Restoring The West Conference 2016

    Restoring The West Conference 2016

    westconference 2014

    Click HERE for the conference program booklet. 

    Click HERE to be redirected to the Restoring the West website. 

    Rob Davies

    The Great Big Context of Climate Disruption. Rob Davies, Physicist, Utah Climate Center.

    Human-driven climate disruption poses extreme risks in the coming decades. Indeed some people, societies, species, and ecosystems have already experienced significant, even catastrophic consequences. Recognition of the scale and immediacy of this malady is now driving a new era of mitigation strategies. Climate disruption, however, is not a single ailment that can be treated in isolation. Rather, it is one of a family of existential afflictions, including a massive and accelerating loss of biodiversity, acute ecological overshoot, and intensifying social inequities - emergent from the same underlying pathology. And while some climate mitigation pathways address multiple symptoms synergistically, others exacerbate them. We find ourselves at a crossroads, in need of a map clearly depicting the landscape and a compass to guide us. In this talk I’ll introduce one such map - a framework of ‘planetary boundaries’ ... and one such compass - the concept of a safe operating space for all people. What yet remains is the active participation of a broad spectrum of society to keep the full suite of so- called “wicked” socio-environmental problems clearly in focus as we plot a course forward.

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    Bill Anderegg

    Drought-driven Tree Mortality and Climate Change: What Have We Learned so Far? Bill Anderegg, Assistant Professor, Biology, University of Utah.

    Widespread forest mortality events of many tree species in the last two decades prompt concerns that drought, insects, and wildfire may devastate forests in the coming decades. In this talk, I will give an overview of what we have learned so far about recent drought-induced tree mortality events in the West, covering our current understanding of the physiology, ecology, and predictive capability of these events.

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    Andrea Brunelle

    Conservation Paleobiology: Contributions to Understanding Climate, Disturbance and Restoration. Andrea Brunelle, Professor & Chair, Department of Geography, University of Utah.

    Humans are altering our environment. Climate change resulting from the burning of fossil fuels is documented beyond argument. Landscape modification through grazing, logging, mining and other activities is omnipresent. But what are the actual ecological implications? Can systems recover? Conservation paleobiology is a newly named field for an application of paleoecology. Conservation paleobiology can take a near-time (<2 million years) or deep-time approach but both provide information on ecological responses to climatic variability. The near- time approach presented here more specifically uses paleoecological data to generate pre-and post-disturbance ecological baselines and natural ranges of variability, describes ecosystem response to disturbances (natural and anthropogenic) and helps develop realistic restoration goals. We will examine “lessons learned” from records spanning woody plant encroachment and desiccation in desert wetlands to high elevation forest sites impacted by beetles and forest fires and discuss how conservation paleobiologists can better work with land managers to use these important data.

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    Peter D. Howe

    Understanding the Landscape of Public Attitudes About Climate Change. Peter D. Howe, Assistant Professor, Department of Environment and Society, Utah State University.

    There is a demonstrated need among decision makers for locally relevant information about climate change. In response to this need, climate scientists have developed a variety of methods of to “downscale” climate model projections from global models to the regional and local scale. However, comparable local data representing the human dimensions of climate change, such as public perceptions and beliefs, has been less fully developed. This presentation describes a new tool for mapping variations in state and local climate and energy opinions within the U.S. Effectively responding to climate change will likely require the enactment of national, state, and local mitigation and adaptation policies as well as changes in individual behavior. This tool provides an important new source of locally relevant information for policymakers, educators, managers, and scientists to more effectively address these challenges.

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    Dan McCool

    Restoring the Rivers of the West. Dan McCool, Director, Environmental and Sustainability Studies Program, Professor, Political Science, University of Utah.

    After 100 years of damming, diverting, and draining western rivers, we are beginning to move into a new era of river restoration. Many of the water projects and dams built in decades past no longer meet the needs of “The New West.” River restoration will help bring western water policy into the 21st Century.

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    Matthew J Germino

    Grand climate-adaptation experiments, intended or not, in post-fire restoration. Matthew J Germino, Research Ecologist, US Geological Survey, Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center.

    The reassembly of perennial plant communities after disturbance such as wildfire is a key juncture when climate impacts can quickly become evident. Management responses to fire are thus one of the most important opportunities for adapting both management approaches and plant communities to climate shifts. A large number of post-fire rehabilitation seedings done over hundreds of thousands of acres across the Western US
    reveal – somewhat unsurprisingly – that climate and weather are pivotal factors affecting establishment of desired perennial species, and, thus restoration success. For example, several published or preliminary studies on past efforts to reestablish big sagebrush after fire show that manager’s decisions on seed source impact restoration success and weather responses of resulting sagebrush. The findings provide key insights on the importance of intraspecific diversity in dominant restoration species, and the challenges and opportunities the diversity present for both policy and practice in wildfire responses.

