Post-treatment monitoring shows the success of fuels-reduction treatment in an Arizona forest

Post-treatment monitoring shows the success of fuels-reduction treatment in an Arizona forest

Wilburforce Fellow Miranda Gray makes a case for monitoring as a valuable tool for assessing the efficacy of forest treatments.

CSP’s Miranda Gray recently conducted an analysis to monitor the effects of forest treatments in the Upper Beaver Creek (UBC) watershed of northern Arizona, where a prescribed fire was implemented in 2015. The goal of this treatment was to reduce dense fuel accumulations and encourage the growth of grasses, shrubs, and wildflowers. Supported by the National Forest Foundation through the Northern Arizona Forest Fund, this study entailed analyzing high-resolution imagery to identify evidence of a restored landscape and provide a quantitative information about outcomes. Although monitoring is essential for understanding the results of forest treatments, it is often overlooked during project planning and budgeting. Remote-sensing approaches can be ideal for tracking conditions before and after prescribed fires.

Gray found that canopy cover — a key indicator of potential fire behavior — was reduced by 15% after the treatments. The results were applied to a fire model, which also identified a corresponding trend: a 27% reduction in potential fire intensity and a 10% reduction in the potential for active crown fire. In areas with the lowest initial canopy cover, the imagery showed that grasses and forbs likely benefited from a post-fire nutrient flush and reduced competition from large trees. Both of these outcomes — an increase in herbaceous fine fuels and a decrease in canopy cover — are expected to increase the potential for surface fires, an important characteristic of healthy forest dynamics.

To read Miranda’s recap of this work, visit her guest blog post on NFF’s web site.

New CSP study predicts areas that are at risk of wild pig invasion

New CSP study predicts areas that are at risk of wild pig invasion

CSP’s latest work on wild pigs, one of the most destructive invasive species in the world, identifies a need for aggressive management to prevent far-reaching impacts.

A group of researchers led by CSP’s Dr. Jesse Lewis recently published a study in Nature Scientific Reports on invasive wild pigs, also known as feral swine. The study, entitled “Biotic and abiotic factors predicting the global distribution and population density of an invasive large mammal,” represents a collaboration between CSP, Colorado State University, and the USDA Center for Epidemiology and Animal Health. The researchers analyzed data from five continents — North America, South America, Africa, Eurasia, and Australia — to map predicted pig population densities and found a great potential for them to expand their geographic ranges. By identifying the areas that are at risk of invasion, this work provides a basis for informing and prioritizing management actions.

Wild pigs have become an increasingly important research topic because they are highly destructive — and because their populations can expand rapidly under the right conditions. Each year, they cause an estimated $1.5 billion in damage in the U.S. alone, impacting natural ecosystems, residential developments, agricultural fields, and rangelands. Their populations are expanding in response to various factors, including illegal translocations by people (for hunting) and human-induced land use changes.

The study also found that incorporating biotic factors such as predation and vegetation into species distribution models can improve their predictive ability. Biotic factors have traditionally been underrepresented in such models. According to Lewis, a combination of both biotic and abiotic factors — plant productivity, forage and water availability, cover, predation, and land use changes — had the greatest impact on wild pig distribution and densities.

To read the paper online, click here.

Bryan Wallace joins the CSP team

Bryan Wallace joins the CSP team

We are happy to announce that Bryan Wallace, PhD, has joined us and will be working out of our Fort Collins office.

Bryan is a wildlife ecologist who brings us skills in conservation biology, particularly protected-resources biology and conservation, as well as marine ecology, fisheries management, and ecophysiology. He earned his doctorate in 2005 at Drexel University and has held positions in academia, international NGOs, and the for-profit sector. Bryan has authored over 60 publications and served as a reviewer for 30 journals. Although his background spans many areas of conservation biology, much of his research has focused on marine megafauna — specifically, sea turtles, an iconic species that offers unique insights about the health and function of the world’s oceans.

In addition to his research, he has enjoyed participating in nontechnical, popular communications that provide an opportunity to amplify important messages about conservation to broader audiences — for example, the book, Sea Turtles of the Eastern Pacific: Advances in Research and Conservation, for which he served as an editor.

Throughout his career, Bryan has focused on developing conservation strategies for endangered species, assessing the impacts to resources under anthropogenic threats, and developing priorities for resource management with limited budgets.

We are excited to be working with him.

Miranda Gray awarded a Wilburforce Fellowship in Conservation Science

Miranda Gray awarded a Wilburforce Fellowship in Conservation Science

CSP is proud to announce that Miranda Gray, Lead Scientist, is one of 20 new Wilburforce Fellows for 2017.

