Synthesis / Tech Report
Today, American conservation confronts the climate crisis, the biodiversity crisis, a global pandemic, skeptics of these threats, a massive federal deficit, economic hardship, social injustice, and political divisions that threaten our democracy. Yet, at the same time, people continue to explore new ways to work together to use science, collaboration, and innovation to advance efforts to protect our environment, conserve our natural resource legacy, and broaden its benefits for all Americans.
The researchers report on creating an unburned area data set for the Inland Northwest from 1984 – 2014 and subsequent analyses using this dataset. Here are some of the key findings for this JFSP project:
- Unburned area occurrence is consistent or stabilized to-date, with no evidence of increasing or decreasing trends under current climate conditions
- Unburned areas are utilized by sage grouse and help maintain viable populations when these fire refugia are present
- Persistent unburned islands are ecologically important areas and are related to specific topography and fuel type characteristics
- Persistent unburned area attributes differ between forests and rangelands
In 2009, at the behest of Congress, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the US Department of the Interior (DOI) were asked to develop a national, government-wide climate adaptation strategy for fish, wildlife, plants, and ecosystems. In doing so, the Federal Government recognized the immensity of climate change impacts on the Nation’s vital natural resources, as well as the critical need for partnership among federal, state, and tribal fish and wildlife agencies. More than 90 diverse technical, scientific, and management experts from across the country participated in the development and, in 2012, the National Fish, Wildlife, and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy (Strategy) was published. Designed to “inspire and enable natural resource managers, legislators, and other decision makers to take effective steps towards climate change adaptation over the next five to ten years,” the time has come for the natural resource community to consider the impact of the Strategy, while identifying the necessary evolution of it, to continue to effectively safeguard the Nation’s natural resources in a changing climate.
Across the United States, millions of acres of land have been so disturbed by human activities or severe climate events that significant portions of their native plant communities have been lost and their ecosystems have been seriously compromised. Restoring impaired ecosystems requires a supply of diverse native plant seeds that are well suited to the climates, soils, and other living species of the system. Native seeds are also in demand for applications in urban land management, roadside maintenance, conservation agriculture, and other restorative activities that take into account the connection between native plant communities and the increasingly urgent need for resilient landscapes. Given the varied climatic and environmental niches of the more than 17,000 native plant species of the United States, supplying the desired seed types and species mixes for this wide range of activities is a challenge.
This progress report highlights some of the many contributions and impacts of the JFSP over the past 2 years including:
- Continued scientific output from wildland fire research through manuscripts, management briefs, decision-support tools, and syntheses.
- Efficient delivery of wildland fire science to practitioners through the nationwide Fire Science Exchange Network.
- Incorporation of wildland fire science to improve policy, restoration success, public and firefighter health and safety, and fuels management, among others.
This open access book synthesizes leading-edge science and management information about forest and rangeland soils of the United States. It offers ways to better understand changing conditions and their impacts on soils, and explores directions that positively affect the future of forest and rangeland soil health. This book outlines soil processes and identifies the research needed to manage forest and rangeland soils in the United States. Chapters give an overview of the state of forest and rangeland soils research in the Nation, including multi-decadal programs (chapter 1), then summarizes various human-caused and natural impacts and their effects on soil carbon, hydrology, biogeochemistry, and biological diversity (chapters 2-5). Other chapters look at the effects of changing conditions on forest soils in wetland and urban settings (chapters 6-7). Impacts include: climate change, severe wildfires, invasive species, pests and diseases, pollution, and land use change. Chapter 8 considers approaches to maintaining or regaining forest and rangeland soil health in the face of these varied impacts. Mapping, monitoring, and data sharing are discussed in chapter 9 as ways to leverage scientific and human resources to address soil health at scales from the landscape to the individual parcel (monitoring networks, data sharing Web sites, and educational soils-centered programs are tabulated in appendix B). Chapter 10 highlights opportunities for deepening our understanding of soils and for sustaining long-term ecosystem health and appendix C summarizes research needs. Nine regional summaries (appendix A) offer a more detailed look at forest and rangeland soils in the United States and its Affiliates.