    View talk.- pending approval by USGS, coming soon

    Sarah Wright

    Accelerating Renewables and Energy Efficiency to Mitigate Climate Change. Sarah Wright, Executive Director, Utah Clean Energy.

    The US electric grid, which began operations over 100 years ago, is the largest industrial machine in the nation. It contributes 30% of all US Greenhouse Gas emissions, and in 2015 generated 4 trillion kilowatt hours of electricity. To date, the electricity industry has been one of the slowest industries to innovate. Now, with rapidly emerging technologies, declining prices and demand for cleaner resources, we have the opportunity to revamp and decarbonize our electric system. Learn about pricing trends for renewable energy, and growth trends nationwide for renewables, energy efficiency, storage technology, and how these trends are impacting Utah.

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    Stuart Hardegree

    Weather and Climate Tools for Rangeland Restoration Planning and Assessment. Stuart Hardegree, Plant Physiologist, USDA-ARS, Northwest Watershed Research Center, Boise, Idaho.

    Rangeland seeding practices in the Intermountain western United States are typically implemented in a single planting season for the purposes of Emergency Stabilization and Rehabilitation (ESR) after wildfire. This necessarily links restoration and rehabilitation success to the probability of a single year providing sufficiently favorable microclimatic conditions for desirable plant establishment. Field research studies in rangeland restoration are also typically of limited duration and published results may not represent the full spectrum of conditions likely to be experienced at a given site. Location-specific and temporal weather-analysis may enhance the interpretation of historical planting data, support expanded inferences from short-term field studies, and facilitate meta-analysis of diverse field studies in rangeland restoration. We describe access and use of new databases and tools that can be used for this purpose, and suggest some standard graphs and weather metrics to establish a longer-term perspective for the interpretation of rangeland-restoration field results.

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    Sam St. Clair

    Indirect Effects of Climate on Regeneration of Aspen Forests Mediated Through Ungulate Herbivory & Wildfire. Sam St. Clair, Associate Professor, Plant & Wildlife Sciences, Brigham Young University. Co-authors: Aaron Rhodes and Ho Yi Wan

    Ecological disturbance strongly influences the regeneration success of aspen forests. In particular increasing wildfire and high abundance of ungulate herbivores are modifying patterns of aspen regeneration in the western US. We summarize the impacts of wildfire size and severity, and ungulate herbivory on aspen regeneration success and explore how climate variability modifies these relationships.

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    Sarah Null

    Climate Change Effects on Water Resources Management and Potential Adaptations for the Future. Sarah Null, Assistant Professor, Department of Watershed Sciences, Utah State University.

    Climate change, population growth, aging infrastructure, and changing societal values alter how water must be managed in the 21st Century. This talk summarizes recent research modeling hydroclimate change for urban, agricultural, and environmental water users and highlights potential adaptations. As snowmelt-dominated runoff shifts to rainfall-dominated runoff in mountain regions, streamflows peak in winter instead of spring. This affects irrigators and some municipal water users with season-dependent water rights, including the City and County of San Francisco, and water users in the Rio-Grande and South Platte River Compacts. Instream flows for environmental protection will likely be disproportionally reduced with climate change. Dam removal is also evaluated as a potential river restoration approach. Results quantify fish habitat gains from removing dams against water supply and hydropower production losses, highlighting the declining value of reservoir storage when systems are limited by precipitation. Improving water conveyance can sometimes substitute for water storage in storage-rich watersheds. Results are presented for California’s Tuolumne watershed, with some preliminary results for Utah. These findings suggest that hydroclimatic uncertainty can be partially accounted for with simple modifications to existing operating rules for reservoirs, though other approaches are also likely needed.

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    Johnathan Overpeck

    The Colorado River, Climate Change and Drought. Johnathan Overpeck, Regents Professor of Geosciences, Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences, The University of Arizona.

    Many current assessments of future climate and hydrologic change suggest that current drylands around the globe could become drier with continued anthropogenic climate change. In some regions, such as the southwest U.S., there is an observed trend in this direction. This is particularly true for the Colorado River, where the nature of drought is shifting to a more temperature-dominated climate extreme. At the same time, however, some recent and influential scientific assessments suggest that temperature-driven drying could be compensated by large precipitation increases with little net increase to water supply risk. A new approach integrating the examination of temperature, precipitation and drought risk indicate that Colorado River flows, and water supplies in the Southwest more generally, are already being seriously affected, and that continued climate change could result in much larger water supply losses than widely thought, even if mean precipitation increases.