The Wilburforce Fellowship in Conservation Science is a year-long program that gives participants tools to bridge the gap between science and policy, providing training in leadership and science communication. Now in its second year, the Fellowship encourages scientists to not only advance decision-relevant research but also to contribute to conservation solutions by engaging with local communities, policymakers, land managers, and those with diverse perspectives to help sustain wildlife and wildlands. Fellows are selected via a competitive process on the basis of their skills, experience, and passion for conservation in the West.

Miranda applies quantitative methods to ecological problems. One of her areas of expertise is modeling landscape connectivity for ecological processes, a skill she has used to pioneer new works in the realm of fire ecology. Miranda is hoping to build a broader constellation of relationships and develop conservation solutions through collaborative processes. She will join her cohorts in Tucson for a 6-day intensive training this April. During this training, the fellows will set goals for engagement on a conservation issue, start defining an action plan to achieve these goals, and learn a variety of communication and leadership skills, including storytelling, framing, and messaging.

New CSP study examines the impacts of OHV roads on the space use patterns of the kit fox

New CSP study examines the impacts of OHV roads on the space use patterns of the kit fox

An analysis by CSP finds a strong correlation between the density of off-highway vehicle (OHV) road networks and space use by Sonoran Desert kit fox during the winter months.

The kit fox, a species that inhabits low-elevation regions of Arizona’s Sonoran Desert, was the subject of a collaboration between CSP and researchers from Arizona Game & Fish Department. Kit fox populations in this area have been declining in response to industrial, agricultural, and urban development. This study, published in The Journal of Wildlife Management, is the first to specifically investigate the relationship between OHV road networks and kit fox space use.

CSP’s Jesse Anderson and Brett Dickson used several types of information for this study — monitoring data collected for 22 foxes over a 3-year period, spatial (landscape) data, and aerial surveys of OHV use — to assess environmental variables such as road density, topographic features, and distance to water and development. The study area included two sites in central Arizona.

They found that only one variable — road density in winter — correlated strongly to negative space use impacts (that is, a decrease in the amount and/or quality of available kit fox habitat). This result is likely due to higher OHV use during the cooler winter months, when kit foxes engage in breeding, denning, and pupping activities.

The study results suggest that expanding OHV road networks will likely result in habitat loss for kit foxes. Managers will ultimately need to balance these types of recreational opportunities with the need to conserve habitat for species such as the kit fox.

An ecological case for designating the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument

An ecological case for designating the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument

Recent work by CSP finds that the proposed Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument (GGCNHM) — one of the last truly wild areas in the West — presents a unique opportunity for protecting ecological functions.

CSP has been engaged in various landscape-level analyses to identify areas of high ecological value in undeveloped lands throughout the western U.S. A recent connectivity study conducted by Brett Dickson and others[1] identified three notable areas in the West with high ecological flow. One of these areas is the proposed GGCNHM in northern Arizona. If designated, the monument would permanently protect 1.78 million acres of land surrounding Grand Canyon National Park that are currently threatened by increased development, logging, and a resurgence of uranium mining.

Earlier this year, CSP and the Center for American Progress (CAP) initiated a study to further assess the proposed GGCNHM’s ecological importance. CSP had previously collaborated with CAP on the groundbreaking Disappearing West project, which found that we are losing natural areas to human development at an alarmingly fast rate. CSP’s role in GGCNHM study entailed conducting a West-wide comparative analysis of various key indicators that included resilience to climate change, ecological connectivity and intactness, biodiversity, and remoteness. The analysis demonstrated that this area far exceeds other similar-size western landscapes in terms of ecological connectivity and intactness, geophysical uniqueness, and richness of rare and irreplaceable species. According to CAP, the study “makes an irrefutable scientific case for protecting this area.”

The proposed designation clearly presents a unique opportunity to conserve key elements of ecological function within the region. What may be less obvious is the opportunity this presents for the entire western U.S.; designating this monument would strategically strengthen our existing network of protected areas in the face of climate change. The GGCHNM’s value in sustaining large, contiguous landscapes that support high levels of regional biodiversity should not be underestimated.

Read “A strategic, practical solution to conserving biodiversity and habitat connectivity in our Disappearing West” to learn more about the importance of connecting protected areas.

Visit the CAP’s web site to learn more about the proposed GGCNHM designation.

[1] Dickson, B.G., C.M Albano, B.H. McRae, J.J. Anderson, D.M. Theobald, L.J. Zachmann, T.D. Sisk, & M.P. Dombeck. 2016. Informing strategic efforts to expand and connect protected areas using a model of ecological flow, with application to the western US. Conservation Letters. DOI:10.1111/conl.12322

Job Announcement & Description: Lead Scientist

Job announcement and description: Lead Scientist

The Lead Scientist position provides a combination of analytical and project management leadership and support engaging as part of a team of ecologists for landscape and conservation planning projects, with emphasis on the U.S.

