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Environment and People

Science Spotlights

Sheltered from wind and scorching heat, a seedling takes root in mature biological soil crust (photo by Neal Herbert, National Park Service).
Human activity has led to a global decline in biodiversity across all trophic levels, reducing the ability of ecosystems to maintain key functions. The loss of various species in an ecosystem has wide-reaching effects by reducing the numerous and often hidden species-species and species-environment interactions. These disruptions ultimately lead to changes and declines in the ecosystem’s functionality. 
Sampling streamwater in watersheds of the Hayman Fire
Severe wildfires remove vegetation and organic soil layers and expose watersheds to erosion which can transport large quantities of soil and ash to nearby rivers and streams. But once the burned areas have stabilized, do severe wildfires have any longer-lasting effects on watersheds or water quality? This study follows the Hayman Fire, 2002, Colorado, and shows that yes, there are long-term effects.
Male and female greater sage-grouse converge on sagebrush mating areas every year (Photo by Rick McEwan, Sage Grouse Initiative).
Every year, groups of the birds congregate at mating areas called “leks” — areas that are used every year unless they’re disrupted. Because of the location specific nature of their mating process, greater sage-grouse are particularly vulnerable to habitat disruption. 
Photo of a fen with floating mat on the water. The mat has Carex limosa and Sphagnum mosses
Mountain fens (peat-accumulating wetlands) are groundwater-dependent habitats (i.e. groundwater dependent ecosystems) protected under the Clean Water Act and other federal mandates in the United States. There is increasing interest in documenting and monitoring the occurrence and characteristics of fens. In addition to supporting unusual plants, fens are sites of carbon and water storage and long-term ecological stability, since the underlying...
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Historically, racial and ethnic minorities in the United States are not as likely to recreate or work in the country’s natural lands as are racial whites. Data from the Forest Service’s National Visitor Use Monitoring program indicate disproportionate utilization of National Forest System recreation opportunities by the nation’s minority racial and ethnic groups. Past individual case studies conducted of regional areas have addressed constraints...
Wilderness managers in North Cascades National Park opted for chemical treatments to remove invasive fish species (Photo by National Park Service staff).
Altered disturbance regimes and changing ecosystem dynamics in wilderness areas have increased the importance of having an evaluation framework to support transparent decision-making for ecological restoration actions. A recently created wilderness evaluation framework questionnaire allows for improved communication between land management agencies and wilderness stakeholders.
decorative image of native american artifacts
This research looks at opportunities to utilize traditional phenological knowledge to support adaptive management of social-ecological systems vulnerable to changes in climate and fire regimes. Integrating phenological knowledge into natural resource stewardship is important in making land management decisions. Indigenous knowledge of seasonal change adds a broader ecological knowledge base in the context of changing and vulnerable social and...
Scientists, engineers, and economists have joined together to learn more about the link between trade and species spread around the globe. This project is called "The Non-indigenous Species World Risk Assessment and Prediction System." 
High-severity wildfires are increasing and researchers are issuing different findings regarding wildfire impacts on spotted owls (Strix occidentalis), a threatened species that nests in mature, western forests with large trees and high canopy cover. Data from different studies show mixed responses of spotted owls to fire, but suggest that the effects of high-severity wildfires could be significant throughout the range of all three subspecies....
This large Douglas-fir died in 2012 and is surrounded by many smaller Douglas-fir, white fir, and Southwestern white pine that recruited during fire exclusion.  Stand density in mesic mixed conifer forests increased on average 1725% during fire exclusion.
The onset of fire exclusion in western North American forests in the late 1800s began one of the largest unintended landscape ecology experiments in human history. The current ecology of these forests and the ecological impacts of returning fire to these forests is strongly influenced by the amount of forest change that has occurred during the fire-free period. Understanding how different forest types responded to fire exclusion is important for...

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