The Interpreting Indicators of Rangeland Health (IIRH) protocol is designed for assessing ecosystem function on rangelands and woodlands. The protocol was developed by an interagency cadre of technical experts and has been in use by for two decades. The protocol is well accepted and is a valuable tool for communicating rangeland conditions with stakeholders. Technical Reference 1734-6 Version 4, which describes the IIRH protocol, was published in 2005.
Refinements and improvements identified through 12 years of experience with class participants and field office personnel applying the protocol as outlined in Version 4 are incorporated into Version 5 of the technical reference. Indicators and attributes used in previous versions of the technical reference are largely the same, and following instructions in Version 5 is not expected to result in differing attribute ratings as compared to assessments completed using Version 4 of TR 1734-6 assuming that the same reference information is used.
View literature review.
To inform future restoration efforts, we reviewed the known effects of fire and habitat management and restoration on hummingbirds in four key habitat types in North America. We examined seven species that most commonly occur west of the Rocky Mountains: Rufous (Selasphorus rufus), Calliope (S. calliope), Broad-tailed (S. platycercus), Costa’s (Calypte costae), Black-chinned (Archilochus alexandri), Anna’s
(Calypte anna), and Allen’s (S. sasin). Our review found that most western hummingbird species respond positively to wild or prescribed fire in forested and chaparral habitats of the western United States, although some hummingbird occurrence declines following fire, possibly due to the loss of preferred nesting habitat in mature forests. Restoration practices that eradicate exotic plants, encourage the regeneration of native shrubs
and flowering plants (especially understory vegetation), and promote early and midsuccessional habitats connected with native stand trees will benefit hummingbirds by providing foraging habitat in migration and on breeding grounds. Restoration practices that encourage the regeneration of native shrubs, understory vegetation, and native epiphytes, while maintaining forest canopy, can also benefit hummingbirds. We also identify many critical
research questions and needs which, if addressed, would improve the quantification of pre- and postfire and habitat management impacts on hummingbirds, especially Allen’s and Rufous populations, which are experiencing steep population declines.
Western US sagebrush ecosystems are threatened due to multiple interacting factors: encroachment by conifer woodlands, exotic annual grass invasion, severe wildfire, climate change, and anthropogenic development. Restoration of these communities is primarily focused on reducing conifer species such as western juniper, with the goal of increasing native herbaceous perennials and sagebrush and decreasing exotic annual grass invasion. Assessing the long-term success of restoration treatments is critical for informing future management and treatment strategies since short-term patterns do not generally predict long-term trends. Using a designed experiment from a Wyoming big sagebrush community that was established in 2008, we examined the long-term vegetation response to juniper removal and seeding (cultivar and local) in disturbed and undisturbed areas (slash pile, skid trails, no disturbance). We also examined the landscape scale plant response to juniper removal using repeatedly measured randomly located transects across two restoration units. We found that seeded species persisted in the long term and also mitigated exotic grass increases.
View the synthesis article.
In coniferous western forests, recent widespread tree mortality provided opportunities to test the long-held theory that forest cover loss increases water yield. We reviewed 78 studies of hydrologic response to standing-replacing (severe wildfire, harvest) or nonstand-replacing (drought, insects, low-severity wildfire) disturbances, and reassessed the question: Does water yield or snowpack increase after forest disturbance? Collective results indicate that postdisturbance streamflow and snowpack may increase, not change, or even decrease, and illuminate factors that may help improve predictability of hydrologic response to disturbance. Contrary to the expectation that tree mortality reduces evapotranspiration, making more water available as runoff, postdisturbance evapotranspiration sometimes increased—particularly following nonstand-replacing disturbance—
because of (a) increased evaporation resulting from higher subcanopy radiation, and (b) increased transpiration resulting from rapid postdisturbance growth. Postdisturbance hydrologic response depends on vegetation structure, climate, and topography, and new hypotheses continue to be formulated and tested in this rapidly evolving discipline.