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Definition of Rangelands and Forests. Paul Geissler Alison Hill. We have a good conceptual definition of rangelands.

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definition of rangelands and forests

Definition of Rangelandsand Forests

Paul Geissler

Alison Hill


We have a good conceptual definition of rangelands

"Land on which the indigenous vegetation (climax or natural potential) is predominantly grasses, grass-like plants, forbs, or shrubs and is managed as a natural ecosystem. If plants are introduced, they are managed similarly. Rangelands included natural grasslands, savannas, shrublands, many deserts, tundras, alpine communities, marshes and meadows” - Society for Range Management


To collect data in the field and estimate the area of rangelands, we need agreement on an operational definition.

  • What is the “climax or natural potential” vegetation?
  • How much of what is “predominantly?”
  • What species are included in “grasses, grass-like plants, forbs, or shrubs?”

An agreement on a definition is important

  • One of our proposed indicators is the area of rangelands, and we cannot measure it without a clear definition.
  • For the other indicators to be meaningful, we need to define specifically what area we are talking about.
  • Differences in the definitions of rangelands and forests are very long-standing and contentious issues.
  • Different definitions of forests differ by 40 to 60 million acres

The Oregon Demonstration Project looked at differences between the Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA, Forest Service USFS) definitions and the National Resources Inventory (NRI, Natural Resources Conservation Service NRCS) definitions.

  • USFS and NRCS agreed on at least a 10% stocking in trees to define forests, but operationally FIA uses 10% or more crown cover and NRI uses 25% or more.

FIA classifies oak woodland and juniper woodland as forests, whereas NRI classifies as rangeland

  • FIA considers junipers as trees, whereas NRI considers them as shrubs
  • There is a than 10% to 15% difference

The Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) can help reach agreement on definitions.

  • Chaired by the Secretary of the Interior
  • Senior representatives of each department
    • USDA - Mack Gray, Acting Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment
    • DOI - Dr. Charles Groat, Director, USGS
  • Executive Order 12906
  • OMB Circular A-16

"The Federal Geographic Data Committee coordinates the development of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI). The NSDI encompasses policies, standards, and procedures for organizations to cooperatively produce and share geographic data. The 17 federal agencies that make up the FGDC are developing the NSDI in cooperation with organizations from state, local and tribal governments, the academic community, and the private sector."


FGDC Standards Procedure

  • Set up a project committee including all major stakeholders
  • Extensive collaboration and review
  • Includes a Federal Register notice
  • Establishes a standard for the Federal Government

Relevant FGDC subcommittees and working groups

  • Sustainable Forest Data Working Group – Paul Geissler (USGS) and Rich Guldin (USFS) cochairs
  • Vegetation Subcommittee - Alison Hill (USFS) chair
  • Sample Inventory and Monitoring of Natural Resources and the Environment (SIMNRE) Working Group - Jeff Goebel (NRCS) chair
  • Earth Cover Working Group, Thomas Livari (NRCS) chair

Our request to SRR

  • Participate in the process of defining rangeland and forests
  • Appoint members to the FGDC Project Committee
  • We hope to reach the range community through the SRR.


  • White paper describing the issues
  • A collaborative process for defining rangelands and forests and their overlap (if any)
  • Agreement on operational definitions

Current Participants:

  • Roundtable on Sustainable Forests
    • Core Group expressed support and asked their Technical Work Group to participate in the Project Committee
  • FGDC Sustainable Forest Data Working Group
  • FGDC Vegetation Subcommittee
  • FGDC Sample Inventory and Monitoring of Natural Resources and the Environment (SIMNRE) Working Group

FGDC Sustainable Forest Data Working Group

  • Responsible for implementing the MOU signed by:
  • Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service
  • Forest Service
  • National Agricultural Statistics Service
  • Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • Department of Defense
  • Bureau of Indian Affairs
  • Bureau of Land Management
  • National Park Service
  • U.S. Geological Survey
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Office of Policy Analysis, Department of the Interior
  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration

FGDC Sustainable Forest Data Working Group

The MOU states that "Agencies will work together to resolve data issues that are beyond the means or jurisdiction of any single agency, avoid future inconsistencies and incompleteness in data coverage, and otherwise coordinate data activities as appropriate to their missions and consistent with their statutory responsibilities."


FGDC Sustainable Forest Data Working Group

  • Is setting up project committees for
  • Definition of rangeland and forests
  • Fragmentation
  • A National Strategy for Monitoring Human Community and Economic Indicators
  • Taxonomy and measures for non-timber forest products and services
  • Hope to have agreements in time for 2008 report.

FGDC Sample Inventory and Monitoring of Natural Resources and the Environment (SIMNRE) Working Group

  • Coordinated the Oregon Demonstration Projects
  • Developed a proposal for coordinating inventory efforts and definitions

FGDC SIMNRE Working Group

  • Cooperating agencies
  • Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • Forest Service
  • National Agricultural Statistics Service
  • U.S. Geological Survey
  • Environmental Protection Agency
  • Bureau of Land Management