Southwest Forest Assessment Project

We collaborated with the U.S. Forest Service to develop the scientific foundation to restore ecosystems throughout Arizona and New Mexico's National Forests, support preparation of Forest Plan revisions, and assist the public in evaluating restoration and management strategies.

Tools to understand southwest forest resources

To help develop a contemporary understanding of the biological resources on National Forest lands, we developed several new data sets and a series of forest-specific reports with information on the status of biological resources on National Forest lands.

Region 3 species database

We have compiled an up-to-date database of the species that occur on Region 3 Forests. The data set was developed by combining and updating data sets maintained across Region 3 Forests. It is comprehensive for aquatic and terrestrial vertebrates, and also includes many plants and invertebrates that may be of special management concern; however, it is not comprehensive for these taxonomic groups. All data were updated with current conservation and distribution information from NatureServe.

Ecosystem diversity reports

We synthesized regional assessment data on the status, distribution, and condition of the species and ecological systems managed by USFS into a report for each of the 11 National Forests in Region 3. The ecosystem diversity reports include an assessment of:

Historical fire frequency for Arizona and New Mexico. Click image to enlarge.

  • species’ distributions
  • vegetation patterns
  • grassland condition
  • aquatic habitat
  • areas of regional biological significance

Fire-return interval dataset and report

The GIS data set and report synthesizes the fire-history literature and maps data on the historical fire return intervals associated with the major vegetation systems across Arizona and New Mexico. The map and data set underscore the spatial extent of fire-adapted ecosystems in the Southwest.

Tools to understand change in a dynamic landscape

The science of landscape dynamics and landscape change has advanced considerably since the first Forest Plans were developed in the 1980s and early 1990s. As part of the Southwest Forest Assessment Project, we reviewed the scientific literature to develop tools that characterize change and enable USFS and stakeholders to evaluate potential management scenarios.

Historical range of variation of forests & grasslands

Understanding the drivers of vegetation change over time enables land managers to better plan and manage our resources. We synthesized the scientific literature characterizing variation in the structure, composition, and ecological condition of alpine, forest, woodland, and grassland systems, as well as the influence of climatic fluctuations and disturbance regimes such as wildfire and flooding.

Data derived from the literature reviews were integrated into the Vegetation Dynamic Development Tool (VDDT), a simulation modeling platform that enables users to evaluate vegetation dynamics at the landscape level. The tool is well-suited for collaborative learning about desired conditions and potential management scenarios.

Peer review process

All of the reports and data sets developed for this project were subjected to external peer review to ensure conformance with the Forest Service’s Science Consistency Review Standards.