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New Article: A strategy for defining the reference for land health and degradation assessments


  • Reference information is required for land health and degradation assessments.
  • Historic references are difficult to define, but not always necessary.
  • The policy and management objectives requiring a historic reference are reviewed.
  • A new strategy for systematically defining reference conditions is presented.

Much of the confusion about the definition of reference conditions for land health and degradation assessments is due to differences in policy and management objectives. Selection of a historic reference where it is not necessary, such as in the definition of future land degradation neutrality, can add significant cost and uncertainty to land management projects that require some knowledge of the current status of the land relative to its potential.

This paper (1) provides a review of conditions under which historic reference information is and is not required to meet management and policy objectives, (2) summarizes current approaches to defining the reference for land health and degradation assessments, and (3) presents a protocol, “Describing Indicators of Rangeland Health” (DIRH) for collecting and organizing data that can be used to define a historic reference.

This protocol builds on the framework and indicators presented in the “Interpreting Indicators of Rangeland Health” (IIRH). IIRH uses a combination of scientific and local knowledge to generate soil- and climate-specific assessments of three attributes of land health. It is used in a number of countries. In the United States, data are aggregated over 30,000 locations to provide national assessments.( Jeffrey E. Herrick, Patrick Shaver, David A. Pyke