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.Download file (1580KB)
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.
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.Download file (847KB)
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 .Download file (1.3MB)
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.Download file (3.4MB)
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.Download file (1MB)
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.Download file (0.3MB)
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.Download file (1.8MB)
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.Download file (5.6 MB)
Central Arizona’s Verde River is a natural resource that is critical to the regional economy, environmental sustainability, and quality of life. The river’s future is uncertain, however, as there are still unresolved issues over how we grow while sustaining a healthy river. This report examines possible futures for the Verde River within the Verde Valley and provides information for stakeholders and decision-makers on the river’s resources, economic value, and tools for promoting sustainable water management. The report also summarizes three water management case studies from around the western U.S. that characterize the range of water management options that communities have adopted.Download file (4 MB)
Published in Environmental Management, this article describes a simple method for monitoring the flow status of interrupted perennial streams, with the example of a 12-year effort on the San Pedro River. We found that surface flow increased for parts of the river, apparently due to conservation actions, while other parts were stable or may have declined. The data allowed us to map areas with surface flow in every year, totaling 32% of the river length through the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area (SPRNCA). These maps show areas with high year-to-year variation in flow length, which indicate changes in local groundwater conditions and may provide early warning of ecological changes.Download file (1 MB)
Example wet/dry mapping instructions and data forms used for the San Pedro wet/dry mapping effort. For more information, see our wet/dry mapping page.
This regional assessment examines the impacts of temperature change from 1951-2006 on natural resources in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah. It documents that warming has already affected habitats, watersheds, and species in the Southwest, by influencing the timing of seasonal events or amplifying the impacts of natural disturbances such as wildfire and drought. The report concludes that to begin adapting to climate change, natural resource managers should reevaluate the effectiveness of current restoration tools, modify resource objectives, learn from climate-smart adaptive management and monitoring, and share information across boundaries.
The Nature Conservancy commissioned a scientific literature review on impacts to aquatic organisms from exposure to municipal wastewater effluent. The review also covers the effectiveness and costs of available treatment technology for reducing exposure. The review was prepared by Dr. David Quanrud of the University of Arizona and Dr. Catherine Propper of Northern Arizona University. The executive summary provides an overview of the report’s major findings, including the best practices identified in the scientific literature for treating effluent.
The White Mountains Stewardship Project on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona was designed to reduce the impacts of wildfires on communities, improve wildlife habitat, and help stimulate employment in the wood products industry. A multi-party monitoring board was convened to design a program for evaluating project effectiveness. This report summarizes results from five years of data on economic, social, administrative, and ecological indicators and provides recommendations for improving program effectiveness moving forward.
This user-friendly field guide can help people of all skill levels identify 50 native and exotic perennial grasses, plus several annual species. This guide grew out of citizen science involvement tracking grassland health at the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area in southeastern Arizona. Some species illustrated here occur across the West; others are local specialties.Download file (8 MB)
Documents biodiversity values for a large Sonoran Desert landscape, the Expanded Kofa Complex, including land managed by the BLM, the U.S. Army at Yuma Proving Ground, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at Kofa National Wildlife Refuge. This report describes and maps natural communities that merit conservation focus, and provides data on species of particular concern.Download file (7.7 MB)
Series of 4 map exhibits illustrating conservation-related data on the status of this internationally-recognized desert river and riparian corridor. Maps include both the U.S. and Mexico portions of the San Pedro watershed depicting the following themes: Conservation Investments; Riparian Ecological Condition; Current and Formerly Perennial Stream Reaches; and a Water Budget.Download file (21 MB)
Presents a literature review and results of a May 2007 workshop where 35 subject experts from 16 agencies and institutions synthesized the state of knowledge for central Arizona’s Verde River. Report describes the river’s ecosystem, including its hydrology, geomorphology, riparian, and aquatic habitats, and fish and wildlife species – and how components would respond to changes in surface- and groundwater flows.
Presents information on the condition of riparian habitats and compares these with objectives established in BLM’s Resource Management Plan. Includes 1) an analysis of data collected between 1990 and 2006 on the condition of the NCA’s riparian forests and stream channel geomorphology, 2) an ecological state-and-transition model that describes relationships between habitat types and disturbance forces, and 3) a review of monitoring protocols with options for making monitoring more informative and efficient.
Download file (7.4 MB)
Describes the methods used to develop a GIS dataset for 33 native fish species in Arizona, presents results of some analyses using the data, and describes the data’s utility for the conservation of native fish. This is a preprint of an article published in Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, Vol. 17: 737-748 (2007).Download file (< 1 MB)
This study analyzed 15 years of data on the endangered Gila topminnow (Poeciliopsis occidentalis occidentalis) to determine the population status and trend at Las Cienegas. We also tested alternative monitoring protocol to provide managers with more timely and reliable information on topminnow populations.Download file (1.5 MB)
Describes challenges for managing water resources in the Southwest, and recommends actions to improve ecologically sustainable water management. Published in May/June 2007 issue of Southwest Hydrology.Download file (1.3 MB)
Descriptions of the Historical Range of Variation or Variability (HRV) characterize the change over time and space in the condition of the Southwest’s major vegetation types and the ecological processes that shape those types. HRVs enable land managers and the public to understand the drivers of change in our region’s major vegetation types.
