Jonathan Ratner of Sage Steppe Wild shows the group how to clip and weigh bluebunch wheatgrass and other range forage plants in order to measure utilization on an exclosure with no cattle on public lands during the workshop.

May 30, 2024 - Jackpot, NV - The How Not to be Cowed workshop was a great success, and we thank the many people who traveled to this remote rangeland to learn about sagebrush steppe ecology and how better to monitor public lands grazing. The group was full of students, attorneys, retired Bureau of Land Management staff, and many long-time public lands experts and volunteers who have worked over decades to try to conserve the wildlife and habitats of the Western U.S. A lot of knowledge and experience was shared, and friendships made.

We estimate that the teachers and participants had well over 200-years-worth of collective experience on public lands grazing!

Sage Steppe Wild's Jonathan Ratner organized the workshop and led the group through an in-depth class of presentations and fieldwork on public lands livestock grazing management, policy, law, ecology, and how to monitor grazing allotments. We all learned a lot from Jonathan's decades of work!

We learned cutting-edge rangeland monitoring theory and methods. We learned not only How to monitor public lands grazing, but Why we are monitoring: to understand the past in order to be able to restore the future of healthy, thriving sagebrush, riparian, woodland, and grassland habitats.

We plan to hold this free training workshop at Sage Steppe Wild's field research station next year, hosted by Karen Klitz--Sage Steppe Wild board director and long-time public lands monitor--stay tuned!

The first day began with a remote presentation by author and ecologist George Wuerthner via computer screen digital connection on a summary of livestock impacts to public lands, based on his decades of personal observations and travels. This was an excellent introduction to the issues surrounding public lands livestock grazing. George's numbers were eye-opening:  1.9 Billion acres of private and public lands in the U. S. outside of Alaska are grazed by livestock. 770 million acres of rangelands (not including pasture lands) are grazed by livestock, 43% of which are public lands. In the Western U.S., 90% of water goes to irrigation for cow forage.

Next Laura Cunningham of Western Watersheds Project gave a presentation about grasses: an introduction to the indentification, ecology, and responses to grazing of several native and introduced grass species found in northeastern Nevada. Basic range management concepts were discussed, such as palatability, warm-season and cool-season plants, decreasers and increasers with grazing pressure, and successional stages. The importance of Reference Sites was emphasized (how did sagebrush-steppe plant communities appear before European contact?). We then went out into Karen Klitz's amazing sagebrush steppe restoration project, which is growing beautifully with no cattle grazing, to look at different grasses in hand. 

Laura Welp of Western Watersheds Project gave a remote presentation via digital connection on the computer screen on whether vegetation treatments work or not, using pinyon-juniper cutting on Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument as a study case where she collected years of field data. This was an excellent presentation on the agency short-comings of serial vegetation treatments, how forbs are not restoring after treatments, and how grazing exclosures and more monitoring are needed. Jonathan pointed out that after using tree-corers, they found some pinyon and juniper trees to be 160-375 years old (or older) based on tree ring counts--indicating that these old-growth forests were not "encroaching" and need to be conserved.

The next day was a deep down-load of Jonathan Ratner's extensive knowledge and experience working on conserving public lands and pushing back against livestock grazing. Megabytes of folders and references were handed out in thumbdrives to each workshop participant, on monitoring, policy, law, science, and agency-speak.

Some of the main  points covered included:

And much more, including how to use Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to help you monitor federal grazing allotments, the importants of Ecological Site Descriptions, the pros and cons of different agency methods for measuring utlilization, how to challenge federal agency decisions in the Interior Board of Land Appeals, how to read Resource Management Plans (Bureau of Land Management), US Forest Service plans, Allotment Management Plans, Annual Operating Instructions for grazing allotments,  and much more. This was extensive and very helpful. Only by attending this Sage Steppe Wild workshop in person can you absorb all of this knowledge and experience in order to best monitor public lands.

Watchdogging public lands grazing management

Jonathan shows workshop participants how to undertake independent measures of grazing impacts in the sagebrush steppe.

Cutting-edge range management

Long-time public lands monitor Mary O'Brien (of Project 1100 shows the workshop new cutting-edge concepts of herbaceous vegetation Retention, which is a better standard for monitoring livestock use of grasses in order to measure impacts to pollinators, seed-eating birds, nesting birds, microtine rodents, wildlife newborn needing tall grass cover, and other benefits to native wildlife not currently measured by the agencies on rangelands. Stay tuned for more on this.

Next the workshop went outside with Roger Rosentreter, retired Bureau of Land Mangement Idaho staff and expert on Biological Soil Crusts. We looked at mosses and lichens associated with restoring sagebrush steppe plants and learned more about the ecology of these important soil species. Roger never fails to give us a huge amount of information on biocrusts and how their importance to ecosystem function needs better consideration and management.


