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Southwest Watershed Science Team

Goals and Research

The Southwest Watershed Team of the RMRS Air, Water, and Aquatic Ecosystems Science Program has been involved in studies to determine the soil and watershed effects of wildfires and prescribed fires since 2000. The Team was previously known as the RMRS Research Work Unit Watersheds and Riparian Ecosystems of Forests and Woodlands in the Semi-Arid West.

The Southwest Watershed Team creates, develops, and applies knowledge to sustain watershed integrity and diverse, healthy, and productive biotic populations within watersheds and riparian ecosystems in the semi-arid states of the Interior West of the United States and Mexico. The Team works with resource managers and practitioners to facilitate formulation of strategies, guidelines, and plans to sustain ecosystem and watershed function.

The Southwest Watershed Team conducts research on the Upper Verde River in Arizona.
The Southwest Watershed Team conducts research on the Upper Verde River in Arizona.

Research by team members explores the various components of healthy semi-arid watersheds and their ecological linkages and interactions, with an emphasis on field-oriented studies replicated across time and space. Examples include:

  1. Investigating the impacts of cattle grazing on watersheds and riparian zones relative to elk grazing impacts,
  2. analyzing and determining the best riparian restoration techniques, and
  3. exploring the ecological consequences of non-indigenous fish and exotic plant invasions.

The Team is involved in developing, validating, and testing methods for monitoring rangeland, watershed, and riparian ecosystems, including:

  1. The accuracy of various sampling methods and technology on estimates of fish populations,
  2. remote sensing techniques for monitoring watershed and riparian ecosystems,
  3. monitoring methods for assessing ungulate impacts to riparian zones, and
  4. indicators of riparian and rangeland health.

The Team also investigates the hydrologic and geomorphic consequences of wildfire and fuels management options in Southwest forest and woodland ecosystems. Knowledge of fire effects has risen in importance to land managers because fire, as a disturbance process, is an integral part of the concept of ecosystem management and restoration ecology. The Team measures to what extent post-wildfire floods can increase peak flows, and they research the impact of prescribed fires and wildfires on changes in short-term and long-term water yields.

The Cascabel watershed study is an interdisciplinary project to determine the effects of prescribed burning on oak-savanna ecosystems.
The Cascabal watershed study is an interdisciplinary project to determine the effects of prescribed burning on oak-savanna ecosystems.

Additional Information

The Team contributes to the website "Managing Arid and Semi-Arid Watersheds," which provides significant information on experimental watersheds in Arizona, including historic flow data, GIS maps, and general descriptions. The website's goal is to provide a unique reference and educational tool on arid and semiarid watershed management using information and experience developed from research in different vegetation types in Arizona. Additional participants in this project are the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension and The University of Arizona's Arid Lands Information Center, with funding from the International Arid Lands Consortium.

Additional information on research by the Team is available here: Projects of the Southwest Science Watershed Team.


Example of a streamside management zone

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