Restoring the West Conference 2013 Oral Presentation Abstracts
Oral Presentation Abstracts
Listed by order of presentation
Click on the links below to view PowerPoint presentations with audio
Greg Aplet, Senior Director of Ecology, The Wilderness Society, Denver, Colorado
Climate change promises to erode ecosystems and undermine more than a century of conservation
gains. Protected area managers can no longer expect protection or restoration alone
to sustain ecological integrity and instead must identify strategies to increase the
resilience of ecosystem elements as ecosystems change. To “buy time” for diverse,
future ecosystems to develop, conservation priorities should focus on maintaining
those elements that take a long time to develop, including soils and the genetic diversity
in populations. Unfortunately, uncertainty about the future of ecosystems under climate
change dictates that it is unknowable which strategy will work “best,” and a “portfolio”
of approaches must be tried to spread the risk of loss. We argue that protected area
adaptation is best served by allocating wildlands to three zones: 1) a Restoration
Zone where whole ecosystems are actively maintained and change is resisted, 2) an
Observation Zone where directional change is accepted, and 3) an Innovation Zone where
change is guided into conditions unlike the past but with a better chance of sustaining
highly valued ecosystem elements and processes in the long term. Such a spatially
explicit approach can provide a framework for evaluating the appropriateness of various
“adaptation options” and facilitate adaptive management to minimize climate risk.
The presentation will close with consideration of criteria to guide allocation of
the landscape to the portfolio.
Dominik Kulakowski, Associate Professor, Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts
Forest ecosystems are being affected by both the indirect and direct results of climate
change. Indirect drivers include increasing extent, magnitude and/or frequency of
various forest disturbances such as wildfires and insect outbreaks. Direct drivers
include droughts and altered temperature and precipitation regimes. Together these
drivers are likely to affect the composition of Rocky Mountain forests, including
the dominance and extent of quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides). Here I review recent work on these topics and propose possible future consequences
for quaking aspen. Warm and dry conditions generally result in increased wildfires
and bark beetle outbreaks, particularly in coniferous forests. Both of these disturbances
have the potential to increase aspen dominance due to aspen’s ability to regenerate
in and dominate post-disturbance environments. Furthermore, compounded disturbances
(i.e. two or more disturbances occurring in short succession) also appear to favor
regeneration of aspen over conifers and could further increase aspen dominance if
compounded disturbances increase with projected shifts in climate regimes. However,
aspen demography is contingent on favorable climatic conditions. If the same warm
and dry conditions that bring about disturbance regimes potentially favorable to aspen
dominance also characterize post-disturbance environments, theses climatic conditions
may actually inhibit the ability of aspen to regenerate, grow, and survive. If aspen
is able to increase dominance due to changing disturbance regimes and a changing climate,
this will likely affect forest susceptibility to subsequent disturbances. As aspen
stands are generally more mesic than adjacent conifer stands, the former are less
likely to burn. Aspen stands are also less susceptible to bark beetle outbreaks that
affect conifers and to wind disturbances. Thus any change in the amount of aspen in
the landscape has the potential to feedback to the overall disturbance regime at broad
scales. The consequences of changing disturbance regimes for quaking aspen in the
western U.S. are likely to be complex and contingent on post-disturbance climatic
conditions as well as on feedbacks among climate, disturbances, and forest species
Simon Landhausser, Professor and Industry Research Chair in Forest Land Reclamation, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta
Resource extraction results in severe disturbance to landscapes representing a range of boreal forest ecosystems. In Canada, operators are obligated to "revegetate the disturbed land to… self-sustaining, locally common boreal forest … ." An understanding of the natural processes, relationships, and dynamics in these forest ecosystems is key to rebuilding resilient and sustainable boreal forests. In this context resilience can encompass both recovering from the mining disturbance and the capacity to recover from future natural disturbances and stresses. In this presentation I will discuss the aspect of selection and establishment of plant species in restoring diverse and productive forest ecosystems, which therefore possess properties that are likely to confer resilience. Recognizing the role of the species being reintroduced during the recovery of severely disturbed areas is critical in determining the trajectories along which reclaimed forest stands develop. As such, the autecology and life-history traits of these species and their abundance through time and space are critical to assess resistance and resiliency of these future ecosystems. In this presentation I will give examples of some of the roles plants and their traits play in the development of resistance and resiliency in reclaimed novel ecosystems emphasizing linkages among plants and ecosystem processes.
