The reliability of monitoring visual obstruction and estimating standing herbage with a modified Robel pole was examined for high-elevation meadows in sedimentary soils on the Bighorn National Forest, Wyoming. Our objectives were to (1) test a modified pole graduated with 1.27-cm (0.5-inch) bands for estimating standing herbage based on linear regression of visual obstruction readings (VORs) on standing herbage, (2) validate the derived regression, (3) provide sample size estimates, and (4) develop guidelines for monitoring mountain grasslands. Each transect had 20 visual obstruction stations spaced 10 meters apart with 4 visual obstruction readings at each station. At 4 stations, vegetation within a 0.25-m2 area was clipped at ground level. VORs and clipped standing herbage were averaged by transect for analysis. Visual obstruction reliably predicted average standing herbage (dry weights) for mountain meadows (r2 = 0.81, s𝑥̄= 382 kg ·ha−1). Standing herbage ranged from 387 kg ·ha−1 to 3930 kg ·ha−1, with a mean of 1742 kg ·ha−1. A validation data set of 13 transects sampled across the range of variation in standing crop showed that 85% of transects fell within the 90% prediction limits. We recommend a minimum of 4 transects for monitoring key areas or small areas up to 259 ha (640 acres) when managers need to consider differences in VOR bands and address multiple objectives. Cluster analyses (ISODATA) applied to the pole readings resulted in 4 visual obstruction categories: short, short-intermediate, tall-intermediate, and tall. This tool provides a simple, reliable, and cost-effective (time-saving) alternative to clipping vegetation and obtaining dry weights for monitoring.
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Vol. 68 • No. 1