WERA-1008: The Rangelands West Partnership continues to improve and expand the Rangelands West Web portal, providing stakeholders with relevant, science-based, cutting edge information and decision-making resources on local, national, and global rangeland ecology and management issues to increase the economic, environmental, and human health benefits of improved rangeland management in the West.
Rangelands, the most extensive class of lands in the 11 western states (70 percent of land area), provide many ecological services, including forage production, wildlife habitat, watersheds, and recreation. Rangelands managed by federal and state agencies are commonly used by livestock operators as a critical component to whole ranch systems. An issue in management and conservation of these lands is the ability of state land-grant universities (LGUs) to provide quality information and support through the Internet. This requires collaboration among subject, information, and technology experts. The Rangelands West Partnership, a collaboration of rangeland specialists and agricultural and natural resource librarians from 19 western LGUs, is building a comprehensive Web resource for rangelands information as part of the Agriculture Network Information Center (AgNIC) and eXtension initiatives. WERA-1008 has formalized and facilitated this LGU partnership in the implementation and maintenance of state and regional Web portals. The Partnership’s mission is to provide researchers, educators, and public and private land managers with electronic access to the full scope of research and educational information in the fields of rangeland ecology, management, and conservation by collecting, creating, evaluating, and organizing relevant data, information, and learning materials.
What has the project done so far?
An interdisciplinary team at the University of Arizona (UA), made up of rangeland scientists, librarians/information specialists, and IT experts, has been involved in developing a Web portal of rangeland management resources for more than 12 years. This led to the formation of the Partnership and development of the Rangelands West portal (http://rangelandswest.org). The current portal contains a searchable database of approximately 1,500 vetted publications and Web site links that include information on hot issues, direct links to a repository of journal articles from the Society for Range Management (SRM), and links to each of the 19 state Rangelands West Web sites. Primary audiences include rangeland scientists, educators, outreach professionals, and public and private land managers. In 2005, the Partnership became a Multistate Research Project and established and adopted a governing and operating structure. In addition to maintaining the Web portal, the Partnership has successfully sought and received funding to support project activities that include development of a stakeholder survey and training sessions for users of the Web portal, as well as development of an eXtension Range Management Community of Practice. In addition, the Partnership received a USDA-NIFA International Science and Education grant in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). This grant is supporting a full redesign and expansion of the portal, drawing on the latest technological advances. To increase awareness of the Web portal, the Partnership has held two symposia at SRM Annual meetings and signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the organization for continued collaboration. The Partnership continues to identify new partners to expand and keep the portal current and relevant. Currently, agreements are being negotiated with the Australian Rangeland Society, the Grassland Society of Southern Africa, and the University of Sonora, in Mexico.
- Awarded and successfully completed USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) professional development grant that involved and trained more than 40 ranchers and public land managers (2004 to 2007), better equipping them to utilize online tools more effectively for land management decisions.
- Conducted survey of agriculture and natural resource advisors (4 to 8 from each state in the Partnership) on critical sustainable rangeland management issues that contributed to the development of the hot topics section of the Rangelands West portal (2005).
- Conducted workshop entitled “Sustainable Rangeland Management—On the Cutting Edge” for agriculture and natural resource advisers (32 participants), exploring sustainable rangeland management issues across the West, including vegetation monitoring programs and management of invasive species (2005).
- Maintained Rangelands West portal and collected usage statistics on site visitations numbering hundreds of thousands per year.
- Gained funding from the UA Libraries’ Strategic Plan funds to conduct a needs assessment (see next bullet) and to develop a business plan. Both were completed and used as the framework for restructuring for sustainability of the project (2008 to 2009).
- Conducted online survey of Rangeland Management Information Needs and Preferences. The survey was sent to 1,066 potential participants in 13 states, with 196 (18.4 percent) participating. Also conducted focus group sessions with stakeholders in Washington, Hawaii, Arizona, Oklahoma, and Oregon (24 total participants). Identified user needs were incorporated in the technical needs assessment for the third phase portal redesign, including creation of a system that will automatically update content frequently, providing relevant search results, full-text repositories of documents and images, local information resources, and tools to foster networking.
- Held official “launch” workshop at UA for the Global Rangelands/Rangelands West USDA-supported project with FAO partners (2010), who provided assistance in implementing an open-access, controlled-vocabulary technical infrastructure.
- Presented first iteration of the Global Rangelands/Rangelands West portals at a symposium at the SRM annual meeting. Conducted four focus groups to gain stakeholder input. This led to simplifying the search interface and to keeping a U.S. focus for the Rangelands West portal (2011).
Research Needs for Future Impacts
The Partnership is expanding the focus of the portal to provide information on rangelands on a global basis. To support this effort the Partnership is in the process of establishing formal agreements with rangeland organizations in Australia, Mexico, and South Africa. In addition, the new Global Rangelands/Rangelands West database repository, which already contains more than 10,000 resources, will be launched in the fall of 2011. Full site usage analytics will be tracked and provided in subsequent WERA-1008 annual reports.