Range center to tackle tough issues
'We need 10 years to see the real effects of grazing on sage grouse'
By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- The newly created University of Idaho Rangeland Center is ready to tackle some of the most pressing issues affecting rangeland, including fire, grazing and sage grouse, the center's director says.
The center will also study how invasive and endangered species, climate change and human development affect rangeland, said center director Karen Launchbaugh, who updated legislators on the progress the new center is making.
Launchbaugh said the center, which includes 25 faculty members with expertise in a wide array of range-related disciplines, is thinking big and is ready to push the start button.
"We have some really big goals and we really do want to make a difference," she said. "Those are big, complex issues. The best thing I have is a group of people dedicated to understanding, and helping people understand, rangeland."
The biggest project the center is undertaking is a multiyear study of how spring grazing impacts sage grouse and affects fire behavior.
"We have quite a bit of information about grazing and sagebrush but not as it relates specifically to fuels or sage grouse, and of course, those are very pressing issues right now," she said.
Launchbaugh said grazing would be a major focus of the center's research.
"Grazing is not a major threat to sage grouse but grazing is a concern to a lot of people and it's something we can manage and control," she said. "It's not if to graze, it's how to graze."
The spring grazing study, which will begin this year, was of particular interest to several lawmakers, but Launchbaugh let them know it would be a long-term study and would cost about $500,000 per year.
"We need 10 years to see the real effects of grazing on sage grouse and sage grouse habitat," she said. "We can do it cheaply and not get the job done, but our goal is to do it right."
Her presentation was well received in the Capitol.
"We'll do our best to round up some money for you," said Rep. Ken Andrus, a Republican rancher from Lava Hot Springs and chairman of the House Agricultural Affairs Committee.
A bill introduced last year by Sen. Bert Brackett, a Republican rancher from Rogerson, created the center in state statute. Brackett said he was concerned rangeland research had lost some of its identity and mission because of mergers at the university.
He said the center, which includes researchers with expertise in grazing, rangeland ecology, forage production, animal science and invasive plant management, will ensure the university addresses the modern challenges of rangeland management.
Launchbaugh said range researchers at other universities are increasingly being absorbed into other colleges and the legislation was important to ensure range research at UI couldn't easily be diluted or done away with.
"If the university ever wants to get rid of it, they're going to have to deal with you," she told lawmakers.