Group to improve collaborative management of Sandhills grasslands

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Group to improve collaborative management of Sandhills grasslands

Cow grazing on Sandhills grasses
Natalie Jones | IANR Media

A University of Nebraska–Lincoln project that aims to improve adaptive management of Sandhills grasslands has received a $134,192 grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust.

Sandhills grasslands are used for beef cattle production, and vegetation cover is managed with grazing strategies and manual and chemical invasive plant control. Prescribed fire is viewed as a tool, especially for control of eastern redcedar; however, relatively few acres are burned annually. Grassland managers use combinations of these approaches.

Craig Allen

“We are establishing a collaborative adaptive management group at Barta Brothers Ranch to narrow these management options within a CAM framework,” said Craig Allen, director of the Center for Resilience in Agricultural Working Landscapes and professor of natural resources, who leads the project. Tradeoffs occur among competing ecosystem services and disservices.

The CAM group will develop and refine a results framework, which managers can use to assess tradeoffs on their properties. Ecosystem services and disservices will be monitored by documenting variables such as above-ground plant composition and production, bird abundance and composition, soil properties and beef cattle performance.

“Conventional grassland research has a rigid design that does not support evaluation of the interplay between grassland dynamics and manager decisions relative to environmental and economic changes at the production scale,” Allen said. “Alternatively, CAM embraces the flexibility of managers in learning about responses and tradeoffs and adjusting management accordingly.”

The project is one of 23 Husker projects receiving more than $2.1 million from NET this year. In total, NET awarded 113 grants totaling more than $18 million in 2021.

The Nebraska Legislature created the NET in 1992. Using revenue from the Nebraska Lottery, the trust has provided more than $349 million in grants to more than 2,400 projects across the state. Anyone — citizens, organizations, communities, farmers and businesses — can apply for funding to protect habitat, improve water quality and establish recycling programs in Nebraska. The NET works to preserve, protect and restore the state’s natural resources for future generations.

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