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Climate Change in the Great Plains

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Climate Change in the Great Plains was a workshop hosted by the Rocky Mountain Research Station and the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Region with the purpose of sharing science findings with grassland and rangeland managers. Specifically the workshop addressed:

  • How might changing weather and climate patterns affect the sustainable use of natural resources?

  • What is the future of biodiversity in the Great Plains?

  • How can managers prepare for uncertain futures of grasslands, and what are managers' and scientists' roles in finding solutions?

The workshop included breakout sessions for managers and scientists to discuss (1) threats and challenges for grassland management under a changing climate, and (2) existing or potential products or tools that might help address management challenges.

Logo for Climate Change in the Great Plains workshop.
Logo for Climate Change in the Great Plains workshop.

Dates: 
August 30, 2011
Location: 
Rocky Mountain Research Station
Fort Collins, CO 80526

Sessions

Climate change impacts, consequences, and response strategies in the Great Plains: An overview of context, research management interactions, and research capacity

Vegetative recovery five years after a fire in a mountain big sagebrush community. Plant density is sufficient for full sagebrush recovery in 25–35 years after the fire.  Photo by Stanley G. Kitchen, USDA FS
Vegetative recovery five years after a fire in a mountain big sagebrush community. Plant density is sufficient for full sagebrush recovery in 25–35 years after the fire. Photo by Stanley G. Kitchen, USDA FS
Dennis Ojima provided an overview of the ecological and management context for the Great Plains region, with a focus on current and projected climate changes and potential impacts to ecological and socio-economic systems. He also introduced the objectives of the Central Great Plains Regional Assessment.


Speakers


Dennis Ojima
Dennis Ojima
Senior Research Scientist and Professor , Colorado State University

Dr. Dennis Ojima is a Senior Research Scientist at the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory (NREL) and Professor in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability at Colorado State University and a Senior Scholar at the H John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment. He is also the coordinator for the University Consortium for the DOI North Central Regional Climate Science Center based at Colorado State University. Professor Ojima's research activities address coupled human-ecological issues related to global and regional land use and climate changes on social-ecological systems, interactions between terrestrial ecosystems and the atmosphere, the impact of changes in land management on trace gas exchange, regional carbon cycle studies, and the development of a global ecosystem model.


Implications of global change for grassland plant communities

RMRS and PNW field crews training on data collection at bluebunch wheatgrass experimental plot at Central Ferry, WA (Photo by: Holly Prendeville, PNW Research Station)
RMRS and PNW field crews training on data collection at bluebunch wheatgrass experimental plot at Central Ferry, WA (Photo by: Holly Prendeville, PNW Research Station)
Jack Morgan and Dana Blumenthal outlined basic ecological drivers in grassland ecosystems (i.e., water, temperature, grazing, and fire), and described potential impacts of rising temperatures and concentrations of carbon dioxide and changing precipitation patterns. They concluded with management issues in grasslands, including plant productivity, species changes, and future uncertainty.


Speakers


Dana M. Blumenthal
Dana M. Blumenthal
Research Ecologist , USDA Agricultural Research Service

The objective of Dr. Blumenthal’s research is to help develop durable weed control strategies for rangeland ecosystems. To this end, his research attempts to identify mechanisms that drive weed invasion. Current research is focused on simple and interactive effects of two such mechanisms: release from natural enemies and increases in resource availability. He also explores how global change factors such as nitrogen deposition, carbon dioxide enrichment, altered precipitation, and warming influence plant invasion in mixed grass prairie.


Jack A. Morgan
Jack A. Morgan
Plant Physiologist-retired , USDA Agricultural Research Service

Upon completion of a doctorate in Agronomy/Plant Physiology from the University of Georgia in 1981, Jack came to Fort Collins to work for the USDA Agricultural Research Service, first in research investigating drought resistance in crop species, and for the last 15 years evaluating how Great Plains grasslands respond to climate change. He has contributed to national and international climate change assessment efforts, including reports issued by the U.S. Climate Change Program and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.


