This publication is the result of concerns expressed regarding the definition and subsequent use of ground cover in rangeland monitoring. We reviewed 20 monitoring publications. All publications reviewed contained a definition of ground cover and/or direction on how to monitor ground cover. The majority of these publications also defined bare ground. In all cases, bare ground was defined as the opposite of ground cover.
We identified critical criteria of ground cover based on the role it plays in soil conservation as it relates to water and wind erosion. Critical criteria identified included standing and nonstanding live vegetation, standing and nonstanding dead vegetation including litter, and rock. We compared these critical criteria to the 20 monitoring publications reviewed. We found 19 of these publications included the criteria standing live vegetation or similar words and standing dead vegetation or similar words in their definition and/or use of ground cover. The one source where standing live or dead vegetation or similar words were not included was “Indicators of Rangeland Health and Functionality in the Intermountain West.” This publication was produced by the US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. Ground cover was limited to basal vegetation, litter, moss/lichen, or rock. We also found inconsistencies in the definition and subsequent use of ground cover in Forest Service Handbook 2209.21—Rangeland Ecosystem Analysis and Monitoring Handbook, Intermountain Region.
We contend a large volume of literature supports the inclusion of critical criteria as identified in this report as ground cover. These criteria are essential components contributing to resistance of water and wind erosion important to soil conservation. This review demonstrates the importance of accurately defining and subsequently including critical criteria in rangeland attributes including ground cover. This paper addresses standardizing terms and calculations used in determining ground cover.