt overstorey, and they occur primarily in the Gascoyne, Murchison, Goldfields and Nullarbor regions. Shrubland condition is based on the density of indicator perennial shrubs, soil surface condition and perennial grass species.

Mixed shrublands and grasslands occur in the Gascoyne and Ashburton regions.

Technical information and 'how-to' links

Some shrubland and grassland plants are useful indicators of pasture condition and trend. We provide information about pasture types and their indicator plants in the links below:

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Types of monitoring

Inventory and condition survey program

The department has conducted inventory and condition surveys of pastoral regions since 1972. The surveys identify and describe the soils, landforms, vegetation, habitat, ecosystems, and declared plants and animals, with detail for each land system in the region. The surveys also assess the impact of pastoralism and make land management recommendations.

The pastoral industry can use these survey reports to plan sustainable management of pastoral resources and to identify areas at risk or suffering from degradation.

Fourteen inventory and condition surveys have been conducted since 1972, with all of Western Australia’s rangeland pastoral leases now surveyed, except for the Southern Goldfields region and to the north-east of Wiluna–Meekatharra. The fifteenth rangeland survey – in the Southern Goldfields covering the area known as the Great Western Woodlands – will be completed in 2018.

Rangeland monitoring for pastoralist and professional use

This voluntary monitoring system was developed for pastoralists or consultants as a simple way of monitoring and evaluating the effect of livestock and seasons on the health of desirable perennial vegetation. Pastoralists can use the monitoring results to see how management affects pastoral rangeland condition, and adapt management to changing conditions.

There are 4 important steps to establish a rangeland condition monitoring system:

  1. select a location for each monitoring site within a paddock or management unit (or land system)
  2. install the site and record the site characteristics (location and indicator species)
  3. assess the baseline data for each site: frequency or number of indicator species and the baseline photograph
  4. assess the sites on a regular basis: we suggest a 3-year cycle with one-third of the sites done each year.

Monitoring livestock condition

Using walk-over-weigher systems with automatic recording and telemetry can give notice of falling grazing value several weeks ahead of simple observation. This system is a big capital commitment, but it can pay for itself in several years on more intensively stocked leases. Contact your local stock agent or adviser for information.

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Support to leaseholders and managers

The department can provide advice on:

  • assessing rangeland condition
  • managing stocking rates appropriate to sustainable use of pasture growth
  • management planning
  • remediation of existing problems.

Legislation

The Commissioner of Soil and Land Conservation uses WARMS information to report to the Pastoral Lands Board of Western Australia and the department. These annual reports are an obligation under Section 137(2) of the Land Administration Act 1997 and the Soil and Land Conservation Act 1945, and the assessments are at the regional and LCD scale.

The Pastoral Lands Board uses information from the Commissioner's report in its annual report on the current condition of land under pastoral lease. These reports are available from the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage.

If there is concern about possible land degradation, the Commissioner can request department staff to carry out a pastoral lease inspection under the Soil and Land Conservation Act.

Reports and case studies

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Contact information

Wayne Fletcher
+61 (0)8 9690 2135
Kath Ryan
+61 (0)8 9166 4015