National Drought Mitigation Center


Photographing range can help decision-making during and after drought

April 30, 2014

Photos are more reliable than memory for helping spot changes to range condition, says Julie Elliott, with the Natural Resource Conservation Service in northeast Colorado. In the first of two free webinars, Elliott will speak May 15 about how and why ranchers can benefit from photographing range conditions.

“We don’t realize what’s really happening if we don’t have that record to go back and look at,” Elliott said. “The perception of people here is we’ve had a pretty good spring, but the ground is dry and it’s hard.”

Although drought in the High Plains has eased since 2012, it’s still too soon to say that all of the rangeland is in recovery mode, Elliott said.  “This drought is one that we’ve never experienced before,” she said. “It’s not like the 30s or the 50s or the 70s. It’s actually worse in the short term. We want photos so people can look back and see what worked and what didn’t.”

Photos can help ranchers identify change sooner, whether it’s improvement as a result of a new management system, or stress, as a result of drought or other unfavorable conditions.  “There might be more cheat grass or more bare ground, but we don’t want to see it,” Elliott said. “Photos help keep us honest.”

The National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is offering free webinars at 10 a.m. CDT on May 15 and 22 to walk through the how’s and why’s of photographically documenting forage conditions, particularly during drought recovery.

On May 15, Elliott, a rangeland management specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s NRCS in Wray, Colo., will detail what to look for when photographically monitoring range conditions during and after drought, and Pat Reece, of Prairie Montane Enterprises, will talk about using photo points, a method that involves photographing the same location in different seasons over the years to document seasonal and long-term change.

On May 22, Bethany Johnston, UNL Extension, will review GrassSnap, a new app for smart phones that simplifies positioning for photo points, and Kelly Helm Smith, National Drought Mitigation Center, will talk about how and why ranchers can contribute their photos to the Drought Impact Reporter, a national, web-based archive of drought impacts. 

The combination of cameras in phones and dedicated apps make it easier than ever before for ranchers to create photographic records. “The more steps we can take out, the easier it will be for people to do it,” Elliott said.

For more information, please contact Tonya Haigh, National Drought Mitigation Center,, 402-472-6781. To register for the free webinars, go to