Mosses (silvery bryum, Bryum argentuem) growing at the bases of native Sandberg bluegrass (Poa secunda) on the ungrazed research station. 

Roger compares soil crusts to bare dirt

Taking Biological Soil Crust samples and bare dirt samples, these are both dipped in water containers to see how the soil is held together. 

Compare soils with and without mosses

Above, bare dirt makes mud. Below, mosses hold soils together!

Roger Rosentreter pointing out mountain ball cactus (Pediocactus simpsonii) in a grazed allotment. This cattle-grazed allotment has few mosses and biocrusts. The heavy trampling and grazing has eliminated most biocrusts, and therefore soils erode more.

Mountain ball cactus and diverse lichens on rocks.

Next, Jonathan demonstrated how to clip and weigh forage plants inside and outside of a grazing exclosure in one monitoring method called "paired plots."

Jonathan walks outside the grazing exclure in the cattle-grazed allotment. On the right inside the fence is a recovering bluebunch wheatgrass steppe.

Jonathan clips and weighs forage grasses inside and outside the grazing exclosure on BLM lands, and gives a quick run-down of what you can expect (taking account that this is a quick demonstration example of estimating water content of grasses and current and previous year's growth) to measure utilization: 

Jonathan says: we are simply feeding the agency's methods and data collection back to them, to make them follow their own laws and policies.

Discussions were interesting, and involved the lack of accountability of Biological Soil Crusts in agency monitoring of grazing, and how on this site the agencies have mis-identified the sagebrush species in their Ecological Site Descriptions. We have a lot of work to do as public lands monitors.

Demonstration of clip and weigh paired plots technique for measuring utilization of range forage plants.

Antelope bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata)

Long leader branches from the current year's growth are present in the ungrazed exclosure. Bitterbrush is important food for deer, pronghorn antelope, and rabbits.

Outside the exclosure, cattle seek bitterbrush shrubs out and browse down the long leaders into a closely-cropped hedge. this is in a ricky area where the shrubs are relict and hiding from cattle.

Ungrazed recovering grazing exclosure with bluebunch wheatgrass, bitterbrush, and black sagebrush.

Fenceline: the tall bluebunch wheatgrass disappears in the grazed allotment, and cheatgrass increases. Healthy bitterbrush is seen in the ungrazed exclosure.

The third day was a field trip to Trout Creek on the BLM-managed allotment, where we observed a deeply-incised stream, with historic and modern cattle erosion impacts causing extreme streambank erosion and collapse. The stream is now disconnected from its original floodplain. We cover this in educational modules, but here we can see it with our own eyes, how chronic cattle grazing has caused such significant changes to this stream and the floodplain. 

Trout Creek in the Salmon River allotment on land managed by Bureau of Land Management. Chronic historic and ongoing cattle grazing and trampling has caused this stream to deeply erode and incise. This system is a mess.

In a recovering fenced area with no grazing for 6 or 7 years: willows return, and the stream banks begin to stabilize. 

How Not To Be Cowed


Becoming an Effective Warrior

for Our Public Lands


When: May 25th -27th

Where: Elko County, Nevada


Come join a group of experts in western ecology and federal agencies to learn how to maximize your effectiveness in protecting our public lands.


George Wuerthner - ecologist, ecological projects director for the Foundation for Deep Ecology, author of 38 books


Welfare Ranching – Understanding the vast web of impacts of public lands livestock grazing


Jonathan Ratner - ecologist


How to be an effective watchdog of the agencies

The Framework - Understanding law, regulations and policy

FOIA – Get the inside information

Monitoring and documentation (think like a detective)

Ecological Site Descriptions



Roger Rosentreter – Retired Bureau of Land Management researcher, plant ecologist


Soils 101 – A view into the foundation of the ecosystem,

Biological Soil Crusts


Laura Cunningham and Laura Welp – botanists


How to listen to the plant community to hear what it’s telling you

The training begins at 9 am, May 25th and continues until 5 pm, on the 26th.  An optional Field Trip Offering on Monday May 27, to spring exclosures and riparian areas.


Accommodation is camping on BLM land or motels in Jackpot, NV.


Bring your own food and drink. Coffee, tea, cream and sugar provided. Kitchen, bathroom and good water will be available!


There is no fee for this training event. But if you can donate $25 to help cover instructor travel that would be greatly appreciated. Donate here.


Number of participants will be limited to 20.

Directions to the workshop location at a private house and property with a sagebrush-steppe restoration project surrounded by a BLM grazing allotment will be emailed to attendees. This is in northeastern Nevada, north of Wells, NV from I-80.

Rocovering Bluebunch wheatgrass steppe exclosure free of cattle grazing, NE Nevada.