Estimating impacts of forecasted climate on rangeland productivity

Range at sunset
Range at sunset
Matt Reeves described the ecological and economic importance of plant productivity in grasslands. He also described methods for forecasting future productivity under different climate and economic scenarios, and he provided key considerations for interpreting model output.


Speakers


Matt C. Reeves
Matt C. Reeves
Research Ecologist , Rocky Mountain Research Station

Matt Reeves is Research Ecologist with the Rocky Mountain Research Station in Missoula, Montana. His current research focuses on national-level rangeland issues such as fragmentation, threats to sustainability, and forecasting productivity in the future. This work is performed in support of the Renewable Resources Planning Act 2010 Rangeland Assessment.


Adaptation strategies for livestock management in Great Plains rangelands

Hikers in the Lost Coast Wilderness in California (USDA FS)
Hikers in the Lost Coast Wilderness in California (USDA FS)
Justin Derner and David Augustine described management options and adaptation strategies in grasslands and rangelands. They focused on the application of active adaptive management, use of monitoring observations to guide future management decisions, and use of state-and-transition models to predict future conditions.


Speakers


Justin D. Derner
Justin D. Derner
Rangeland Scientist , USDA Agricultural Research Service

Dr. Justin Derner is the Research Leader for the Rangeland Resources Research Unit of the USDA Agricultural Research Service. He received his Ph.D. degree in Rangeland Ecology and Management from Texas A&M University in 1996. Dr. Derner leads a multi-disciplinary team of scientists developing and providing land managers the necessary tools to address the provision of ecosystem goods and services on western U.S. rangelands. His research ascertains the effects of livestock as ecosystem engineers, alone or in combination with fire and prairie dogs, to influence vegetation heterogeneity and modify states of vegetation. Dr. Derner's research efforts target management strategies for mitigation and adaptation of climate change on rangelands by evaluating dynamics of soil carbon and nitrogen as influenced by management and environmental effects.


David Augustine
David Augustine
Landscape Ecologist , USDA Agricultural Research Service

Dr. Augustine’s research interests include plant-herbivore interactions, the ecology and management of semi-arid rangelands, and conservation biology. His current research examines interactions among cattle, prescribed fire, and prairie dogs in shortgrass steppe, and the effects of these disturbance processes on vegetation heterogeneity and native grassland birds.


The role of climate change in exacerbating other environmental threats in the Great Plains

Drought and fire effects on forests and rangelands
Drought and fire effects on forests and rangelands
Deb Finch and Paulette Ford described the extreme risk of water shortages facing the U.S. Great Plains and Southwest. They illustrated future projections and potential impacts of drought on grasslands and rangelands, with a focus on the Playa Lakes and Prairie Potholes regions.


Speakers


Deb M. Finch
Deb M. Finch
Program Manager/Supervisory Biologist , Rocky Mountain Research Station

Deborah Finch served as a research wildlife biologist with the Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS) from 1978 to 2008. She became the Program Manager for the Grassland, Shrubland and Desert Ecosystem Science Program of RMRS in 2010. Her research focuses on riparian and rangeland environments, specifically evaluating the effects of fire and removal of invasive plant species on biological diversity; threatened, endangered and rare species; and riparian resources, as well as exploring interactions among different elements of ecosystems. She also assesses the vulnerability of species to shifts in climate and develops support tools that managers can use to help species adapt to changing conditions. 


Paulette L. Ford
Paulette L. Ford
Research Ecologist , Rocky Mountain Research Station

Paulette L. Ford is a Research Ecologist with the Rocky Mountain Research Station in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She holds an M.S. in Biology from the University of New Mexico, in addition to a Ph.D. in Renewable Natural Resources from the University of Arizona. Her interests include the role of disturbance in structuring grassland and desert communities, and ecosystem resilience. Paulette's long-term research uses an experimental framework to analyze the effects of season and frequency of fire on shortgrass steppe.