Paul Rogers, Director, Western Aspen Alliance, Logan, Utah
Managers and scientists alike commonly practice quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides Michx.) management with a 'one-size-fits-all approach' based a simple successional model: aspen as the "pioneer" species is overtaken by locally dominant confers as time increases post-disturbance. We now know that aspen reacts to disturbance, at various scales, along multiple pathways. How might this realization affect a more informed management/restoration approach? We examine a variety of aspen types as ecological systems; not exclusively seral dynamics and single species management. The framework presented here distinguishes three first-order “functional types” with a total of seven embedded second-order “subtypes”: Seral (boreal, montane), Stable (parkland, Colorado Plateau, elevation/aspect limited, terrain isolated), and Mixed Seral-Stable (riparian). This presentation draws from a larger review paper on aspen functional types to describe unique disturbance processes in varied geographic settings. Important features of these distinctions include physiological and climate conditions, stand structures and dynamics, and disturbance types and periodicity. The talk will briefly look at confounding factors—such as past management, ungulate herbivory, and climate futures—that impact the functionality of aspen disturbance regimes. Finally, the discussion will explore appropriate short- and long-term management considerations for each of the aspen sub-types. The quaking aspen framework lends itself to future management and research courses that seek to emulate ecological processes rather than alter or control them. There is potential for applying a functional approach to other vegetation types (e.g., ponderosa pine, sagebrush, short-grass prairie) whose wide geographic ranges engender diverse adaptations, as well as management responses.
Jesse Morris, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho, and Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas
During the mid-1800s, the livelihoods of European settlers arriving to the Colorado Plateau relied heavily upon timber and forage resources located in the subalpine highlands. Over the 20th century, these ecosystems remained vitally important to conservation and society, as melting snowpack sustains many iconic, desert-themed National Parks and also provides recharge to the Colorado River. Additionally, the forested uplands are regional economic centers for ski and summer tourism and also provide forage for sheep and cattle. In recent decades, many of these landforms were impacted by severe native bark beetles outbreaks and wildfire. In the popular media these disturbances are frequently portrayed as artifacts of climate warming. Yet long-term ecological data suggests that the mechanisms promoting these disturbances are more complex and that the ecological status of these systems are deeply intertwined with historical land-use practices – not simply climate alone. A key challenge facing stewards and stakeholders in the Colorado Plateau-region is developing a synthesis of short and long-term ecological data that is useful for management. This talk will focus on utilizing centennial- to millennial-scale records of vegetation and disturbance to contextualize 21st century climate change and associated shifts in disturbance regimes.
S.-Y. Simon Wang, Assistant Professor of Climate, Utah State University, Logan, Utah
The Intermountain West belongs to a unique climate regime that is not controlled by any of the prominent climate modes like El Niño. Climate records from both instruments and paleochronology indicated repetitive drought cycles spanning about 10-15 years. The lack of understanding in what causes such drought cycles hampers current prediction capability for climate models. More research thus is needed to explore this climate oscillation. As part of the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) comprehensive forest survey, tens of thousands of tree cores were sampled on an approximate 5 km grid. Many of these cores span several centuries and represent all forest types. Hence, the core strength of the FIA tree-ring data is the unprecedented resource of a long-term documentation of climate variability coupled with high spatial resolution for reconstructed variables for mountain regions where data have been previously unavailable.
