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Great Basin Experimental Range

Ecological Region: Temperate Desert, Temperate Desert Mountains

General Description

Great Basin ER consists of about 1,861 hectares, with an elevational range from 2070 to 3180 m. It is about 8 km long, ranges in width from about 1.5 to 4 km, and lies on the west face of the Wasatch Plateau wholly within the Sanpete Ranger District of the Manti-LaSal National Forest. A network of research sites, including long-term exclosures and the Elk Knoll Research Natural Area, extend out from the Great Basin into other Forest Service lands on both the Sanpete and Ferron Ranger Districts.

Background Information and History

Severe flooding during the latter part of the 19th century and early part of the 20th century led to the establishment of what was then-called the Utah Experiment Station in 1912.  The local populace wanted scientific study of summertime floods that originated on mountain watersheds and were seriously damaging farms and rural communities. These floods, which usually included mud and rock flows, were especially severe in the Sanpete and Emery County communities below the Wasatch Plateau.

From the time it was established as the Utah Experiment Station in 1912, the Great Basin Experimental Range has been a center for research on the ecology and management of mountain watersheds and rangelands. The Great Basin Experimental Range is regarded as one of the pioneering sites that led to the establishment of the discipline of range management. Subsequent names for this research area have been Great Basin Experiment Station (1918-1930), Great Basin Branch Experiment Station (1930-1947), Great Basin Research Center (1947-1970), and now Great Basin Experimental Range (since 1970).

Ecological Information

Average annual precipitation ranges from about 300 mm at the lowest elevation (west end) to more than 750 mm at the upper elevations (east end). At lower elevations, about half of the precipitation falls as snow during the November 1 to May 1 winter season, increasing to more than 75 percent at higher elevations. June and September are the driest months. Summer thunderstorms are common during July and early August. Temperatures range from -36 to 37 °C. Mean January temperature is -8 °C; mean July temperature is 13 °C. Maximum and minimum temperature differences can range from 3 to 10 °C on any day depending on elevation and site.

Soils at the lower elevations of the Great Basin Experimental Range are commonly derived from the North Horn formation and range from silt loam and loam at the surface to clay loam in the subsoils. At higher elevations, soils are derived mainly from Flagstaff limestone and are mostly clay loam in texture. In general, the soils are productive, have good water-holding qualities, and are only moderately erodible.

Plant communities include oakbrush, piñon-juniper, aspen, Englemann spruce, subalpine fir, white fir, and sub-alpine herbland types.

Research – Historical and Present

The following topics are studied at the Great Basin Experimental Range: plant adaptation, plant succession, nutrient cycling, revegetation, restoration ecology, game habitat improvement, historical fire patterns, aspen ecology, and vegetation response to climate change.

Research Accomplishments

Featured research includes: (1) watershed stability and rehabilitation, including the oldest continuously monitored paired watersheds in the world; (2) rangeland studies, including impacts of relative levels of grazing pressure on ecosystems and individual plants, and rangeland restoration, including development and evaluation of plant materials and of plant establishment techniques; (3) basic studies on plant physiology and nutrition, climate, silviculture, and plant/rodent interactions; and (4) wildlife habitat restoration, including selection and development of woody and herbaceous plant species and techniques to culture and plant these species.

Long-term Monitoring and Data

Permanent plots and exclosures were established in the vegetation communities of the Great Basin, with additional permanent plots and exclosures on the adjacent Manti-LaSal National Forest. Long-term climatic records from a range of elevations have been maintained since 1925, with some records going back to 1901. Streamflow data were collected from the 1920s until the 1950s. Long-term records of restoration plantings throughout different vegetative communities are available for comparison with natural recovery processes.

Facilities Information

The Great Basin ER is located on the south portion of the Ephraim or Cottonwood Creek drainage on the west front of the Wasatch Plateau about 8 km east of Ephraim, on the Manti-LaSal National Forest. Access is from a Sanpete County road known as the Ephraim Canyon or Ephraim-Orangeville Road.

The headquarters complex, known as the Great Basin Environmental Education Center and currently managed by

Historic photo of the facilities at the Great Basin Experimental Range.
Historic photo showing some of the buildings that now comprise the Great Basin Environmental Education Center.
Snow College, includes a museum, amphitheater, and offices, as well as lodging, cooking, and camping facilities. Running water, plumbing, electricity, and telephones are available. The eight principal buildings were constructed during two primary periods, 1912-13 and 1934-36. All buildings were recently renovated and brought up to modern safety and health standards. A small cabin, the Alpine Cabin, located adjacent to experimental watersheds A and B, does not have electricity or indoor plumbing.

Lat. 39°19' N, long.111°30' W

Research Topics: 
Climate Change
National Strategic Program Areas: 
Water, Air, and Soil; Wildlife and Fish
National Priority Research Areas: 
Watershed Management and Restoration
RMRS Science Program Areas: 
Air, Water and Aquatic Environments
RMRS Strategic Priorities: 
Disturbance Ecology