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Science You Can Use

Photo array of covers of the Science You Can Use Bulletin

Delivering scientific information to those making and influencing land management decisions

The bimonthly Science You Can Use Bulletin and our NEW Science You Can Use (in 5 minutes) are Rocky Mountain Research Station publications providing synthesized scientific information for high-priority management needs. These science delivery products synthesize current research conducted by Station scientists and collaborators on hot topics, and deliver key science findings and management implications to people who make and influence decisions about managing land and natural resources.

The bulletin is distributed electronically to resource professionals, partners and collaborators throughout the Intermountain West and beyond.

Opt in to our email list if you would like to be notified of future editions.

Contact the editor, Nehalem Clark, with questions, comments, or suggestions.

Science You Can Use Links and Summaries

 

Wyoming big sagebrush two years after being seeded in the Great Basin

Jumpstarting Recovery of Wyoming Big Sagebrush and Other Native Plants out on the RangeDownload

Science You Can Use (in 5 minutes)

November 2018

Wyoming big sagebrush may not be the most eye-catching plant on the Great Basin’s rangeland, but it provides vital wildlife habitat and forage for numerous species such as the greater sage-grouse. Yet sagebrush is on the decline. Spreading invasive exotic annual species are contributing to more frequent wildfires on the range.

Scientist collecting water

From Expensive to Efficient: New eDNAtlas Shares Nationwide Aquatic Species InformationDownload

Science You Can Use (in 5 minutes)

October 2018

Imagine that you could look online at interactive maps showing precisely where any species of fish, amphibian, or mussel occurs throughout the United States in streams, lakes, and ponds - all in one spot. The newly-released eDNAtlas turned this idea into an open-access online reality. The eDNAtlas website and dynamic database tools allow the public, land managers, and researchers to access the results from samples of environmental DNA (eDNA), which is genetic material released by organisms into the environment. The samples taken from aquatic systems throughout the United States help determine local species occurrence. The eDNAtlas was initially powered by a database of 8,000 samples that were collected in recent years through multi-agency partnerships with the National Genomics Center for Wildlife and Fish Conservation.

Crooked River

Research Runs Through It: A Fresh Look at Wild and Scenic RiversDownload

September / October 2018; Issue 32

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which preserves selected rivers that have outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values. As the Forest Service and other agencies prepare for the next half-century of managing these national treasures, scientists at the Rocky Mountain Research Station and the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute are partnering with National Forests and university collaborators to use new research protocols to help revise river management plans.

Forest Fire

Consequences of an Endless Summer: Untangling the Link Between Summer Precipitation and Western WildfiresDownload

Science You Can Use (in 5 minutes)

September 2018

U.S. Forest Service scientists suspected another weather factor was being overlooked as a contributor to recent trends in wildfire: precipitation, specifically summer precipitation. Zachary Holden, an ecologist with the USFS Northern Region, Charles Luce, a research hydrologist, and Matt Jolly, a research ecologist, both with the Rocky Mountain Research Station anecdotally noticed low summer precipitation was associated with the 1988 Yellowstone fire and the major wildfire season of 2017 in the Pacific Northwest.

Sky Islands, Arizona

A Feather in Their Cap: Using Citizen Monitoring to Track Post-Wildfire Bird Communities in the Arizona Sky IslandsDownload

July / August 2018; Issue 31

The Sky Islands of southeastern Arizona, which consist of separate mountain ranges within a desert matrix, are a unique biodiversity hotspot hosting many neotropical bird species that cannot be seen anywhere else in the United States Residents of this region depend on ecotourism for their livelihood and there is an above-average concentration of citizens skilled at identifying birds by sight and sound. After the Horseshoe Two wildfire in 2011 burned a large portion of the Chiricahua range, the local residents approached RMRS with concerns about effects on the bird populations. RMRS researchers initiated a partnership with a local group to assess the feasibility of using a citizen-monitoring program to collect bird population data. By comparing citizen-collected data with that collected by a professional crew, they found that citizen science partnerships can be used for inexpensive and statistically rigorous monitoring, with the added benefit of fostering greater local public involvement in science and conservation.

