General questions about the Methods Guide

What is the Methods Guide?

The Rangeland Assessment and Monitoring Methods Guide is a web-based tool and resource designed to give researchers and managers the information necessary to make informed decisions about which field and remote-sensing method or combination of methods could be most useful and cost effective for their specific rangeland management needs. The Methods Guide provides reviews on how well each method performs to answer specific questions as well as descriptions, relative costs, references to rangeland applications, and contact information for the different techniques. The techniques are rated through expert and user reviews. The Methods Guide is intended to be the users’ first step to selecting assessment and monitoring protocols by providing enough information on strengths, limitations, and rangeland applications that users can seek additional, more specific how-to information on the recommended techniques.

Can I cite the methods guide as a reference for a method?

We would prefer that, whenever possible, you cite the original references for the methods, rather than citing the Methods Guide itself as a source of information on a particular method. This is because the goal of the wiki pages is to provide a brief summaries and discussion of the method and its rangeland applications and not to be a comprehensive or authoritative source of information on a method. The wiki page for each method should contain citations and/or links to the original documentation or publications for the method.

Over what geographic area can the methods guide be applied?

The Methods Guide was originally designed to be applied in the arid west of the United States. Many of the methods in the Methods Guide were developed for arid shrublands or grasslands, and the summaries, discussions and recommendations may be specific to those environments. We believe, however, that the Methods Guide as it is now could be applied to semi-arid ecosystems outside of the United States. We also have plans in the future to expand the scope of the Method Guide beyond rangelands.

What is the future of the Methods Guide?

Currently, the Methods Guide considers only field and remote sensing methods. Our goal is to expand the scope of the Methods Guide to include additional topics like sample design, protocols (i.e., specific collections of methods), databases, etc. Over time, the Methods Guide will evolve into a platform for linking to and integrating many of the different methods and tools as well as available and newly-collected data and knowledge on rangelands to create workflows that address management objectives.

What is the Landscape Toolbox and how does the Methods Guide relate to it?

The Landscape Toolbox is a joint project of The Nature Conservancy and the USDA Agricultural Research Service’s Jornada Experimental Range. The goal of the Landscape Toolbox is to identify and integrate existing and newly created tools, methods, data and knowledge for rangeland assessment, monitoring, and planning to enable better rangeland management at landscape scales. The Methods Guide is one of the tools of the Landscape Toolbox and a central part of the Landscape Toolbox multi-scale framework. For more information, visit the Landscape Toolbox website.

How to use the Methods Guide

I’ve found something that isn’t correct (or doesn’t work). How can I report it so that it gets fixed?

Please contact us directly.

How the Methods Guide works

Where did the management questions come from?

The management questions in the Methods Guide were generated by a panel of rangeland scientists, managers, ecologists, and ranchers in Idaho and Oregon. The group represented a range of academic, governmental (federal and state land-management agency), non-governmental organization, and private partners. Panel members were asked to list questions or management objectives relevant to rangeland assessment and monitoring, and their responses were compiled into the list of questions used in the Methods Guide. This list, however, is not static, and more questions can and will be added to it. If you have a question that you would like addressed, please contact us.

A method I know about and/or use isn’t included in the methods guide. How do I get it included?

That’s great, and we want to know about it! You can let us know by getting in touch with us directly. Be prepared for us to ask you to contribute to the wiki page for it though!

Where did the precision, cost, and relevance ratings come from?

The precision, cost, and relevance ratings came from a group of rangeland scientists, managers, and remote-sensing experts. Right now, there is only a single precision, cost, and relevance rating given to each method, but we’re working on developing the ability to have many ratings per method with specific comments or reviews and the ability to click on the presented average rating to see all of the ratings.

How are the method recommendations made from the questions?

We would love to have each question considered individually against each of the methods in the Methods Guide, but this would not be practical given the number of methods we are considering. To make the recommendations, then, each of the questions is associated with one or more data needs (e.g., cover, site potential, production, fuels, condition). Each of the methods is then assigned the type of information that it provides (e.g., cover, density, greenness, classification). The method information types are then rated against the question data needs, and these default ratings assigned to each question/method combination. There is a provision, however, for the default values to be overridden if the default values are not appropriate.

