Sergio Arispe, Extension livestock and rangeland specialist and associate professor in the Oregon State University College of Agricultural Sciences in the Oregon State University College of Agricultural Sciences, is one of only eight people in the country to receive the coveted New Technologies for Agricultural Extension Fellowship from the eXtension Foundation.

The goal of Arispe’s project – Equipping Western Rangeland Managers to Create Land Management Plans – is to generate regional impact by increasing the number of western rangeland mangers using geographic information system (GIS) and remote sensing (RS) tools to develop land management plans promoting functional sagebrush steppe.

Arispe’s efforts will enhance and complete a piloted Google Earth Pro-GIS (GEP-GIS) hybrid Extension course taught to 33 rangeland managers in Idaho and Oregon. It consisted of eight modules that highlighted the basics of GEP – a free, user-friendly desktop application – rangeland management principles, GIS tools, and land management planning, which culminated with a virtual land management plan after 15 hours of participation.

“This incredible opportunity provides my team and me with the opportunity to directly address healthy lands and healthy landscapes across the sagebrush steppe of the western U.S.,” said Arispe, who is based in the rangeland of Malheur County. “I’m excited because the NTAE Fellowship spurs my Cooperative Extension team into the 21st Century. Ultimately, we expect to increase the number of western rangeland managers using GIS tools to develop land management plans.  Ultimately, this will help us maintain functionally healthy sagebrush rangelands for today without compromising the existence for future generations.”

Arispe and his team will focus on enhancing and finalizing the course that combines technological innovation and principles to promote Extension partnerships and participant learning. For example, he said, it will finalize a draft of a promising remote sensing module for rangeland managers to visualize landscape-scale vegetative changes, incorporate 360-degree pictures with video explanations and promote participant interaction through discussion.

His objective is that by August 2021, the project will complete the hybrid and online GEP-GIS Extension course and at least 150 participants managing western sagebrush steppe rangelands will successfully complete it. The goal is to have 75% of the participants increase their sagebrush steppe knowledge and gain skills to create rangeland maps in GE. Seventy-five percent of the participants will create land management plans using the science-based, threat-based land management tool.

The sagebrush steppe covers approximately 90 million acres across 11 western states and supports plant communities that sustain wildlife, recreation, watersheds and rangeland-based cattle production, according to Arispe. Nearly 21.5 million cattle and calves across the west are worth an estimated $25 billion. Ecological threats jeopardize cattle production and 350 plant and animal species. Through his course, private and public land managers will gain the knowledge and skills to promote functional, healthy rangelands and evaluate ongoing management practices using affordable GIS tools.

“We are now able to immerse land managers into different ecological states across the sagebrush steppe of the northern Great Basin using 360-degree images,” Arispe said.  “How cool is it to be able to see a diversity plant and animal life across millions of acres within one course?

~Kym Pokorny