Fire weather pixels

A World in Pixels: How New Research is Helping to Predict Probability of High-Severity FireDownload

Science You Can Use (in 5 minutes)

August 2018

A new paper by Sean Parks, a research ecologist with the Rocky Mountain Research Station and the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute, and collaborators paper describes new maps that can help identify areas where high-severity fire is most likely to occur. Live fuel, on average, was the most important factor driving high-severity fire in and among ecoregions. Fire weather was the second most important factor, followed by climate and topography.

Snow monitoring pit

Warming and Warnings: Assessing Climate Change Vulnerability in the Rocky Mountain RegionDownload

July 2018; Special General Technical Report Companion

To help evaluate ecosystem vulnerability across the Rocky Mountain Region, a team of scientists with the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station compiled extensive research over the past few years, collaborating on a general technical report entitled Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment of Aquatic and Terrestrial Ecosystems in the US Forest Service Rocky Mountain Region. The general technical report covers six ecosystems that represent a large part of the Rocky Mountain Region’s 17 national forests and 7 grasslands from the semi-arid climate of the short-grass prairie to the cold and windy climate of the alpine tundra. Scientists evaluated each ecosystem in terms of several factors, including their current extent, exposure to climate change, sensitivity and adaptability to climate change, the ability of the ecosystem to shift geographically, and non-climate stressors such as recreational use, air pollution and infrastructure development.

Lodgepole Pine and Mixed Conifer (LPMC) mulched

Mulch Matters: Mulching Fuels Treatments Promoted Understory Plant Communities in Colorado ForestsDownload

Science You Can Use (in 5 minutes)

June 2018

Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS) Research Ecologist Paula Fornwalt and her team initiated a long-term study in 2007 to better understand how mulching fuels treatments impacted understory plant communities in three Colorado forest types: pinyon pine - juniper (PJ), ponderosa pine and ponderosa pine - Douglas-fir (PP), and lodgepole pine and mixed conifer (LPMC).

hunter

Recreating in Color: Promoting Ethnic Diversity in Public LandsDownload

May / June 2018; Issue 30

Recent studies of the Forest Service’s National Visitor Use Monitoring data show a wide disparity in racial and ethnic use of national forests. Researchers at the Rocky Mountain Research Station in Fort Collins, Colorado, are studying these numbers systematically—the first time a nationwide study has been done with these data. They hope that their research will help National Forest System staff to encourage different racial and ethnic groups to connect with public natural lands. By doing so, national forest managers will be transforming management practices and priorities to encourage wider use of natural lands by different racial and ethnic groups.

Sage-grouse

Sex in the Sagebrush: How New Research Can Help Protect Greater Sage-Grouse Mating AreasDownload

Science You Can Use (in 5 minutes)

May 2018

Recently published work from scientists at the Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS) may help protect the greater sage-grouse habitat and their ability to reproduce. This research can help land managers understand how specific lek locations serve larger geographic areas and to understand the role of genetic connectivity in the birds’ mating process.

fishing on snake river

Fishing for Climate Data: How Recent Research is Helping Forecast Changes in Salmon and Trout Habitat Download

Science You Can Use (in 5 minutes)

May 2018

Scientists at the Rocky Mountain Research Station’s Aquatic Sciences Lab compiled temperature records from more than a dozen natural resource agencies monitoring nearly 400 sites along large rivers in the northwestern United States to understand climate change impacts on salmon and trout river habitat. We found that average river temperatures during summer and early fall months rose about 1 °C over the 40-year period of 1976 to 2015. River managers may be able to offset warming in some areas and preserve coldwater river habitats by employing various habitat and flow restoration techniques including minimizing flow diversions, increasing shade, enhancing habitat diversity and the number of deep pools, releasing cold water from storage dams during heat waves, and improving fish passages at dams that block access to cooler river sections.

applying piscicide in wilderness lake

Keeping it Wild: Asking the Right Questions to Guide Wilderness ManagementDownload

March / April 2018; Issue 29

To help wilderness managers ask the right questions, ecologists at the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute in Missoula have helped to develop a set of wilderness management resources called the Ecological Intervention and Site Restoration Toolbox. Found at www.wilderness.net/restoration, the Toolbox includes a recently created wilderness evaluation framework questionnaire. The wilderness evaluation framework can help wilderness managers evaluate wilderness restoration needs in light of the management restraint mandated by the Wilderness Act. It also can help facilitate communication and collaboration between State and Federal agencies and wilderness area stakeholders.