The work requires highly creative quantitative thinking and includes developing models, tools, and maps using remotely sensed imagery, cutting-edge spatial analysis and statistics, and advanced techniques in GIS, database applications, and programming. The emphasis of projects is generally on terrestrial ecology but includes freshwater systems as well as interactions with human systems (e.g., land use, protected areas, social networks) using analyses such as disturbance, impacts or risk; climate change vulnerability; species occupancy modeling, and habitat/space use or movement of species. In this context, CSP has been working to cultivate an internal culture of innovation and creativity to more precisely define the function, direction, and branding of the organization.

Specific responsibilities for this position include:

  • Conducting advanced statistical and spatial analyses
  • Contributing to the design, development, and management of multiple projects simultaneously
  • Fostering, maintaining, and directing communications with clients, research collaborators, graduate students, interns, and project personnel, as appropriate
  • Developing or supporting manuscripts, reports, proposals, and professional presentations
  • Providing project management and other logistical support to projects and key personnel, as needed
  • Preparing GIS and other spatial data layers, including metadata, and tabular data sources for use in modeling, reporting, and planning activities
  • Managing, processing, mapping, and utilizing remotely sensed and other spatially referenced (e.g., telemetry, camera) data originating from multiple sources
  • Developing ecological metrics (e.g., dependent and independent variables for models) of interest using biological and spatially referenced data and associated tools (e.g., GIS or R based spatial statistics and regression models)
  • Learning new approaches, methods and software, as appropriate

Required qualifications: MS or PhD in ecology or conservation biology, or a related field. One to three years of additional research or professional experience in the field is preferred. Applied experience using advanced spatial analysis, statistical modeling, and mapping methods is a plus. Demonstrated experience acquiring and processing remotely sensed images, as well as a strong grounding in field work in western ecosystems are highly desirable.

Expected start date: January 2017

Deadline to apply: Position open until filled

Location: This position is located in Fort Collins, CO. Salary: A highly competitive salary commensurate with experience.

Benefits: CSP offers a comprehensive group medical, dental, and vision insurance package, as well as retirement benefits.

To apply: Please send a cover letter, current CV, and contact information for three professional references to davet@csp‐inc.org. Please place LEAD SCIENTIST POSITION in the subject line. Applications will be handled electronically and by email only.

Conservation Science Partners, Inc., is an equal opportunity employer.

CSP identifies vulnerable Sierra Nevada meadows using climate and remote sensing data

CSP study identifies vulnerable Sierra Nevada meadows using historical climate and remote sensing data

CSP is developing a decision framework for focusing restoration and conservation actions in Sierra Nevada meadows based on an assessment of their vulnerability to climate change.

Two CSP scientists — Christine Albano and Meredith McClure — are leading a study of meadow ecosystems in the Sierra Nevada ecoregion. The 2-year study, which kicked off this past July, involves developing a tool to identify the most vulnerable meadows to guide decision-making and monitoring in these areas. The CSP team is working with scientists from the Desert Research Institute (DRI) as well as resource managers from the Forest Service. The resulting decision-support tool will be piloted by the Amador-Calaveras Consensus Group (ACCG), a consortium of 34 organizations that plans to prioritize 20 meadows for restoration in the upper Mokelumne, Stanislaus, Calaveras, and Consumnes watersheds of California.

The study focuses on meadows because of their ecological significance. Although they comprise less than 1 percent of lands within the Sierra Nevada ecoregion, meadows perform critical functions: they store carbon and nitrogen, mediate surface water flows, recharge aquifers, filter sediments, and provide refugia for numerous species. Unfortunately, they are highly vulnerable to climate variations because they depend largely on shallow groundwater systems to feed surface flows, seeps, and springs. These systems can be profoundly affected by rising temperatures and reductions in rainfall and snow pack.

To assess how vegetation has changed in response to variations in climate, the research team is analyzing 26 years of data for about 6,000 meadows and evaluating these responses in the context of geologic, topographic, and hydrologic factors. The project builds on existing work —datasets, analyses, computational methods, and software — developed by the PIs and partners. Stakeholders will be able to visualize vegetation conditions under various climate scenarios and time scales using a Google Earth technology.

CSP develops a strategic, practical solution to conserving biodiversity and habitat connectivity

A strategic, practical solution to conserving biodiversity and habitat connectivity in our Disappearing West

CSP uses concepts from electronic circuit theory to identify and map critical tracts of land that can serve as “connective tissue” between existing protected areas.

The results of CSP’s Disappearing West analysis, published online earlier this year, identified where — and how fast — we are losing natural areas to human development. This work, which garnered international attention, posed a call to action for new conservation measures to prevent the further loss of biodiversity and ecological functions across the West, particularly in the face of rapid land cover and climate changes.