All of the reports and data sets developed for the Southwest Forest Assessment Project were subjected to external peer review to ensure conformance with the Forest Service’s Science Consistency Review Standards. This report includes a complete list of the resource professionals who reviewed the various components of this project.Download file (<1 MB)
Ecosystem diversity reports were developed to support the Forest Service’s need for information on the species and ecosystems that occur on National Forests in Region 3. The reports contain data summaries and analyses of a variety of regional datasets. Each report is packaged with an introduction and chapters describing methods and data sources.
Provides an overview of ecoregional assessments and the process used to create a standardized, cross-ecoregional dataset for six ecoregions within and adjacent to Arizona.Download file (5 MB)
Brief overview describing a collaborative effort between The Nature Conservancy and U.S. Forest Service Region 3 in Arizona and New Mexico, a project designed to develop scientific information for forest plan revisions and to help in the restoration of ecosystems.Download file (< 1 MB)
Synthesizes the scientific literature on historical fire return intervals associated with the major vegetation systems across Arizona and New Mexico. Included is a crosswalk table for use with the Southwest Regional Gap Analysis Project’s land cover dataset and three ArcGIS layer (.lyr) files that enable the user to mimic the report graphics.Download file (<1 MB)
Jointly authored by BLM and TNC, this report summarizes the monitoring information used and decision-making process for the 2005-2006 grazing plan at Las Ciénegas National Conservation Area. The report details how BLM, with input from partners, advisory teams, and the grazing permittee, are using upland monitoring data and pasture reconnaissance to make grazing management decisions.Download file (5 MB)
The Huachuca Area Fire Partners, an alliance of public and private groups in southeastern Arizona, came together to restore and manage fire activities over a 500,000-acre area that includes the Huachuca Mountains and surrounding grasslands. The Fire Management Plan provides a framework for landscape-level fire management — its goals include collectively implementing fire management projects that participants are unable to accomplish on their own and managing fire across jurisdictional boundaries.Download file (12 MB)
The document summarizes the lessons learned from The Nature Conservancy and Sonoran Institute’s multi-year collaborative project with the Bureau of Land Management and Department of Defense at the Sonoran Desert National Monument and Goldwater Training Range.Download file (<1 MB)
Summarizes work completed to assist the Bureau of Land Management in the development and implementation of a science-based adaptive management and monitoring program to evaluate progress toward objectives established in BLM’s Resource Management Plan. Includes 1) an analysis of data collected between 1995 and 2004 on the condition and trend of the NCA’s grasslands, 2) a review of monitoring protocols, and 3) an outline of the adaptive management process implemented by BLM in 2004/2005.Download file (1 MB)
Developed for the BLM and Dept. of Defense, this report summarizes the results of The Nature Conservancy’s characterization of important biodiversity elements and the Sonoran Institute’s analysis of socioeconomic information for the Monument and surrounding environs. The data and analyses demonstrate the importance of coordinated management among the various public, private, and tribal land managers surrounding the National Monument as a mechanism for protecting the objects for which the Monument was designated.Download file (9 MB)
Describes research indicating groundwater is moving through the floodplain alluvial aquifer at Three Links Farm, and that most of this water originates from the Upper San Pedro River Basin. Published in March/April 2005 issue of Southwest Hydrology.Download file (< 1 MB)
Prepared for the BLM, this review includes a synthesis of the scientific literature on the impacts of livestock grazing and grazing management strategies for the Sonoran Desert. Also included are reviews of plant community dynamics, biological soil crust ecology, and grazing-vegetation interaction theory as they relate to an understanding of grazing impacts and strategies.Download file (3 MB)
Describes The Nature Conservancy’s flow management approach to increasing water supply for riparian vegetation, based largely on results from hydrologic analyses indicating that retiring agricultural pumping at key locations increases water availability for riparian vegetation. Paper presented at USFS conference, May 11-15, 2004.Download file (< 1 MB)
Documents efforts by TNC and BLM to test a model that prescribed burns can be used to improve watershed conditions and aquatic habitat conditions. Study documents pre- and post-treatment results for the response of grasslands and for populations of the threatened Gila chub (Gila intermedia). Paper presented at USFS conference, May 11-15, 2004.Download file (<1 MB)
This study reviews BLM’s fire management plans for Arizona, assessing the accuracy, standardization, and ecological relevance of current Phase I fire management areas. This second report documenting the results of TNC’s Arizona Grassland Assessment also makes recommendations for revisions to BLM’s fire management areas based on fire ecology and other considerations.Download file (3.5 MB)
Original reports summarizing the results of the six ecoregional conservation assessments completed for the southwestern U.S. and northwestern Mexico by The Nature Conservancy and partners.
This report is the first of two studies completed by TNC and partners to delineate the spatial extent and ecological condition of grasslands in central and southern Arizona, southwestern New Mexico, and northern Mexico. This report covers the 30-million acre Apache Highlands Ecoregion.
See also An Ecological Assessment of BLM’s Current Fire Management Practices and Arizona Grasslands Assessment GIS Data for related reports and data.Download file (1 MB)
Developed for Luke Air Force Base and Marine Corps Air Station, Yuma, this report provides the results from TNC’s site conservation planning process for the Barry M. Goldwater Range (BMGR) in southwestern Arizona. The identification of conservation elements, and their subsequent use in the development of management goals, land management categories, and management standards, serves as a biodiversity management framework that can be incorporated into the BMGR’s Integrated Natural Resource Management Plan.Download file (10 MB)
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