Predicting the Future to Save Whitebark PineDownload

Science You Can Use (in 5 minutes)

April 2018

Rocky Mountain Research Station Research Ecologist Robert Keane and collaborators present guidelines for restoring whitebark pine under future climates based on an existing international rangewide restoration strategy and an extensive modeling experiment. This GTR will help forest managers develop the appropriate site-specific treatment plans for whitebark pine restoration projects.

landscape painting

Back to the Future: Building resilience in Colorado Front Range forests using research findings and a new guide for restoration of ponderosa and dry-mised conifer landscapesDownload

January / February 2018; Issue 28

In 1860, a typical ponderosa pine forest along the Colorado Front Range was open enough to ride a horse through, weaving between spread out clumps of trees. Today, these forests are crowded with smaller trees, which makes them vulnerable to severe wildfires, insect epidemics and disease. This synthesis highlights ways to increase the health and resilience of current forests, while also strengthening forests against future disturbances. While restoration treatments are not expected to re-create the diversity of structure in the 1860s, the hope is that by pushing the stand structure of these forests -towards conditions more typical of the past, they will be more resilient for the future.

ponderosa forest

Building Resilience in Colorado Front Range Forests for the FutureDownload

Science You Can Use (in 5 minutes)

January 2018

The recently published "Principles and Practices for the Restoration of Ponderosa Pine and Dry Mixed-Conifer Forests of the Colorado Front Range" (RMRS-GTR-373) provides a synthesis of information specific to Colorado’s Front Range, while outlining a framework to guide forest management and treatment design criteria that can be used by land managers far and wide. This Science You Can Use (in 5 minutes) highlights the main themes of this approach to place-based restoration.

Streamwater nitrogen and forest dynamics following a mountain pine beetle epidemic: Insights from three decades of research at Fraser Experimental Forest, CODownload

Science You Can Use (in 5 minutes)

November 2017

A recently published study by a team of Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS) scientists describes a 10-year investigation of streamwater nitrogen (N) and forest dynamics following a mountain pine beetle epidemic. Unlike the abrupt nutrient changes typical after a wildfire or timber harvesting, the outcomes of insect outbreaks are poorly understood. RMRS scientists capitalized on long-term, pre-outbreak monitoring at the Fraser Experimental Forest near Winter Park Colorado where the U.S. Forest Service has studied the forest and hydrologic processes responsible for regulating streamflow from high elevation watersheds since 1937. Contrary to expectations, watersheds with extensive MPB-caused forest mortality ‘leak’ very little stream N.

Cattle on western rangelands

Where's the Beef? Predicting the Effects of Climate Change on Cattle Production in Western U.S. RangelandsDownload

September/October 2017; Issue 27

Matt Reeves, a research economist with the USFS Rocky Mountain Research Station, along with collaborators, have been trying to understand the impacts of climate change and what they might mean for cattle numbers and operations. A model was developed that uses projections of temperatures and precipitation conditions across western rangelands to model the future vulnerability of cattle production to warmer, drier and more variable conditions.

Using ModelMap

Painting a Picture Across the Landscape with ModelMapDownload

July/August 2017; Issue 26

Scientists and statisticians working for the Rocky Mountain Research Station have created a software package that simplifies and automates many of the processes needed for converting models into maps. This software package, called ModelMap, has helped a variety of specialists and land managers to quickly convert data into easily understood graphical images.

Female goshawk

Northern Goshawks: A 20 year study of ecology and habitat on the Kaibab PlateauDownload

Science You Can Use (in 5 minutes)

July 2017

Research on the Kaibab has shown that goshawks, predators of birds and small mammals, are strongly food-limited. The local suite of prey depends on the amount, quality, and inter-mixture of the particular habitats needed by each prey.These include a fine-scale mix of small groups of mature trees with interlocking crowns for tree squirrels, woodpeckers, grouse, and other birds, and scattered small grass-forb openings for rabbits, ground squirrels, grouse, and other prey. Interestingly, this habitat mix characterized the natural conditions of the ponderosa pine and mixed conifer forests on the Kaibab Plateau before initiation of fire suppression and organized tree harvests.