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    Courtney G. Flint

    Navigating Complex Human-Nature Relationships in Rocky Mountain and Wasatch Communities. Courtney G. Flint, Associate Professor, Utah State University, Department of Sociology, Social Work & Anthropology.

    For people who live, work, and play in mountains and forests in the Intermountain West, ecosystems disturbances affect quality of life. Yet, navigating the diverse array of often-contradictory local and regional stakeholder perspectives can challenge natural resource management. Values and concerns about natural resource conditions and objectives can vary widely within and across communities and often change over time. Further, individuals, groups, and communities often seek multiple and conflicting resource objectives at the same time. Drawing on research from Colorado communities experiencing mountain pine beetle disturbance as well as Utah mountain communities anticipating population growth and climate change, findings and observations are offered in this presentation regarding navigating human dimensions of forest resource management.

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    Michael G. Ryan

    Forest Carbon in the Rockies: Past and Future. Michael G. Ryan, Senior Research Scientist, NREL, Colorado State University & Emeritus Scientist, Rocky Mountain Research Station.

    Forests store much carbon in their wood and soil. Annual additions to forest carbon in the US take up 10-15% of the CO2 from our fossil fuel use, mostly because US forests are regrowing after clearing for agriculture and past harvests. When regrowth stops, these annual additions and CO2 offset will also stop. In the West, the largest challenge for forest carbon is to retain current stocks when fire, bark beetles, and drought are killing many trees, and high intensity fires change vegetation to grass and shrublands in montane forests. Fuel reduction in frequent fire forests may help retain montane forests, but greatly reduces forest carbon stores. Because montane forests are denser now than is sustainable, they have more forest carbon than is sustainable. Over the longer term, fuel reduction may retain more forest carbon by retaining forests at a cost of large current forest carbon loss.

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    Lise Aubry

    Wildlife Response to Climate Change in the Western US: Learning from Indicator Species. Lise Aubry, Assistant Professor, Department of Wildland Resources and the Ecology Center, Utah State University, Logan, Utah.

    Measuring, Understanding and Predicting wildlife response to climate change is a pressing matter since there is widespread concern about impacts on population persistence and whether or not sensitive species will be able to adapt. Research is needed to inform conservation strategies for species that are most susceptible and indicative of rapid climate change, such as hibernators. We are taking advantage of historical data on Uinta ground squirrel populations (hibernators endemic to the Western US) to 1) Measure climate-driven variability in their phenology and demography over a 50-year period; 2) Understand how ecological processes mediate this variability in light of climate change; and 3) Predict their ability to adapt to climate change using eco-evolutionary models. Our findings will have important conservation implications for hibernating and alpine species in the Intermountain West, worldwide, and for the suite of species that depend on small mammals for persistence.

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    Curtis Gray

    Characterizing Great Basin Bristlecone Pine Chemistry along Environmental Gradients to Assess Response to Climate Change. Curtis Gray, PhD Candidate, Wildland Resources Department, Utah State University. curtis.

    Most studies that examine forest changes from climate warming focus on species distribution patterns or altered disturbance regimes. This study examines the physiologic process of volatile organic compound (VOC) production along elevational gradients. As an alpine treeline species, Great Basin (GB) bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva) is confined to the highest elevations of Great Basin mountains in the western United States, and have received attention for their potential as biological indicators of climate change. Warming temperatures may increase mortality, change community structure, and affect the interacting role of disturbances such as mountain pine beetle and natural fire regimes. VOCs are important for tree flammability, defense against pests and pathogens, and can be early indicators of abiotic plant stress. To better understand GB bristlecone pine ecology, we collected and examined VOCs emitted under varying conditions along environmental gradients. We hypothesize that warmer temperature will increase VOCs emitted from GB bristlecone pine foliage. We address the following research questions in this paper: Will VOCs decrease with elevation as a surrogate for climate change/temperature? How will GB bristlecone pine respond chemically to a warming climate and how will they adapt? And which VOC ratios are important for GB bristlecone pine evolutionary response? This research helps us understand the biotic and abiotic threats from climate change, which improves methods to reliably assess and predict tree resiliency with climate change.