Why is scale important to making method recommendations?

The scale of the management question or objective being considered affects many aspects of assessment and monitoring. In general, the patterns that can be observed and the inferences that can be drawn from observations changes with scale (The Landscape Toolbox has more information on asking questions at different scales). For remote sensing, scale directly affects the resolution of imagery that is appropriate and feasible to use. For example, analyzing a small pasture using 1-km resolution imagery may not be very informative. Conversely, using 6-inch resolution imagery for a large landscape analysis would not be feasible. For field data, the scale of the application heavily influences how you place your sample points across the study area.

The scale of the management question or objective directly affects the type of imagery that would be appropriate and feasible to use for a remote sensing method. For field methods, though, scale is manifest through the placement of the sample points (i.e., the sample design). We are working on developing the sample design aspect of the field recommendations, and when this feature is implemented, the scale option will affect the field method recommendations.

How often are the recommendations updated?

The recommendations are not updated as frequently as the wiki pages. At this point, the recommendations are the consensus of groups of experts, and are only updates when there is a problem identified or when new methods are added. We are working on the adding the ability for the ratings to be the combination of many different expert’s opinions with the functionality to click on the ratings and see each of the individual ratings.

The wiki and why we’re using it

What is a wiki, and why are you using a wiki for documenting rangeland methods?

A wiki is a specialized website that allows for linked/related webpages to be easily created and edited by a group of people who share a common purpose. We chose a wiki-format for the Methods Guide for several reasons. First, the wiki makes it easy and fast to add new methods or topics to the Methods Guide or to add to or correct the content on any given page. Second, the wiki allows us to compile information from many different sources without having to recreate it or host it ourselves and make that information widely available. Third, a wiki give us the chance to engage a community of people to keep the content on the site accurate and up to date. Even if we could synthesize all of the field and remote-sensing methods that are in the wiki into a traditional document, it would be out of date before it was ever released. New methods are constantly being developed and existing methods being refined. It’s our goal to become the best place to learn about new and existing methods, and to do that we need to tap the experiences of the people who are using them on the ground.

Who wrote the wiki pages?

The idea of a wiki is that a community of people can contribute to the content, so the intent with the Methods guide is that any given wiki page (i.e., abstract) reflects the shared experiences and knowledge of a bunch of people. That said, most pages in the wiki have not yet seen that level of engagement. The author(s) of each wiki page, someone who has expertise in the subject, are listed at the top of each page unless they wish to remain anonymous. Editing privileges for the wiki must be requested to help protect the site and ensure the quality of the content. It is also our goal to have each wiki page independently reviewed.

How are you controlling for the accuracy/integrity of the information on the site?

With a true wiki, the people using the site identify and correct any problems with content. We recognize, though, that we’re not Wikipedia and we’ve taken steps to ensure that the content in the Methods Guide is as accurate and unbiased as possible. First, each wiki page is written by an expert on that subject. Second, the site can only be edited by registered users and beyond discussion topics (which are monitored), at this time privileges to edit content in a wiki page must be requested from the site administrator. Third, it is our goal to have all of the wiki pages independently reviewed, and each page the review status is clearly marked at the top of each page.

What is the purpose of the wiki pages?

The wiki page for each method serves several purposes. First and foremost, it is intended to be an easy-to-understand summary of the method with a discussion of its advantages/disadvantages, rangeland uses, and references. Second, the wiki page is link to more information on the subject including who you might get in touch with to learn more about it. Third, the wiki page is a place for you to share your experiences with a particular method and thereby increase the usefulness of the wiki to everybody. It’s also important to state what the wiki pages are NOT. They aren’t intended to be a comprehensive source of information on a method – just a summary of the important points and uses. As such, the purpose of the Methods Guide is not to replace existing manuals that document methods and protocols, but rather to supplement them. Likewise, the wiki pages are NOT intended to teach you how to do a particular method either. That’s the job of the manuals, technical references, and training.

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