High severity fire

Learn from the burn: The High Park Fire 5 years laterDownload

May/June 2017; Issue 25

The 2012 High Park Fire that occurred near Fort Collins, CO was particularly severe with nearly half of the total burn area being classified as high and moderate burn severity. This 85,000-acre wildfire caused extensive property damage, loss of life, and severe impacts to the water quality of the Poudre River. This Bulletin highlights what has been learned by RMRS scientists and collaborators about the response to the High Park fire including fire effects, treatment area prioritization, and postfire treatments (multiple mulch treatments, seeding). We also discuss the latest available online postfire treatment planning tools.

Healthy bristlecone pine ecosystem (photo by R.A. Sniezko, U.S. Forest Service).

Preempting the pathogen: Blister rust and proactive management of high-elevation pinesDownload

March/April 2017; Issue 24

White pine blister rust has been spreading through western forests since 1910, causing widespread mortality in a group which includes some of the oldest and highest-elevation pines in the U.S.

Although the disease cannot be contained, RMRS researchers and collaborators are developing proactive strategies that integrate conservation, ecology, and genetics to prepare ecosystems for invasion of the pathogen.

Genetic resistance occurs in a small percentage of individuals in each of the five-needle pine species that are susceptible to the rust. Researchers and managers are integrating information on genetic resistance in pine populations with ecological research on population dynamics, climate interactions, and conservation activities to develop management strategies, which may include planting of resistant seedlings or creating regeneration opportunities near resistant trees.

Sheltered from wind and scorching heat, a seedling takes root in mature biological soil crust (photo by Neal Herbert, National Park Service).

Don’t bust the biological soil crust: Preserving and restoring an important desert resourceDownload

January/February 2017; Issue 23

Biological soil crusts are a complex of microscopic organisms growing on the soil surface in many arid and semi-arid ecosystems. These crusts perform the important role of stabilizing soil and reducing or eliminating water and wind erosion. One of the largest threats to biological soil crusts in the arid and semi-arid areas of the western United States is mechanical disturbance from vehicle traffic and grazing. The spread of the annual invasive cheatgrass has increased the fuel load in areas that previously would not carry a fire, posing a potentially widespread and new threat to this resource.

Moderate severity burned area from the Horseshoe 2 Fire in the Chiricahua Mountains, Arizona with a study on assessing large-scale effects of wildfire and climate change on avian communities and habitats in the Arizona Sky Islands

Wildland fire: Nature’s fuel treatmentDownload

November/December 2016; Issue 22

Every year wildland fires affect much more acreage in the United States compared to controlled burns. Like controlled burns, wildland fire can help promote biological diversity and healthy ecosystems. But despite these facts, wildland fire is not often considered as a fuel treatment in the United States.

Scientists working with the U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station have evaluated more than 40 years of satellite imagery to determine what happens when a fire burns into a previously burned area. Results from this research are helping land managers to assess whether a previous wildland fire will act as a fuel treatment based on the length of time since the previous fire and local conditions such as ecosystem type, topography, and fire weather conditions.

Post-fire erosion after the Route Complex fire

Protecting the source: Tools to evaluate fuel treatment cost vs. water quality protectionDownload

September/October 2016; Issue 21

High-intensity wildfires are one of the leading causes of severe soil erosion in western U.S. watersheds. This erosion can lead to disruptive deposits of sediment in reservoirs and water supply systems. For this reason, land managers can benefit from estimating the erosion potential of high-intensity wildfires in order to decide where to focus fuel reduction efforts.

To help forest managers prioritize forest fuel reduction decisions, scientists from the Rocky Mountain Research Station and other agencies and organizations have developed several modeling tools that predict fire risk and erosion potential in and around watersheds. These tools, which include FSim, FlamMap, and WEPP (Water Erosion Prediction Project), are helping land managers preserve long-term forest health and preserve water supply and access in the western United States.

Fisher

Here today, here tomorrow: Managing forests for fisher habitat in the Northern RockiesDownload

July/August 2016; Issue 20

The fisher is a unique member of the weasel family and a sensitive species in the northern Rockies. Forest managers need information on fisher distribution and habitat needs to conserve this species while balancing multiple uses of forest lands and to maintain fisher populations under climate change.

RMRS researchers matched DNA samples from fishers to habitat features at various scales and found that fishers require large trees and forests with a lot of cover and structure, all nested within a larger forested landscape. Models of fisher habitat in the future under a warming climate suggest that the amount of favorable area is likely to expand and move eastward into the Interior West, but it could become more fragmented. Now and in the future, fisher management will require retention and fostering of mature, complex, mesic forests with a high degree of habitat connectivity.

