Conservation reports and data

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Enduring a decade of drought: Patterns and drivers of vegetation change in a semi-arid grassland (September 2016)

This study used a long-term dataset to examine the impacts of drought on grassland conditions at Las Cienegas National Conservation Area in southeastern Arizona from 2004-2014. Changes included declines in perennial grass basal cover with patchy mortality, leaf litter increases, shrub declines and increases in non-native grass, Lehmann’s Lovegrass (Eragrostis lehmanniana). Grassland cover declined by 25-50% in years with low precipitation from January-June. Given that global climate models predict steep declines in spring rainfall, grassland managers could improve grassland resilience by monitoring rainfall and associated mortality across multiple months, including non-traditional seasons, and by establishing contingency plans for various types of drought. The dataset was developed through a partnership between The Nature Conservancy and Bureau of Land Management with monitoring assistance from stakeholders.

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San Pedro River Wet-Dry Maps (October 2016)

The San Pedro River wet/dry mapping dataset is a community effort to track the river’s health by monitoring the persistence of surface water during the driest time of each year. It is created by recording the end points of every wet section of the San Pedro River during June each year. Maps depict the wet portion of the San Pedro River.

San Pedro River Wet/Dry Map Animation (October 2016)

Every June groups of volunteers walk the entire 170 mile length of the San Pedro River and record where it is wet and where it is dry during the hottest, driest time of the year. Sixteen years’ worth of data on summertime surface flows in the San Pedro River within the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area (SPRNCA) are now available as an animation. Watch to see the changes in surface flow over time. These observations were recorded by citizen scientists through the Wet/Dry Mapping project- a collaboration between TNC and the Bureau of Land Management on this particular reach of the San Pedro River.  Follow this link to see what they found from 1999 to 2015 on the approximately 50 miles of the San Pedro River that flows through the SPRNCA.

Notes about the data and animation:

  1. Use the play, pause, and advance buttons at the bottom to view the animation.

  2. Use the plus or minus keys to zoom in on portions of the river.

  3. Survey dates varied from year to year, but have been standardized to June 29 for purposes of this animation.

  4. Although the animation time scale at the bottom indicates a one year date range, the data shown is actually the annual standardized June 29th survey date. To make the scale date appear as that one point in time, click on and drag one of the time markers on top of the other.

Go to the animation

Accelerated Forest Thinning Improves Runoff in Salt-Verde watersheds (October 2014)

This article examines the influence of climate variability and accelerated forest thinning on runoff in ponderosa pine forests in the Salt and Verde River watersheds in central Arizona. The effects of thinning treatments were examined over 15-, 25-, and 35-year periods. Over the course of treatments, cumulative runoff on thinned forests was about 20% greater than un-thinned forests, regardless of whether forest thinning occurred in a dry or wet period. Runoff gains were temporary and modest when compared to total annual flows in Salt-Verde (≤3%). Nonetheless, additional runoff from thinning could help offset projected declines in snowpack due to warming, augment river flows on a seasonal basis, improve conditions for water dependent natural resources, as well as provide incidental benefits to downstream users.

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Integrating Collaboration, Adaptive Management, and Scenario-Planning: Experiences at Las Cienegas (December 2013)

Part of the Ecology and Society journal’s special issue on adaptive management, this paper summarizes the essential lessons learned from 15 years’ of collaboration and strong commitment from public stakeholders at Las Cienegas National Conservation Area in southeastern Arizona.  The paper describes key components of a program that continues to expand and attract expertise and investment by stakeholders, including: (1) agreement on watershed health goals with measurable resource objectives; (2) gathering relevant and reliable scientific information; (3) creating mechanisms to incorporate new information into decision-making; and 4) using shared learning to improve both the process and management actions. Since 1998, this approach has proved successful for resolving challenging issues and has focused public and private investment on improving land health. Other papers in this special issue provide context and additional examples of adaptive management in practice, including an effort at the Agua Fria National Monument that is being modeled after work at Las Cienegas; all papers can be found here .

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Mapping Distribution and Ecological Condition of Sacaton Riparian Grasslands in Upper Cienega Creek (November 2013)

Riparian grasslands dominated by Sporobolus wrightii (big sacaton) are key resources for watershed function, livestock, and wildlife. The upper Cienega Creek watershed in SE Arizona is thought to harbor some of the region’s most extensive sacaton stands. This study maps the distribution of sacaton stands in the watershed, assesses their status, and tests methods for use in other valley bottoms in the region. A more detailed report is available here.

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Paleoenvironmental Framework for Understanding Desert Ciénegas (November 2013)

The history of ciénegas in the American Southwest over the last 8,000 years provides information on the dynamics of growth, longevity, and stability of these wetland habitats under previous climate conditions. Ciénega surfaces alternate between wetland and dryland phases, identified by changes in pollen preservation and isotopic signatures. This study presents a conceptual model on the controls for different ciénega states and how the paleoenvironmental record of change can be used in conservation, restoration, and management of these critical habitats.

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FireScape: A Program for Whole-Mountain Fire Management in the Sky Island Region (November 2013)

The Coronado National Forest’s FireScape program works to remove barriers to fire playing its natural role on the landscape. The FireScape team is nurturing multiple efforts around the Sky Islands—no two projects are alike, but those underway share an approach that includes multiple jurisdictions, investigations by University of Arizona scientists, public engagement, assessing treatment need at the whole-mountain scale, and creatively removing implementation barriers when funding is scarce. See also the Southwest Forest Assessment page.

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Sustaining the Grassland Sea (November 2013)

Grasslands of the Sky Islands region once covered over 13 million acres in southeastern Arizona and adjacent portions of New Mexico, Sonora, and Chihuahua. Roughly two-thirds of these remain as intact or restorable grassland habitat that provide watershed services such as flood control and aquifer recharge across the region, and continue to support dozens of species of concern. This study merged grassland condition assessments, information on grassland species, and expert knowledge to prioritize grassland landscapes across the region.

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Sacaton Riparian Grasslands: Mapping Distribution and Ecological Condition (October 2012)

Riparian grasslands dominated by big sacaton (Sporobolus wrightii) once covered floodplains across the southwest, but have been reduced to some 5% of their historical extent. Sacaton stands that remain provide key resources for watershed function, wildlife, and livestock—yet may need special management to sustain these benefits. This report describes mapping methods and management recommendations that can be applied to riparian grasslands throughout the region. By examining sacaton grasslands in the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area, this project also refines methods for evaluating ecological condition, and provides managers at this site with detailed maps of both high-quality habitat and restoration needs.

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