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Landscape ecology

Science Spotlights

Example of a forest structure suitable for northern goshawks and producing high quality timber
Wildlife habitat and timber production are critical elements of the management of many National Forests. The Black Hills National Forest has provided a thriving timber economy for over 100 years. The forest also provides habitat for the northern goshawk, which has been severely impacted by mountain pine beetles. 
The Mexican spotted owl is listed as a Threatened Species under the Endangered Species Act and is vulnerable to habitat loss from wildfire and climate change. RMRS scientists are leading a cutting-edge modeling effort to predict the interactive effects of forest restoration, wildfire, and climate change on the distribution, population size, and population connectivity of Mexican spotted owl across the Southwestern United States.  
Figure 1Map of Borneo showing areas of forest loss between 2000 and 2010 in yellow, areas of forest persistence from 2000 to 2010 in green, and areas that were not forest in 2000 in black.
A collaborative team, led by RMRS Research Ecologist Samuel Cushman, has produced a substantial breakthrough in advancing predictive modeling of drivers and patterns of deforestation. The method combines multi-scale optimization with machine-learning predictive modeling to identify the drivers of deforestation and map relative future deforestation risk.  
Figure 1. A post-fire ponderosa pine seedling in a high-severity burn patch of the 2000 Pumpkin Fire, Arizona.
Over the past three decades, wildfires in southwestern United States ponderosa pine forests have increased in size and severity, leaving large patches of tree mortality. Ponderosa pine evolved under fire regimes dominated by low- to moderate-severity wildfires, and they are poorly adapted to regenerating in large patches of high-severity fire. There is concern about these high-severity burn patches because the lack of seed-producing trees can...
A Clark’s nutcracker harvesting seed from whitebark pine cones. Photo courtesy of Diana Tomback
Whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) forests are declining across most of their range in North America because of the combined effects of mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae) outbreaks, fire exclusion policies, and the exotic pathogen Cronartium ribicola, which infects five-needle white pines and causes the disease white pine blister rust. Predicted changes in climate may exacerbate whitebark pine decline by (1) accelerating succession to...
Despite widespread and severe mortality, many acres of healthy conifer and hardwood forest remain in Colorado. Photo by J.D. Shaw
The current inventory of Colorado’s forest is the first to use the complete set of Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) plots across all ownerships and forest types. The inventory was completed at a time when Colorado forests were undergoing substantial change, primarily in the form of insect infestations in pine and spruce, but also because of drought. This report captures the current status and recent trends.  
Female greater sage-grouse observed at a high-elevation mountain big sagebrush site, Inyo National Forest, CA, photo by Chris Balzotti, Stanford University, used with permission.
The Rocky Mountain Research Station holds a long legacy in sagebrush and rangeland research dating back to the 1930s. With over 70 years of research on sagebrush ecosystem dynamics as well as mechanisms to manage for resilient and resistant sagebrush ecosystems, Forest Service scientists continue as a leading resource for providing sound science to the management of these landscapes.
Remote camera captures a wolverine as it approaches a researcher's trap.
Forest Service scientists and their research partners use a novel approach that includes trapping and fitting wolverines with GPS collars that accurately plot their movements in areas of high winter recreation. Thenvolunteer snowmobilers, back-country skiers, and other recreationists carry GPS units in the same areas used by wolverines. Resulting data show how wolverines respond to winter recreation in terms of their movements, behaviors, and...
Concerns about climate change effects on cold-water biodiversity sparked broad multi-agency collaborative efforts throughout the American West. U.S. Forest Service research teams led development of massive interagency databases that now enable precise mapping of critical habitats and species distributions in streams flowing through 101 National Forests.
One year after the 2011 Miller Creek fire in the Gila Wilderness, New Mexico. Photo by Sean Parks
In recent decades, many landscapes across the western United States have experienced substantial fire activity. These fires consume fuels and alter vegetation structure, which may be able to serve as a natural fuel treatment in the same manner as mechanical treatments or prescribed fire. Knowing that fire occurrence, size, and severity are limited by recent wildfires should provide greater flexibility and confidence in managing fire incidents...

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