Damage from the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire in a wildland-urban interface near Colorado Springs, Colorado (photo by Kari Greer, USFS).

Living with fire: How social scientists are helping wildland-urban interface communities reduce wildfire riskDownload

May/June 2016; Issue 19

Reducing wildfire risk to lives and property is a critical issue for policy makers, land managers, and citizens who reside in high-risk fire areas of the United States - this is especially the case in the Rocky Mountain region and other western states. In order for a wildfire risk reduction effort to be effective in a U.S. wildland-urban interface (WUI) community, the risk reduction effort must include community support and engagement. However, WUI communities have a wide range of social, political and economic characteristics that make a "cookie-cutter" approach to wildfire management planning unrealistic and ultimately ineffective.

To provide guidance on collaboration in fire and fuel management as advocated by the Healthy Forest Restoration Act of 2003, scientists at the USDA Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station studied social factors and the diversity of U.S. WUI community types. Their ongoing research continues to be effective in developing tools and strategies that improve collaboration between agencies, organizations, communities, and citizens, and is enhancing WUI communities’ long-term social capacity to address wildfire risk.

Decommissioning forest roads can reduce erosion and promote recovery of riparian ecosystems.

Road scholars for the western states: Protecting natural areas by improving road management researchDownload

March/April 2016; Issue 18

A poorly placed or unsuitably designed road can result in landslides, flooding, gullies, stream damage, and wildlife habitat destruction. Particularly in natural areas, benefits of roads, such as accessibility and convenience, must be weighed against potential water quality degradation, scenic and wildlife habitat destruction, and hazardous driving conditions.

Scientists at the Rocky Mountain Research Station helped create two free tools—GRAIP (Geomorphic Road Analysis and Inventory Package) and GRAIP-Lite—to help land managers make better decisions about road management in environmentally sensitive areas. GRAIP helps land managers analyze and predict surface erosion, gully risk, landslide risk, stream crossing failure risks, and other hazards. GRAIP-Lite allows land managers to quickly compare roads and road lengths in terms of their potential impact on the environment.

Figure 3.  Close-up of pelletized biochar.

Burgeoning biomass: Creating efficient and sustainable forest bioenergy technologies in the Rockies, part IIDownload

January/February 2016; Issue 17

Woody biomass could be used to generate renewable bioenergy and bioproducts in the western U.S. and has the potential to offer environmental and societal benefits. The purpose of the Rocky Mountain Research Station-led Biomass Research and Development Initiative (BRDI) project is to research and develop technologies, approaches, and new science that will help to make this possible.

Part one of this series (September/October 2014) addressed the economic and environmental challenges of the biomass supply chain, from the site of harvest to the bioenergy facility— from "cradle to gate." This issue of the Bulletin is focused on the supply chain from the conversion facility to end use, covering material processing, conversion, end use, and disposal—from "gate to grave." Research findings have the potential to facilitate biomass utilization as a feasible renewable energy option to offset fossil fuels, reduce our long-term carbon emissions, and address many significant forest management challenges.

Wildfire

Fire and forethought: Fire effects syntheses are a powerful tool for planning and management across resource fieldsDownload

September/October 2015; Issue 16

The Rocky Mountain Research Station’s Fire Effects Information System (FEIS) team synthesizes information about wildland fires, their history in U.S. ecosystems, and their effects on U.S. wildland plants, lichens, and animals. Found at www.feis-crs.org/feis/, FEIS publications can be used for many purposes, including land use planning, restoration and rehabilitation planning, wildlife and range projects, and related environmental assessments and impact statements. While traditionally used for fire management decisions, FEIS can also be used for NEPA, restoration, and other planning needs by managers in other resource fields, including wildlife, plants, soils, hydrology, and roads.

The burning of slash piles is a traditional wood-waste disposal method (photo by L. Asherin).

Slash from the past: Rehabilitating pile burn scarsDownload

July/August 2015; Issue 15

In the National Forests of northern Colorado, there is a backlog of over 140,000 slash piles slated to be burned, most of them coming from post-mountain pine beetle salvage logging and hazard reduction treatments. Burning slash piles can create openings in the forest that remain treeless for over 50 years, and can also have the short-term impacts of increasing nutrient availability and creating opportunities for weed establishment.