James Lutz, Assistant Professor, Utah State University, Logan, Utah
Many change agents in western forests, such as fire, wind, drought, and beetle outbreaks, are episodic, and although they can occur on decadal frequencies – a long time horizon for most research – forest stands that are centuries old have likely experienced these disturbances many times. Each of these episodic disturbances affects different species and different diameter classes with patterns that can be random, highly aggregated, or overdispersed. The observed variation in both the distribution and sizes of forest trees in primary forests therefore represents the integration of many occurrences of these episodic disturbances over tree lifespans. Attempts to restore forest composition and structure are more difficult when the range of structural heterogeneity is poorly understood, and if heterogeneity is underestimated, ecosystem function in restored stands may be limited. Better understanding of forest structure and structural development requires large data sets that can capture the variation present within forest stands. Data sets must include sufficient spatial representation for elucidation of characteristic patterns, and also sufficient temporal depth to understand the range of variation of demographic processes.
Aspen reproduction following fire in central Arizona: Surprises and challenges (Recording
Mary Lou Fairweather, Plant Pathologist, USDA Forest Service, Flagstaff, Arizona
Due to widespread increase in wildfire, previously established permanent plots allow unexpected post-fire observations. Aspen within the surveyed area of the 2010 Schultz Fire sprouted abundantly following fire. Regeneration density averaged >24,700 stems/hectare in 2012. Aspen density varied widely across the area due in part to ungulate browse impacts, but was also likely influenced by pre-fire aspen and conifer densities. Aspen stem density and heights increased for the first time since the plots were established in 2003. Although aspen along the Waterline Road are abundant and growing taller than they were in 2003, the majority of plots suffered heavy ungulate browse, exceeding 65% of stems browsed. An abundant crop of aspen seedlings occurred in 2011. Although we observed survival of seedlings in 2012, they became difficult to distinguish from sprouts without excavation. Although this study is based on a limited, serendipitous, plot network, the implications of seedling production and survival are important, especially in light of climate change.
Andrew Kulmatiski, Assistant Professor, Utah State University, Logan, Utah
Plant water use, especially in semi-arid systems, is critical to growth, competition, fire regimes, tree stress and biosphere-atmosphere energy budgets. Yet due to the difficulties of working belowground we lack good estimates of the timing and location and extent of root activity by different plant species. Here I describe a depth-specific tracer technique that describes the timing, location and extent of water use by plants in sites from around the world. Results show that 1) trees typically rely on surprising shallow soils (10-30 cm) and 2) trees and other woody plants are able to rapidly change rooting patterns within growing seasons to ‘follow the water’. I discuss how these rooting patterns are likely to affect forest distributions in response to anticipated climate change.
Jerry F. Franklin, Professor, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington
A broad scientific consensus now exists regarding the urgent need for massive efforts to restore resiliency to western forests and landscapes that were historically characterized by the occurrence of frequent, low to mixed-severity wildfire. Important elements of this consensus include the need to focus on restoring ecosystem processes rather than on fuels and strategic fuel breaks, planning and implementing activities at larger spatial scales, incorporating more natural and prescribed fire into plans, and prioritizing areas where greater natural resource values are at risk. Although restoration treatments need to focus on desired future conditions, rather than past conditions, recent historic research is making it increasingly clear that conditions in most western pine and mixed-conifer forests are far outside of their historic range of variability and that natural resource values (such as old tree populations) are often most at risk in mixed-conifer forests. Collaborative groups are proving critical in moving restoration programs forward, engaging and often empowering agency personnel in these activities. These collaborative groups need to be embraced by agencies and participate in all aspects of the restoration programs on public lands including critical elements of adaptive management – design and implementation of monitoring programs and interpretation of monitoring data, including appropriate adaptive changes to management and monitoring programs. In the 20th century collaborative groups may represent the most important interface between the American public and federal land management agencies.
Mark Brunson, Professor and Department Head, Utah State University, Logan, Utah
For 20+ years we have heard that forest ecosystem management requires adopting strategies that are ecologically sustainable, economically feasible, and socially acceptable. This implies that forests actually are more than ecosystems, and should be managed as social-ecological systems. Yet forest management often has failed to incorporate the social side of the equation. Partly this may reflect biases inherent in natural science education, but more so it derives from a poor understanding of how to link social and ecological systems in quantitatively measurable ways. As a result, societal concerns have been treated largely as constraints to economically or ecologically driven management.
