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Science Spotlights

Photo of a forest fire
The 20th Century was a period of enormous change for western forests. Fire used to maintain distinct forest vegetation communities – pine, dry mixed-conifer, mesic mixed-conifer, and spruce-fir – in close proximity to one another along steep vertical gradients in the topographically diverse forests of the American Southwest. How did these forests change in response to fire exclusion? In what ways and how rapidly? What are the consequences of...
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. 
Cattle in the arid west. Photo by Keith Weller, USDA ARS from Bugwood.org
Forage availability for grazing animals has always been vulnerable to the effects of variations of weather and climate from year–to–year, with some years and decades markedly drier than others.
Fire Danger Rating System
The National Fire Danger Rating System (NFDRS) is a system that allows fire managers to estimate today's or tomorrow's fire danger for a given area. In 2014, RMRS fire danger rating system developers sought and gained approval to update the U.S. National Fire Danger Rating System (NFDRS).
Mature bluebunch wheatgrass reproductive seed stalks just before dispersal. Photo by Francis Kilkenny
Over the last decade, decisions surrounding the provenance, or the geographic origin of a seed source, has sparked a debate whether or not to use local native or nonlocal native seed. A new paper turns a traditionally theoretical discussion into specific priority actions for researchers and practitioners involved in restoration.
A closeup shot of a lynx face
The management of Canada lynx habitat is an issue that has generated much debate and litigation across the Northern (Montana, Idaho) and Southern (Colorado, Wyoming) Rocky Mountains. This species depends almost exclusively on snowshoe hare for food during winter, and this prey species is sensitive to changes in forest composition and structure. Research conducted by scientists at the Rocky Mountain Research Station, in collaboration with...
Wildfire burn near a housing development
Wildfires are intensifying due to climate change, and more people are living in regions prone to fire. Understanding how individuals threatened by a wildfire make evacuation decisions – especially those who do not leave promptly – is necessary in order to foster public safety. Homeowners in three communities that have experienced wildfires in the United States were surveyed regarding their responses to evacuation requests.
Photo of a forest fire
The number and size of large wildfires have increased dramatically in the western United States during the past three decades. Prior understanding was that the increase in fires was mainly attributable to warming temperatures and earlier snowmelt. In this study, a research team contrasted the three main hypothesized climatic drivers of recent increases in western US wildfire activity: decreased snowpack, increased temperature, and decreased...
Standard wood stakes are used to evaluate wood decomposition rates within and among sites.
Maintaining woody debris on forest sites is critical for maintaining carbon stores and modeling the rate of decay helps managers understand tree growth and and carbon sequestration.

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