Working with managers, RMRS researchers have evaluated the available treatments for short-term rehabilitation of both smaller, hand-built and larger, machine-built burn piles. For the smaller piles, they found that both soil nitrogen and plant cover recovered to a level similar to that of the surrounding forest within two years, indicating that these scars may not need rehabilitation unless in a sensitive area. Seeding with native mountain brome (Bromus marginatus) was an effective option for the larger piles, whereas mechanical treatment either alone or with seeding did not increase plant cover.

Erosion of inboard ditch near Rocky Canyon, Idaho.

From watersheds to the web: Online tools for modeling forest soil erosionDownload

November/December 2014; Issue 14

Forest erosion can lead to topsoil loss, and also to damaging deposits of sediment in aquatic ecosystems. For this reason, forest managers must be able to estimate the erosion potential of both planned management activities and catastrophic events, in order to decide where to use limited funds to focus erosion control efforts.

To meet this need, scientists from RMRS (and collaborators) have spent over a decade developing a suite of online tools that can be used to predict erosion potential of forest alterations such as road building, forest management, and wildfire, as part of the Forest Service-Water Erosion Prediction Project (FS-WEPP). FS-WEPP is being continually refined, improved, and expanded upon to increase its usefulness, and to enable managers to run predictive watershed models for better land management decision-making and more desirable outcomes.

The harvesting and burning of woody biomass for energy is an emerging use of forest products.

Burgeoning biomass: Creating efficient and sustainable forest biomass supply chains in the RockiesDownload

September/October 2014; Issue 13

Woody biomass could be used to generate energy in the western U.S. if the utilization process is both economically feasible and ecologically sustainable. The purpose of the RMRS-led Biomass Research and Development Initiative (BRDI) is to develop technologies, approaches, and new science that will help to make this possible.

This issue of the Bulletin is focused on research addressing challenges of the biomass supply chain, from the time that a forest treatment is initiated to the time that the biomass residue reaches an end user (a later issue will address the technology of biomass conversion after the material is delivered). A major roadblock to effective biomass utilization is the high handling costs and low market value of woody biomass.

As part of this project, new technologies are being developed to enhance biomass resources assessment, improve supply chain logistics, and reduce handling costs through equipment modification and more efficiently managing operations in forest treatment areas. and quickly assessing forest biomass supplies, new and innovative tools are now available.

Salmon in a stream.

Climate change, crowd-sourcing, and conserving aquatic biotas in the Rocky Mountains this centuryDownload

July/August 2014; Issue 12

Climate change is causing rapid changes to stream habitats across the Rocky Mountains and Pacific Northwest as warmer air temperatures and changes in precipitation increase stream temperatures, alter stream hydrology, and increase the extent and magnitude of natural disturbances related to droughts and wildfires. These changes are affecting trout, salmon, and other fish populations, many of which are already subject to substantial non-climate stressors. Fish habitats at lower elevations - near the downstream edges of species distributions - are particularly vulnerable.

However, three Rocky Mountain Research scientists are conducting research and developing applied management tools that harness the power of crowd-sourcing to generate information and create opportunities for collaboration and resource allocation decisions that may help to conserve some of the aquatic biotas currently at risk. This is enabling adaptation to move forward at a scale and pace more appropriate to the challenges posed by climate change.

Alex Gaffke (front) and Diane Johnson (back) measuring Dalmatian toadflax density and heights on a biocontrol site transect, July 2013.

Toadflax stem miners and gallers: The original weed whackersDownload

May/June 2014; Issue 11

Dalmatian and yellow toadflax are aesthetically pleasing weeds wreaking havoc in rangelands across the western United States. These non-native forbs spread rapidly into fields following fire, tilling, construction, or other disturbances. They are successful and stubborn invaders, producing massive quantities of seeds each year and rapidly re-sprouting from root fragments. Eight non-native toadflax feeding insect species have been intentionally released or accidentally introduced in North America.

Stem mining weevils, Mecinus spp., serve as particularly powerful "weed whackers" against toadflax. Biological control of toadflax is complicated by the existence of two Mecinus species - each of which performs better on different toadflax species - and the appearance of competitively superior hybrids of yellow and Dalmatian toadflax. Cooperation between researchers and managers continues to improve the effectiveness of biocontrol and make headway against weedy invaders.