The emergence of resilience as a guiding concept in environmental management may offer a path toward better-integrated analysis and planning. While the term “resilience” was applied to humans long before it became associated with ecosystems, discussions of resilience in natural resource management have until recently tended to focus on the latter, again because we didn’t yet know how to account for the human component. Recent advances have begun to resolve this knowledge shortfall. Ecologists and social scientists are collaborating to study the complexities of social-ecological systems in ways that account more explicitly for processes that link system components, and give special attention to “surprise” events that disrupt equilibrium and require adaptive responses.
In this presentation I offer a framework for thinking about how social-economic and
biological-physical systems are linked at both large and local scales in a context
of forest decision-making. Using a case study of post-fire re-seeding in the Great
Basin, I will explore how the framework may offer a lens through which to look for
“leverage points” where managers can influence intra-system linkages and enhance resilience
to unexpected rates or directions of change.
Rob Addington, Research Associate, Colorado Forest Restoration Institute, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado
In the last decade, much emphasis has been placed on restoration of dry coniferous forests of the western U.S. out of concern that these forest types are increasingly vulnerable at large scales to severe disturbance and impacts related to global change. Along Colorado’s Front Range, some 1.5 million acres of ponderosa pine and dry mixed-conifer forests have been identified as in need of treatment to improve forest health and to protect communities. While consensus has been reached regarding general restoration goals, the process and path forward for achieving desired outcomes has not been clearly articulated. I will describe a science-based restoration framework being developed for Front Range forests that emulates natural disturbance patterns, forest developmental processes, and variation across environmental gradients in order to enhance forest complexity and heterogeneity at multiple scales. Key components of the approach include multi-scaled planning to identify priority areas for treatment, and treatment designs that reduce densities, enhance spatial heterogeneity, retain drought-and fire-tolerant species, and retain old trees. Implementation of the framework is expected to enhance forest resilience and help reestablish a low to mixed-severity fire regime through either prescribed fire or management of wildland fire. Additionally, the framework emphasizes the importance of adaptive management and opportunity for learning through monitoring and experimentation in order to address uncertainty that accompanies the restoration process.
Kristen Pelz, Graduate Research Assistant and PhD Candidate, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado
Recent bark beetle outbreaks have prompted calls for increased management of subalpine forest in the southern Rocky Mountains. However, bark beetles play an important role in forest regeneration dynamics of these systems. Subalpine forests affected by mountain pine beetle are dominated by lodgepole pine, but often have components of quaking aspen, subalpine fir and Engelmann spruce. Beetle outbreaks shift the relative recruitment success and growth of these four species, affecting forest composition and structure for decades. This, in turn, will affect socially and ecologically important processes, such as those related to fire behavior, wildlife use, and water yield, for decades to come. Based on current conditions in beetle affected forests, to what extent can we predict future species composition? Where may we expect recruits of aspen, Engelmann spruce, lodgepole pine, or subalpine fir to thrive post-beetle? And, what might desirable future compositions be in these forests and is management necessary to encourage them?
Steve Daniels, Professor and Extension Community Development Specialist, Utah State University, Logan, Utah
The Monroe Mountain Working Group (MMWG) is a voluntary assembly of people addressing aspen viability at a landscape scale on Monroe Mountain of central Utah. A wide range of organizations and perspectives have been involved either as voting members or guests: environmental groups, grazing permittees, state agencies, county government, private landowners, and the USDA-Forest Service, which has the dominant decision authority on the landscape. The process has many similarities to other working groups that are dealing with local-scale natural resource management issues throughout the West, ranging from species conservation to wildfire risk mitigation. This presentation provides a brief overview of the process and structure of the MMWG in order to set the context for exploring the accomplishments and challenges the project has experienced.
