The guide provides a new framework for reducing vulnerability and implementing strategies to proactively solve woody encroachment.

A new guide, produced through a partnership between public university extension programs in the Great Plains, the USDA-NRCS’s Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW), the USDA-NRCS’s Central National Technology Support Center (CNTSC), and various other conservation partners, provides the first-ever framework for addressing woody encroachment, now recognized as one of the top two drivers of grassland loss in the Great Plains.

“For the first time, we have scientific guidance that helps land managers assess and eliminate the underlying ecological risks that make grasslands vulnerable to encroachment,” explained lead author Dr. Dirac Twidwell, from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and WLFW science advisor. “For too long, our management philosophy has followed a ‘command and control’ approach that reacts to the problem and simply hasn’t kept pace with the rate of grassland loss to encroachment in the Great Plains. This guide offers a new approach that confronts risks to grasslands in a way that efficiently, effectively, and more economically manages grassland resources.”

The guide includes an integrated four-step framework for understanding the ecological threat of woody encroachment and developing threat reduction strategies. The framework addresses the following topics:

Understanding the ecology of woody plant encroachment
Understanding problems of scale in grassland management
Understanding risk and vulnerability and how to manage it
Developing a spatial game to improve outcomes
With 65 different citations, 18 figures, and concept-specific photographs, the guide is grounded in science, but written for land managers actively managing grasslands in the Great Plains. The guide is not a stand-alone tool for managing woody encroachment, rather it provides an improved strategy that empowers managers to overcome the shortcomings of the existing rangeland management paradigm.

Specific considerations are detailed for each stage of the encroachment process, providing managers with new ways of thinking about woody encroachment and an easy-to-visualize targeting approach for implementing the management actions that can help protect some of the best remaining and largest intact grasslands in the world from this threat.

The new guide was used to inform WLFW’s Framework for Conservation Action in the Great Plains Biome (April 2021), which highlights the agency’s science-driven, voluntary-conservation approach to woody encroachment and land-use conversion. Together, these materials provide land managers with two key frameworks specifically tied to maintaining the health, resiliency, and vitality of the Great Plains grasslands biome.

“Reducing Woody Encroachment in Grasslands: A Guide for Understanding Risk and Vulnerability” was authored by Dirac Twidwell (University of Nebraska-Lincoln and WLFW), Dillon Fogarty (University of Nebraska-Lincoln), and John Weir (Oklahoma State University), with contributions from Carol E. Baldwin (Kansas State University), Pete Bauman (South Dakota State University), Doug Cram (New Mexico State University), Laura Goodman (Oklahoma State University), Ryan F. Limb (North Dakota State University), J. Derek Scasta (University of Wyoming), and Morgan L. Treadwell (Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service).