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Project Background: Grassland managers focus their efforts on protecting and enhancing the competitive ability of native plants. However, with little or no evaluation of management effects, there is considerable uncertainty about the most appropriate management tools and prescriptions. In 2007, a multi-agency group of grassland managers and scientists formed the Grassland Monitoring Team. The group felt that a cooperative, standardized monitoring protocol and adaptive management modelling effort would help us learn more quickly how to improve grassland management.  A framework for adaptive grassland management in the Northern Tallgrass Prairie Ecoregion was developed.  Since 2008, approximately 13,000 acres of native prairie across 152 management units in Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota were collectively surveyed.

Project Objectives & Strategies: Ultimately, the team’s goal is to secure the future of high quality remnant prairie ecosystems by effectively managing invasive species. Monitoring is conducted in an adaptive management framework to identify the optimal management strategies that lead to the desired outcomes.

The following desired outcomes apply across all ownerships and participants.

•    Maintain or increase the % cover of native prairie vegetation.
•    Maintain the floristic diversity of native grassland ecosystems.
•    Minimize the % cover of invasive/exotic vegetation.
•    Maintain the structural diversity of native grassland ecosystems.

With these outcomes in mind, protocols and models were developed to monitor changes over time in response to land management techniques (i.e., grazing, burning, rest and combinations of the three) and the frequency at which they are applied.  One advantage of the framework is that participants can contribute a little to learn a lot.  Using standardized protocols and adaptive management, participants are able to benefit from collaborative learning.

Who We Are: The Grassland Monitoring Team is a multi-agency group of grassland managers and scientists organized with the common goal of improving management of native prairie by using standardized protocols and pooling data in an adaptive management framework. The Grassland Monitoring Team is currently a partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and The Nature Conservancy. Additional participants are welcome to join.

How to Get Involved: The team is always seeking new participants in the project to increase the rate of learning. Participants commit at least one management unit to the project.  Managers apply consistent management within the unit boundaries over a 3-year model cycle. Field monitoring occurs once prior to the 3-year cycle and the second time in the third year of the cycle. The team conducts coordination meetings each winter and field training sessions each summer. For more information please contact:
Sara Vacek, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Marissa Ahlering, The Nature Conservancy
Daren Carlson, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Melinda Knutson, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

About the Standardized Protocols: The protocol was developed to be simple, fast and robust to different levels of botanical expertise. However, the partners recognized that sometimes more detailed floristic data is desired for a management unit. Therefore, the partners developed a tiered approach to the standardized protocol. All participants collect the same basic level of information that is documented in Protocol A, but a more sophisticated approach was developed for partners desiring to obtain more detailed floristic data for their management unit, Protocol C.

About the Database: The monitoring data is entered and stored in an online Sharepoint database that is housed by the USFWS. All participants can register to receive a personalized login to access the database for data entry and retrieval. The centralized online database facilitates data sharing and much easier data analysis in real time.

About the Model: The adaptive management model is built to run from the data that is directly entered into the Sharepoint database. At the end of each management year, the project coordinators update the model based on the newly acquired monitoring and management data. The results of the model are then shared with individual managers and the larger partnership. The model is a state-and-transition model, which means individualized management recommendations are provided for each management unit involved in the project based on the current “state” or condition of the management unit.

Current Results: Coming soon.