Justin Britton, M.S. Research Assistant, Utah State University, Logan, Utah
Aspen management in the Intermountain West has conventionally relied on its ability to vegetatively reproduce, and has long been used to guide silviculture (e.g., coppice systems). Aspen is prolific in its sprouting response to overstory removal, capable of producing thousands of shoots per hectare. The successful reproduction of aspen is of considerable management interest. Without intervention, current threats to the persistence of aspen communities may lead to the continued decline of aspen in the Intermountain West. Successful regeneration is defined as the timely recruitment of a new cohort of aspen stems such that they are no longer susceptible to herbivory or other detrimental factors associated with juvenility. In the broader context of aspen ecology, we can postulate three important drivers of successful aspen regeneration: (1) stand vigor, (2) disturbance history (e.g., management actions), and (3) climatic conditions. A multitude of interactions between these drivers likely ultimately determines the timing, quantity, and quality of aspen regeneration. We measured sites with known management histories on Cedar Mountain and southwestern Utah in order to quantify the success of regeneration based on a comparison of unique pre-treatment versus post-treatment stand conditions. By simultaneously exploring a multitude of factors that possibly affect aspen regeneration, this research: (1) sampled across multiple stand conditions (N=103), elucidating a diversity of regeneration drivers; (2) identified multiple management scenarios for successful aspen regeneration; and (3) incorporated state-of-the-art knowledge regarding aspen regeneration ecology into a management guide.
Jamie Laatsch, M.S. Research Assistant, Utah State University, Logan, Utah
The USDA Forest Service is facing unprecedented challenges due to climate change. Understanding the perspectives of forest managers and policy makers will provide invaluable insight into these challenges and help identify opportunities for strengthening the agency's ability to adapt to climate change and enhance forest resilience. By analyzing data from key informant interviews and an internet survey in the Intermountain West, this study examines perspectives within the Forest Service with respect to what challenges forest managers face in today’s changing climate, how forest management is currently conducted in the face of climate change, what resources or support may be needed to help forest managers better address climate change when managing the National Forests, and how these perspectives vary at different levels of agency management, from district operations to national policy making. Although most respondents recognize the need for climate change mitigation and adaptation, their ability to implement relevant plans has been limited due to a lack of site-specific data and information, the need for more practical, applicable direction from the agency, insufficient resources for on-the-ground actions, and competing priorities and responsibilities. However, this does not mean that forest managers have not tried to indirectly address issues related to climate change. Efforts have been made to develop projects and strategies that can be incorporated into existing management plans, like increasing species diversity and complexity or promoting species that are expected to be better suited to future climate conditions in a given area. To move forward, better communication between forest scientists, managers, and policy makers is needed with respect to potential management options and the various effects of climate change on the forest ecosystem at relevant scales. Innovative policy frameworks are also needed to support and guide forest managers and to give them the “degrees of freedom” they need to make a real, positive impact.
Emily Platt, PhD Candidate, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon
This research is part of the Forests People Fire (FPF) coupled natural-human systems project. FPF is building an agent-based model to explore how social and ecological systems interact to shape fire-prone landscapes over time. The FPF project area includes forested areas in central and south-central Oregon. Roughly 50% of the area is managed by the Forest Service. The Forest Service is working to restore fire-prone forests within the project area. A range of issues from local social dynamics to congressional politics influence the Forest Service’s ability to address restoration needs and challenges, and these influences are constantly shifting and changing. The study area’s fire prone landscape adds an element of rapid ecological change. This research considers the Forest Service’s ability to adapt to these constantly changing conditions. The Forest Service’s institutional resilience is assessed by considering both its ability to adapt to changing social and ecological conditions as well as its ability to meet goals and objectives outlined in the Forest Service’s strategic plan, the national fire plan, the 2012 planning rule, and management plans for the Deschutes and Fremont-Winema National Forests. Qualitative analysis of interview data is paired with ecological modeling to explore obstacles to restoration of federal lands and landscape outcomes of select management strategies. Findings to date reveal significant opportunities for improving the institutional resilience of the US Forest Service.
James Long, Professor, Utah State University, Logan, Utah
The conventional view of regeneration ecology of western aspen (Populus tremuloides Michx.) has been that regeneration is, under almost all circumstances, dependent on suckering following stand-replacing disturbance. This view has fundamentally shaped, in ways both dramatic and subtle, the way aspen is managed. Recent research, however, is changing our understanding of aspen regeneration ecology, genetic diversity, and stand dynamics. With this increased understanding comes an opportunity to revisit some of our long-held views concerning aspen silviculture.