Water from the Big Thompson River washes through a wide landscape in Johnstown, CO (photo by Jenny Sparks, Loveland Reporter-Herald).

Our relationship with a dynamic landscape: Understanding the 2013 Northern Colorado FloodDownload

March/April 2014; Issue 10

The summer of 2013 was drier than normal along the Front Range, so when rain started falling on the northern end on September 9, 2013, some greeted it with enthusiasm. According to the Colorado Climate Center, total rainfall for the week beginning Monday, September 9th measured 16.9” in Boulder, 9.3” in Estes Park, 5.9” in Loveland, and 6.0” in Fort Collins. Because the steep, rocky terrain in and around these communities channels water, the effects of precipitation can be greatly amplified and lead to rapid runoff. The sudden, huge influx led to extensive flooding that damaged infrastructure on the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and devastated property, infrastructure, and lives in surrounding communities.

Image: A typical untreated dry mixed conifer forest consisting of Ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir, White fir, and Gambel Oak.

Revisiting disturbance: A new guide for keeping dry mixed conifer forests healthy through fuel managementDownload

January/February 2014; Issue 9

Planning for hazardous fuels reduction can be challenging, given that land managers must balance multiple resource objectives. To help managers with planning and implementing fuel treatments, the Rocky Mountain Research Station, with support from the Joint Fire Science Program, published A Comprehensive Guide to Fuel Management Practices for Dry Mixed Conifer Forests in the Northwestern United States (RMRS-GTR-292).

Developed in close consultation with managers, the guide contains a synthesis of the best information on the management community's most frequently asked questions about how to: balance multiple resource objectives, understand and choose among the broad range of available treatment options (including considerations for prescribed burn plans and flow charts to guide the choice of equipment for mechanical treatment), develop an efficient and effective monitoring plan, and understand the trade-offs among longevity, effectiveness, and cost of various treatment options.

Mean annual water yield

Coming to a landscape near you: Natural resource changes in the Interior WestDownload

November/December 2013; Issue 8

In the coming decades, population growth, economic growth, and associated land-use changes - in concert with climate change - will influence forests and rangelands in the Interior West. Society’s demand for ecosystem goods and services continues to increase as human and biophysical change alter the productive capacity of these lands.

The 2010 RPA Assessment uses scenario-based socioeconomic and climatic projections to analyze these natural resource trends. Geographic variation throughout the Interior West will determine local trends, but regional trends project population growth around existing urban centers and the likelihood of water shortages, primarily in the Southwest. Projected population growth will increase demands for water, agricultural-to-residential land-use changes, and habitat fragmentation. Projected climatic change will further complicate the picture of the region’s future, as water availability decreases, outdoor recreation opportunities shift, and increasing temperatures alter habitat.

Wooden swing in the wildland urban interface.

Fire on the mountain: What motivates homeowners to reduce their wildfire risk?Download

September/October 2013; Issue 7

New home building in the wildland-urban interface (WUI) continues unabated, despite the high financial and human costs of fighting fires in these areas. The goal of this research is to understand, through surveys and expert assessments, the attitudes and perceptions of WUI homeowners as they relate to taking action to reduce wildfire risk on their property.

In a two-county survey in Colorado, it was found that the most important sources of information for WUI residents that were related to taking action were “informal social networks” (such as talking with neighbors) and guidance from local fire departments and county wildfire specialists. This research helps to further our understanding of how education and outreach can play a role in moving homeowners to better understand the ongoing risk that wildfire poses in the WUI so they can take appropriate steps to protect themselves and their property.

2002 Rodeo-Chediski Fire

Seeing red: New tools for mapping and understanding fire severityDownload

July/August 2013; Issue 6

Large, severe fires are ecologically and socially important because they have lasting effects on vegetation and soils, can potentially threaten people and property, and can be costly to manage. The goals of the Fire Severity Mapping Project (FIRESEV), which covers lands in the continental western United States, are to understand where and why fires burn severely, and to give fire managers, fire ecologists, and natural resource managers tools to assess severity before, during, and after a wildfire. FIRESEV has produced a suite of tools for a wide range of fire management applications, including real-time forecasts and assessments in wildfire situations, post-wildfire rehabilitation efforts, and long-term planning.

The quality of water draining forested watersheds is typically the best in the nation.