Managing for species diversity under climate change: Implications of future change for prairie dogs and their cohorts

The prairie dogs is a keystone species in many grasslands of the western U.S. (photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service).
The prairie dogs is a keystone species in many grasslands of the western U.S. (photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service).
Megan Friggens focused her presentation on the black-tailed prairie dog and their role in grassland ecosystems. She outlines how climate change might affect prairie dogs and grassland ecosystems, such as increasing risk of plague in prairie dog populations.


Speakers


Megan M. Friggens
Megan M. Friggens
Research Ecologist , Rocky Mountain Research Station

Megan Friggens is a Research Ecologist with the Rocky Mountain Research Station studying the development of species vulnerability assessments and climate change tools, climate change effects on southwestern vertebrate species and ecosystems, the ecology of prairie dogs and plague, disturbance ecology in the southwestern U.S. ecosystems, and the management of urban open space. Megan has worked for the RMRS since 1998 on various projects including effects of prescribed fire on small mammals and their parasites, prairie dog relocation studies, and fire ecology in short grass steppe ecosystems.


Grassland bird conservation, their migrations, and grazing management amid the changing climate of the Great Plains

 Sage grouse
Image of a sage grouse
Steve Zack and Kevin Ellison talked about grassland birds as a key group of concern for wildlife conservation in the Great Plains. They described how grazing management of native and non-native grazers is an essential and flexible tool for managing bird habitat under a changing climate.


Speakers


Steve Zack
Steve Zack
Conservation Scientist , Wildlife Conservation Society

Dr. Steve Zack is a Conservation Scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), joining WCS in 1997. He is in charge of studies of wildlife and conservation in Arctic Alaska and of a project with Dr. Kevin Ellison concerning the conservation of grassland birds in association with the ecological recovery of bison. He has also done extensive studies of birds in Kenya, Venezuela, Madagascar, and in the western United States. He lives in Portland, Oregon, and migrates with the birds to his various projects.


Kevin Ellison
Kevin Ellison
Conservation Scientist , Wildlife Conservation Society (previously)

Dr. Kevin Ellison has more than 20 years of experience conducting research in avian ecology, including research comparing the grazing habits of bison with that of cows and what effect they have on the life of grassland bird species. Kevin completed his Master’s thesis at the University of California, Riverside and his Ph.D. at the University of Manitoba. Between 2008 and 2013, Kevin worked for the Wildlife Conservation Society in Bozeman studying the relationships between grassland birds and grazing management. 


Soil carbon and carbon calculators

Sheltered from wind and scorching heat, a seedling takes root in mature biological soil crust (photo by Neal Herbert, National Park Service).
Sheltered from wind and scorching heat, a seedling takes root in mature biological soil crust (photo by Neal Herbert, National Park Service).
Keith Paustian presented the emissions and mitigation potentials in agricultural systems, with a focus on soil carbon. He outlined the potential and challenges of cap-and-trade systems, and described greenhouse gas calculators that can help managers quantify carbon emissions and sequestration.


Speakers


Keith Paustian
Keith Paustian
Professor and Senior Research Scientist , Colorado State University

Keith Paustian is Professor of Soil Ecology in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences and Senior Research Scientist at the Natural Resources Ecology Laboratory at Colorado State University. His main fields of interest include agroecosystem ecology, soil organic matter dynamics, global change, and greenhouse gas mitigation. He is currently leading projects to elucidate the factors and processes controlling soil organic matter dynamics and to develop better methods to measure and predict changes in soil carbon as a function of management and environmental variables.


Scanning the conservation horizon: Using climate change vulnerability assessments

Mountain goats (Photo by Michael D. Peterson)
Mountain goats (Photo by Michael D. Peterson)
Bruce Stein described components of vulnerability, types of adaptation strategies, and reasons to conduct vulnerability assessments. He shared case studies where managers prepared vulnerability assessments to address wildlife and habitat conservation.