Rosemary Sherriff, Associate Professor, Humboldt State University, Arcata, California
A driving factor for fuels reduction is the belief that increases in woody biomass have resulted in a greater risk of severe wildfire. In this research, we compared spatial models of present-day wildfire potential under extreme (99th percentile) weather scenarios and historical fire severity in a >562,000 ha study area in the Colorado Front Range characterized by ponderosa pine and mixed conifer cover types. We then verified these models using fire severity from four large recent fires, and then compared the wildfire potential models to a spatial model of historical fire severity. The model of historical fire severity was based on data from 232 fire history-age structure sites in which topographic variables were used to predict the spatial pattern of historical fire severity across the study area. Under extreme weather conditions, approximately one-third of the study area exhibited the potential for low-severity (surface) fire and two-thirds showed the potential for mixed-severity (torching to crown) fire. The results indicate strong spatial overlap of reconstructed fire regimes and present-day wildfire potential: crown fire potential today is associated with higher-severity fire historically (>80% overlap). Our results indicate <20% of the area has shifted from an historical low-severity fire regime to present-day risk of higher severity under extreme weather conditions. The areas of greatest change are at low elevation, and along the plains-grassland ecotone, where there have been substantial changes related to grazing and fire-exclusion policies. As the temperatures under extreme conditions from ca. 1964-2007 are similar to 39th percentile conditions predicted by the IPCC for 2100, the extreme fuel conditions described in this study are likely to become average conditions in the future.
Joe Wheaton, Assistant Professor and Fluvial Geomorphologist, Utah State University, Logan, Utah
Beaver (Castor canedensis), well known for their dam-building ecosystem engineering activities and potential as a nuisance species, are increasingly being used as a restoration agent and conservation tool to restore dynamism in streams and create better habitat for a variety of threatened biota. Beaver don’t build dams everywhere, but where they can, they are a potentially cheap alternative to restoring degraded stream habitats. Beaver will harvest dam building materials and forage up to 150 meters away from their ponds, and this activity extends their zone of influence from just within streams and riparian areas up into uplands. Their harvesting activities mimic that of a rotational crop farmer, where instead of decimating and clear-cutting an area, they selectively forage and work an area hard for a number of years, before resting it and moving elsewhere. The vegetative response (particularly of aspen forests) to this disturbance typically results in a more diverse and vigorous regrowth. Examples of restoring streams with beaver will be shared that highlight how beaver can reconnect incised channels with their former floodplains, expand riparian areas into uplands, and invoke population level responses in salmon. Beyond that, a model that predict the capacity of the landscape to support dam-building activity by beavers will be presented that helps build realistic expectations about where beaver may or may not be appropriate restoration agents. These examples will be brought together with some suggestions of how upland and riparian restoration efforts can feed off each other with the help of beaver.
Jessica Clement, Research Scientist and Program Director, University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming
Discussing climate change and its implications is not easy. On the one hand there
is the need to understand this phenomenon, and the current and future effects of it,
on the other hand these concepts are so huge, they are difficult for the human brain
to absorb and psychologically process. In the discourse regarding climate change communications
many have noted reactions that range from anger, denial, fear to panic. In this presentation
Jessica will summarize her findings regarding climate change communications from various
sources. She will offer some suggestions regarding what science communication techniques
and methods specifically related to climate change may be more effective in light
of the capacity and limitations of the human brain.
Matthew Bekker, Associate Professor, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah
Karen Mock, Associate Professor, Utah State University, Logan, Utah
Triploidy is a form of polyploidy – specifically, the condition of having three copies of the genome in each cell. Triploid plants are expected to have low fertility, and may show growth or metabolic characteristics which differ from diploid forms. In aspen, we have discovered that aspen populations in western North America contain a high proportion of triploids, and that the occurrence of triploids corresponds roughly with climate variables. Further, we find that the largest aspen clones tend to be triploid. Taken together, these findings suggest that triploid clones have enjoyed a vegetative advantage over diploids in western landscapes. We discuss the methods for detecting triploidy, potential environmental susceptibilities of triploids, and management strategies favoring diploid vs. triploid aspen.