People derive multiple goods and services from rangeland ecosystems including wildlife and wildlife habitat; high quality water, clean air, and open spaces; carbon sequestration to mitigate global warming; habitat for threatened and endangered species; recreational uses; food and fiber production, including livestock grazing; and a unique setting for social and cultural activities. We depend on these goods and services and expect them to be sustained for the benefit of future generations.
What are criteria and indicators?
A criterion, as used by SRR, is a category of conditions or processes that is an explicit goal of rangeland sustainability or by which rangeland sustainability can be assessed. A criterion is too general in scope to monitor directly, but can be characterized by a set of indicators that can be monitored over time.
An indicator is a quantitative or qualitative variable that can be assessed in relation to a criterion. It describes attributes of the criterion in an objectively verifiable and unambiguous manner, and is capable of being estimated periodically in order to detect trends.
Why is it important to develop criteria and indicators to assess rangeland sustainability?
Criteria and indicators can help determine if rangelands are being sustained. By measuring a sound, standardized set of indicators, we can report on a variety of factors that affect the sustainability of rangelands. Indicators provide more than national baseline information. They provide a way of monitoring changes that matter to us. Without an effective, consistent way to accurately monitor social, ecological and economic aspects of rangeland sustainability, it is difficult to measure progress toward sustainability.
Why do we need national indicators, when many decisions are made locally?
First, despite the trend toward encouraging local decision making about natural resource issues, a great many decisions are made in Washington, DC. Congress appropriates funds, enacts authorizing statutes, and conducts oversight over federal agency activities. Federal agencies adopt broad policies and allocate funding. In order for Congress and the federal government to wisely and efficiently carry out their business, it is important to have a basic understanding of conditions about the lands and people of the United States. National indicators are needed to allow the government to assess the U.S. rangeland situation and predict future trends.
Second, decisions should not be made in a vacuum. So, decisions made at state and local levels can benefit from an understanding of whether national and regional trends of comparable indicators have similar trends, as local ones.
The SRR First Approximation Report does not state whether US rangelands are sustainable or not. Don't we need to know the status of our rangelands and sources of problems in order to focus our efforts?
We cannot adequately describe the sustainability of US rangelands without appropriate data. At present, we have no way of gauging the status of the ecological, social, and economic sustainability of our rangelands. The SRR Report presents criteria and indicators that, when assessed collectively, can show the status of our rangelands.
What specific decisions can be made based on the criteria and indicators and data in the SRR First Approximation Report?
The SRR report will lead to agency decisions to improve and coordinate data collection efforts nationally, in order to show trends in rangeland sustainability. The First Approximation Report will not give specific data for the indicators; it will identify and evaluate existing data sets and describe the types of data needed in the future. Policy makers then will hopefully be able to use these data to improve the quality of their decisions.
We already collect a lot of information on the environment. Isn't it enough? Can't we already accurately assess the condition of rangelands without knowing about the indicators in this SRR First Approximation Report?
First, the available environmental data on rangelands is patchy and often overlapping. In statistical terms, it is neither collectively exhaustive nor mutually exclusive. As a result, scientists cannot make conclusions about the ecological status and trends of U.S. rangelands. Secondly, our society has become aware that environmental indicators, alone, do not tell us about how rangelands are contributing to our country's well-being over the long run.