Now a new CSP study provides a tool for doing just this — in the most efficient way possible. Rather than targeting large areas for conservation efforts, which can be politically challenging, the study identifies relatively small tracts of land that would best connect habitat between existing protected areas (PAs). This “less is more” approach offers a more practical, optimized, and less costly solution for identifying and conserving public lands that are currently unprotected.

An innovative, quantitative approach

The study used high-resolution data from the Disappearing West project, which identified the level of human modification caused by multiple stressors such as urbanization, energy development, and transportation corridors. It also builds on a previous CSP investigation of unprotected, roadless Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands in the West.

For this new analysis, CSP combined its model of human modification with a circuit-theory-based model of habitat connectivity to simulate patterns of “ecological flow” between existing PAs and across broad landscapes. Circuit models assume that ecological processes (such as individual movement and gene flow) are analogous to the flow of electrical current through a network of resistors. They calculate the potential current flow and voltage across a grid that represents a heterogeneous landscape characterized by differing resistance levels, depending on the amount of human modification. Although circuit theory has been used in ecology for about a decade, researchers typically model PAs as large, homogeneous patches with zero resistance to represent the condition of no human development. CSP, on the other hand, considered human modification, both within PAs and elsewhere, while also incorporating the likely effects of natural barriers such as steep slopes and rivers on the potential movement of plants and wildlife. The results of this analysis are not only far more realistic but they also facilitate in-depth comparison across management jurisdictions.

Another unique feature of this study is its large geographic scope; the connectivity model covers eleven western states in the U.S: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. In addition, the study results, provided as a series of highly detailed, open-source maps and data sets, are completely “species neutral” and can therefore be applied to future studies of all plants and wildlife.

Results and significance

In addition to revealing key connective lands between PAs, CSP’s model indicates three notable areas with high ecological flow: southern Oregon / Idaho, northern Arizona / central Utah, and much of Nevada, where the orientation of Basin and Range landforms appears to encourage flow between northwestern and southwestern states. Many of these areas lay within the BLM’s jurisdiction.

According to Brett Dickson, CSP’s President and Chief Scientist, the results of this study underscore the ecological value of BLM lands, which are often “underappreciated” by conservationists. These results may also have profound implications for nominating Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACECs) — special management areas designated by the BLM to protect, among other things, significant ecological resources. Determined through an administrative (rather than legislative or executive) process, ACECs may be nominated by any entity. CSP’s study provides critical information on connectivity that can support ACEC nominations, filling a key data gap for those involved in conservation efforts in the western U.S. The study results can also inform legislative or executive actions to expand Wilderness Areas, Wilderness Study Areas, National Monuments, National Conservation Areas, and other lands in the National Conservation Lands system.

current-flow

Current flow across the 11 western states (A) and within unprotected, roadless BLM lands (B). PA centroids were calculated as the geometric center of individual or immediately adjacent PAs.

high-conn-areas

Result of a ranked combination of high conservation value areas with both high current flow centrality and low effective resistance across unprotected, roadless BLM lands in the western US. The 95th‐percentile of the ranked combination values is shown in yellow. Insets detail concentrations of highly ranked conservation value areas in the greater Owyhee Canyonlands region (top), central Utah (middle), and northwestern Arizona (bottom). Major interstate highways also are shown.

Access the paper here.

To create maps and download data, visit Databasin.org. You will need to create an account and join the Ecological Connectivity in the West group.

This study was funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts. Read their web analysis here.

CSP collaborated with several leading experts for this project. Partners included Northern Arizona University, University of California ‐ Davis, The Nature Conservancy, and University of Wisconsin‐Stevens Point.

CSP publishes a survey design for monitoring global environmental change

CSP publishes a survey design for monitoring global environmental change

CSP’s Dave Theobald published a paper in the September 2016 issue of Remote Sensing describing a project that has significant implications for collaborative and citizen science.

The paper recaps Theobald’s work designing a general-purpose spatial survey for monitoring environmental changes on a global scale. The primary product of this project is a massive database — the “Global Grid”— that maps all locations across the globe (at resolutions down to about 1 square kilometer) with a randomized sequence number. CSP is currently using the Grid for several projects, including one that entails generating a global dataset for land use and land cover validation.

The Global Grid has several unique features. Its design is not only probability based, but it is also flexible, multi-scale, and globally comprehensive. The Grid builds on previous work of the U.S. EPA and others. Its design is intended to both optimize and standardize sampling locations for environmental monitoring, for a variety of resource types, for application across institutional and administrative boundaries. It is available in a variety of open-source formats.

To learn more about this project, read “A General-Purpose Spatial Survey Design for Collaborative Science and Monitoring of Global Environmental Change: The Global Grid.”

A sample design of the Global Grid for land use/cover, stratified on an urban to rural gradient generated from “nightlights” imagery from 2013

A sample design of the Global Grid for land use/cover, stratified on an urban to rural gradient generated from “nightlights” imagery from 2013