Conservation reports and data

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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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Policy Options for Water Management in the Verde Valley, Arizona (August 2011)

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.

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Wet/Dry Mapping: Using Citizen Scientists to Monitor the Extent of Perennial Surface Flow (February 2011)

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.

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Wet/Dry Mapping Instructions and Data Forms (April 2011)

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.

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