Friday, September 9, 2011

Ecological Site Applications Workshop - Summary Report

Nunn, Colorado and Cheyenne, Wyoming
August 23 – 25, 2011

“[The workshop was] …very well done and it is among the best workshops I have ever attended on any topic.” – Rob Alexander, workshop participant

The first regional Ecological Site Applications workshop was held at the Shortgrass Steppe Research and Interpretation Center near Nunn, Colorado, and Cheyenne, Wyoming, August 23 – 25, 2011.  The workshop focused on how to use and interpret Ecological Site Descriptions (ESD) and also helped SRM and agency partners identify methods to successfully implement future ESD workshops and training.

The workshop hosted 40 registrants from a variety of organizations and a wide range of skills and experience with ESDs.  Workshop participants represented federal and state agencies and private organizations: NRCS (30%), BLM (25%), universities (17.5%), USFS (10%), ARS (5%), and other (12.5%) including BIA, NPS, county and state agencies and the private sector.

The first morning of the workshop was comprised of a series of informative presentations.  Dr. Bill Lauenroth provided an overview of the regional ecology, driving variables (temperature and precipitation) and the soil and plant responses to these in the Great Plains and specifically for the shortgrass steppe.  Dr. Brandon Bestelmeyer presented a comprehensive overview of Ecological Site history, basic concepts and status.  Finally, Rick Peterson presented a good description of the work underway in moving to the next generation of ESDs.
 The afternoon of the first day and the full second day of the workshop were spent in the field.  Field exercises focused on the principles of ecological site inventory, techniques for determining ecological sites and states, and the influence of management practices.  Of particular interest on the second day was a visit to the High Plains Grasslands Research Station, where Drs. Jack Morgan and Dana Blumenthal showcased the application of ESDs and influence of increasing atmospheric CO2 and climate change to conservation planning and assessment in the field for northern mixed grass prairie.  Other highlights included a trip to the Medicine Bow National Forest to demonstrate the principles of ESDs in forested ecotones.

Workshop participants enjoyed dinner and entertainment both Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.  Tuesday night, the Weld County Cattlewomen hosted a Cream Can Cookout in Slayton pasture, followed by Cowboy Poetry presented by Dick Hart.  Wednesday night, participants traveled to Bit-O-Wyo, The Horse Barn Dinner Show, for food and entertainment.  Evening dinner activities gave participants the opportunity to spend time networking and continue conversations from the day.  Additionally, breakfasts, lunches, and snacks were provided as part of the workshop.
In order to address lingering questions about ESDs and participant comments from the first two days of the workshop, organizers revamped the third day of the workshop to address remaining questions.  In the morning, SRM President Jack Alexander gave a thorough presentation of the components of a newly developed (second generation) ESD giving participants a better idea of the proposed ESD format.  Participants then broke into small groups for a field exercise designed to demonstrate site delineation.  During this field activity, participants identified soils and determined which site descriptions were applicable,  then proceeded to identify the state based on vegetation and existing ESDs provided.  During the final afternoon session, participants joined groups to discuss topics of interest that deviated from the overall workshop objectives, but were of significance to certain attendees (policy, current status, history).  Finally, participants reconvened for the final workshop synthesis before heading home.

The Ecological Site Applications workshop was very successful, though it was not without its surprises.  Since this workshop was the first of its kind, it was difficult for organizers to know in advance which areas would need more or less elaboration, and what order would best meet the learning objectives for the week.  In order to achieve the objectives of this first workshop, organizers paid close attention to comments on daily evaluation forms and redesigned portions of the workshop in order to address uncertainty and respond to outstanding questions.  Thus, future workshops will embrace participant feedback and comments about what was most effective for each day of the workshop.  Additionally, instructors have a better sense of what types of questions might arise during the training and how to most efficiently communicate ESDs to a diverse audience.

Ultimately, participants left the Ecological Site Applications workshop with a better understanding of how to interpret ESDs, the similarities and differences of first and second generation ESDs, and how to use ESDs in the field.  Participants also gained a better understanding of how ESDs intercept with their work and their relationship with existing classification systems and data.  Additionally, the flexible framework and adjustments to the workshop made it possible to tailor the workshop to the specific audience on-site.  Organizers intend to build this flexibility into future workshops to ensure success with all training groups.

The next ESD workshop will be held at the Archbold Biological Station in Lake Placid, Florida, November 15-17, 2011.  Registration information will be posted on the SRM website:  There will also be two ESD workshops at the SRM Annual Meeting in Spokane, Washington, January 29 – February 3, 2012.  Information about both of these workshops is available on the Annual Meeting website:  Future ESD workshops are also scheduled for Reno, Nevada in June 2012 and again in Cheyenne, Wyoming and Nunn, Colorado in August 2012.

Questions about this or future ESD workshops, please contact Aleta Rudeen:

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