Our forests in the [water] balanceDownload

May/June 2013; Issue 5

Climate change is not only causing temperatures to rise, it is also altering the amount and type of precipitation that falls across the western United States. Research shows a trend of increasingly dry “dry years,” meaning droughts are becoming more severe and streams are flowing lower during these periods. Forests play an important role in delivering high quality water to streams, but climate change is affecting this role. Drought can cause tree mortality due to lack of water or reduced resistance to insects and disease. Dry fuels and stressed vegetation in forests also increases the potential for large wildfires.

When many trees die in a forest fire or from disease or insect outbreaks, the amount of water entering nearby streams often increases. However, so does the delivery of sediment to these streams through erosion. These changes call on resource managers and communities in the West to start conversations today about addressing water supplies in the future. In addition, silviculturists, fuel specialists, and aquatic ecologists can work together to maintain a holistic view of ecosystems that, above all, considers where forests fit in the water balance.

Stem cankers from white pine blister rust.

Return of the king: Western white pine conservation and restoration in a changing climateDownload

March/April 2013; Issue 4

Western white pine (Pinus monticola) is a species that used to dominate the forests of the Interior Northwest prior to the expansion of the Northern Pacific Railroad in the late 19th century. However, substantial harvesting and the early 20th century introduction of the invasive fungal pathogen that causes white pine blister rust disease reduced the extent of western white pine by 90%.

Now, as managers seek to restore damaged and degraded ecosystems in the Inland Northwest, new research is shedding light on the genetic structure and diversity of western white pine populations. Genetic diversity is greatest in southern populations, which existed well before northern populations. The scientists’ research can go a long way toward helping to inform western white pine conservation and restoration efforts in an era of climate change.

Blackbrush ecosystem

Upwardly mobile in the western U.S. desert: Blackbrush shrublands respond to a changing climateDownload

January/February 2013; Issue 3

Blackbrush (Colegyne ramosissima) is a desert shrubland species that is currently dominant on over three million acres of the transition zone between the cold desert of the Great Basin and the warm desert of the southwestern United States. Western landscapes are projected to experience unprecedented changes as the climate warms, and researchers at the Rocky Mountain Research Station have been studying the response of this species to assess whether it can move upward in elevation and latitude.

Blackbrush was found to have two distinct populations (in the warmer Mojave Desert and the cooler Colorado Plateau), which should give the species greater flexibility in responding to climate change and managers the opportunity to work with locally adapted seeds and plants. Scientists and managers will need to work together to foster the survival of this important species by identifying priority areas for conservation/restoration, identifying climate-adapted seed sources, and possibly assisting with its long-term migration.

Prescribed burning can be an important component of restoration in frequent-fire forests.

Wildfire triage: Targeting mitigation based on social, economic, and ecological valuesDownload

December 2012; Issue 2

Evaluating the risks of wildfire relative to the valuable resources found in any managed landscape requires an interdisciplinary approach. Researchers at the Rocky Mountain Research Station and Western Wildland Threat Assessment Center developed such a process, using a combination of techniques rooted in fire modeling and ecology, economics, decision sciences, and the human dimensions of managing natural resources.

The method combines predictive mapping of the distribution and intensity of wildfire with locations of highly valued resources. By soliciting input from experts, the response of each resource to different fire intensity levels is estimated and categorized. Combining the likelihood and intensity of fire with the locations and predicted responses of key resources across a landscape allows scientists and managers to determine the areas and assets most likely to experience significant change due to fire.

Forest impacted by the mountain pine beetle.

From death comes life: Recovery and revolution in the wake of epidemic outbreaks of mountain pine beetleDownload

October 2012; Issue 1

Changing climatic conditions and an abundance of dense, mature pine forests have helped to spur an epidemic of mountain pine beetles larger than any in recorded history. This has raised concerns among many people that the death, desiccation, and decomposition of the overstory could have dramatic and negative consequences for affected ecosystems.

Researchers at the Rocky Mountain Research Station have been studying the current outbreak since its inception in hopes of shedding light on what the future might hold after the waves of mountain pine beetles recede. Through ongoing studies focused on the water, vegetation, fuels, and management practices employed in infested forests, they are beginning to piece together a picture of the long-term change that surging beetle numbers impart on the land. While much remains to be learned about the current outbreak of mountain pine beetles, researchers are already finding that beetles may impart a characteristic critically lacking in many pine forests today: structural complexity and species diversity.