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Nov 2017

Forest Management and Warming Effects on a Century of Salt River Streamflow

Marcos D. Robles, Dale S. Turner, and Jeanmarie A. Haney
Colorado River Basin
Fire
Forest
USFS
Abstract

Recent studies suggest that climate change has altered the flow and provision of water from western US rivers to downstream cities and natural communities, but fewer studies have examined hydrological influences related to a century of fire suppression. This study evaluated the effects of changing forest and temperature conditions on 20th century flow patterns in the Salt River in central Arizona. Seasonal and annual flows declined by 8-29% in the first half of the century which coincided with a 10-fold increase in ponderosa pine forest densities. Based on a scientific review, there is strong evidence that changes in forest structure contributed to these flow declines. In the 2nd half of the century, warmer temperatures led to earlier timing of peak spring flows of almost 2 weeks but had negligible direct effects on flow magnitudes. These results suggest that forest change had effects on flow well before anthropogenic warming and that large-scale restoration projects hold some promise of recovering seasonal flows.

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(ALL RIGHTS GRANTED TNC) View of Escudilla Mountain. Fall colors heighten the natural beauty of forest and meadow in the White Mountains, one of Arizona’s last wide-open spaces and where TNC works to protect the headwaters of three major Arizona rivers: the Salt, Gila, and Little Colorado and their greenbelts – riparian habitats critical for wildlife and water quality – as well as restore healthy forests within the largest ponderosa pine community in the world, save rare and unique wildlife and plant species, and control non-native, invasive species, such as crayfish, Arizona. © Betsy D. Warner/TNC
Aerial view of the Parks West restoration site overseen by TNC. Taken March 16, 2020.
Conservancy staffers, Dale Turner and Amanda Rebore, helping to map the Sabn Pedro River in Arizona. They use a GPS unit to denote the end of the water flow on the LowerSan Pedro River. They hiked through the Conservancy’s San Pedro Preserve.

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The Nature Conservancy’s conservation science program in Arizona engages stakeholders and expertise in applied science and policy to develop new information, ideas, and tools that can help solve some of our most pressing challenges affecting people and nature

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Future Forests

We are working with partners and stakeholders to accelerate the pace and scale of forest restoration for a healthy Arizona

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Wet/dry mapping provides a low-cost, river-wide snapshot of hydrologic conditions for rivers with interrupted perennial surface flows.

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