Speakers


Bruce Stein
Bruce Stein
Associate Director for the Conservation and Global Warming National Advocacy Center , National Wildlife Federation

Dr. Bruce Stein is the associate director for the National Wildlife Federation's Wildlife Conservation and Global Warming National Advocacy Center in Washington, D.C. Dr. Stein's work focuses on the use of scientific data and knowledge to better protect the most threatened species and ecosystems. He currently co-leads the organization's Global Warming Safeguards team, which focuses on better understanding the vulnerabilities of our species, ecosystems, and communities to the impacts of climate change, and developing innovative policies and management strategies to address those impacts.


Seeing the elephant: National Grasslands socio-economic trends within the context of climate change

Open grassland and riparian area on the Dakota Prairie.
Open grassland and riparian area on the Dakota Prairie.
Richard Periman described socio-economic changes occurring across the Great Plains, which includes an aging population and a dramatic loss of population in some portions of the region. Other parts of the Great Plains are experiencing population increases, partially driven by oil and gas extraction. Richard also described segments of the population that are vulnerable to climate change.


Speakers


Richard Periman
Social Science and Economics Coordinator , USDA Forest Service--Southwest Region

Richard Periman began working for the Forest Service on the Kootenai National Forest's Rexford Ranger District in 1988, moving to the Deerlodge National Forest later in that same year. In 1995, Richard moved to Albuquerque and a new position as a research archaeologist with Rocky Mountain Research Station's Cultural Heritage Research Work Unit. He earned a Ph.D. in American Studies, Environmental Science, and Technology at the University of New Mexico in 2001. His research interests focused on long-term human-environmental interaction in Northern New Mexico, North America in general, and the U.K. In 2005, Richard became the Southwestern Region's Social Science and Economics Coordinator, with responsibilities for Forest Plan Revision, Research Natural Area planning, and climate change planning.


Using experience and science to develop adaptation actions for the grasslands

RMRS scientists and university collaborators collect buds from the Buffalo Gap National Grassland for a growth chamber experiment.
RMRS scientists and university collaborators collect buds from the Buffalo Gap National Grassland for a growth chamber experiment.
Linda Joyce talked about the use of experience and science to develop adaptation actions. She suggested managers and their partners outline their understanding of climate-weather-grassland relationships, think about climate change as part of—not separate from—resource management, and develop a variety of adaptation actions.


Speakers


Linda A. Joyce
Linda A. Joyce
Supervisory Research Rangeland Scientist , Rocky Mountain Research Station

Linda Joyce is a research scientist with the Rocky Mountain Research Station in Fort Collins, CO. Her research is focused on quantifying the impacts of climate change on ecosystems, plants and animals, as well as the socio-economic implications of those effects. As the Climate Change Specialist with the Forest Service RPA Assessment, she coordinates analysis of potential effects on the condition of natural resources on forests and rangelands. She also works with other western scientists on developing tools for natural resource managers and planners to use in considering adaptation options for climate change.


What is the Forest Service response to climate change?

Mountain big sagebrush and bluebunch wheatgrass community in west-central Oregon. Photo by Kirk Davies
Mountain big sagebrush and bluebunch wheatgrass community in west-central Oregon. Photo by Kirk Davies
Elizabeth Reinhardt described the Forest Service’s ongoing response to climate change, with a focus on the agency’s Climate Change Roadmap and Performance Scorecard. The agency is balancing mitigation and adaptation actions to enhance the resilience of grasslands, forests, and human communities.


Speakers


Elizabeth Reinhardt
Elizabeth Reinhardt
Assistant Director for Fire and Aviation Management , USDA Forest Service

Elizabeth Reinhardt has over 30 years of experience with the USDA Forest Service. She began as a Research Forester for the Rocky Mountain Research Station looking at fire effects, fuel treatments, and canopy fuels. She has also served as a Climate Change Specialist, National Program Leader for fire research, and Assistant Director for Fire and Aviation Management in the Washington Office.