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Great Basin Experimental Range

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 ER 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 (1918-30), Great Basin Branch Experiment Station (1930-47), Great Basin Research Center (1947-70), and now Great Basin Experimental Range (since 1970).

Great Basin ER consists of about 1,861 ha, with an elevational range from 2,070 to 3,180 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.

Severe flooding during the last part of the 19th century and early part of the 20th century led to the establishment of the Great Basin Experimental Range. The local populace wanted scientific study of summertime floods that originated on mountain watersheds and were seriously damaging farms and rural communities. These floods, usually including mud and rocks, were especially severe in the Sanpete and Emery County communities below the Wasatch Plateau.


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 of high elevations. June and September are the driest months. Summer thunderstorms are common during July and early August. Temperatures range from -36 to 37C. Mean January temperature is -8C; mean July temperature is 13C. Maximum and minimum temperature differences can range from 3 to 10C on any day depending on elevation and site.


Soils at the lower elevations of the Great Basin ER 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, pion-juniper, aspen, Englemann spruce, subalpine fir, white fir, and sub-alpine herbland types.

Long-Term Data Bases

Permanent plots and exclosures were established in the vegetation communities of the Great Basin with additional permanent plots and exclosures in the general area on the 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 to compare with natural recovery processes.

Research, Past and Present

The following topics are under study at the Great Basin ER: plant adaptation, plant succession, nutrient cycling, revegetation, restoration ecology, game habitat improvement, historic fire patterns, aspen ecology, and vegetation response to climate change.

Major Research Accomplishments and Effects on Management

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.


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 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. 3919' N, long.11130' W

Contact Information

Great Basin Experimental Range
US Forest Service

Rocky Mountain Research Station
Shrub Sciences Laboratory
735 North 500 East
Provo, UT 84606
Tel: (801) 356-5100