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    Andrew Kleinhesselink

    Does Temperature Variation Drive Changes in the Cover of Big Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) Across its Range? Andrew Kleinhesselink, PhD Candidate, Department of Wildland Resources, Utah State University. Co-author: Peter B. Adler, Associate Professor, Department of Wildland Resources and the Ecology Center, Utah State University

    Sagebrush ecosystems cover vast areas of the West and are home to many species of conservation concern. Unfortunately, distribution models predict that the total area suitable for sagebrush could be greatly reduced over the next 100 years due to global warming. However, these predictions are based on correlation, not causation. Stronger evidence that above average temperature can actually cause sagebrush cover to change at short timescales would strengthen our confidence in these predictions. We used population models to test how annual temperature variation affected sagebrush cover at 944 monitoring sites across its range. We found that sagebrush cover decreased with above average temperature at hotter sites and increased with above average temperatures at colder sites. This response largely agrees with the predictions made by distribution models and should increase our confidence that the distribution of sagebrush will change in response to climate change in the near future.

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    Antra Boca

    Forest Soils in the Intermountain West - Vegetation and Disturbance Effects on Soil Organic Carbon. Antra Boca, PhD Candidate, Department of Wildland Resources, Utah State University.

    I am a Presidential Doctoral Research Fellow working in Helga Van Miegroet’s lab at USU’s Quinney College of Natural Resources. My dissertation research focuses on forest vegetation effects on soil organic carbon quantity and stability. I am originally from Latvia where I received my bachelor’s in Environmental Sciences at the University of Latvia. My Master’s work on forest soil phosphorus at the University of Freiburg, Germany contributed to my decision to study soils for my PhD at USU. I love nature and outdoor activities, especially in the mountains. I am passionate about teaching, and after graduation would like to stay in academia doing research and teaching.

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    Marian Hubbard

    Adapting Watershed Management to Climate Change. Marian Hubbard, Watershed Section Manager, Salt Lake County Watershed Planning & Restoration Program.

    With the ever-changing regulations, priorities and ethics watershed management and planning is a dynamic process. Climate change is one of the most pressing issues affecting watersheds to this day. With recent droughts and floods, climate change has become an even more salient issue. As a result watershed management also needs to also adapt to these prevailing challenges. This presentation discusses some of the challenges and opportunities such as emergency response to environmental events such as flooding, algal blooms, and drought; policy; planning and ecosystem restoration.

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    Mike Kaplan

    The Massive Space and Time Scale of Atmospheric Processes that Create Localized Extreme Heat Bursts, Dry Lightning, Wildland Fires, and Debris Flows in the Western U.S. Mike Kaplan, Research Professor, Division of Atmospheric Sciences, Desert Research Institute, Reno, Nevada. Co-authors: Benjamin J. Hatchett, Nicholas J. Nauslar, Nina S. Oakley, Jeffrey S. Tilley, and Craig M. Smith

    During the warm season local terrain and ecological disturbances over the intermountain western U.S. are often the result of cascading events that have their origins in atmospheric circulations that span thousands of kilometers in space and as long as a week or more in time. Natural and/or manmade climate forcing establishes these circulations as a downscale dissipative signal in the atmosphere. Thus climate organizes shorter period spatial and temporal weather that targets local complex terrain. Planetary wave breaking (PWB) over the complex terrain of the western U.S. PWB often organizes a cascading group of finer scale circulations and linked natural disasters. PWB occurs over scales ~2500-5000 km and 3-5 days when a disturbance in the jet stream collides with downstream blocking flow. Dry lightning often is the result of PWB during the warm season over the elevated western plateaus triggering wildland fires that produce burn scars resulting in subsequent flash flooding and debris flows days, months, or years later.

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    Gigi A. Richard

    Climate Change, Riparian Vegetation Removal, and Channel Change on the Colorado River. Gigi A. Richard, Ph.D. Professor, Geology, Director, Hutchins Water Center at CMU, Colorado Mesa University.

    The introduction and spread of tamarisk (Tamarix spp.) in the riparian zones adjacent to the Colorado River and many of its tributaries in the southwestern US has contributed to increased stability of many of these river channels over the last century. Recent and expanding efforts to remove tamarisk from riparian zones may contribute to increase channel mobility and bank erosion. A collaborative effort to better understand channel response of the Colorado River to tamarisk removal has involved field surveys as well as GIS analysis of channel change in areas with and without vegetation removal from historic aerial photos. Preliminary results suggest that erosion rates were higher during the time period with higher peak flows regardless of whether or not vegetation was removed, and that erosion rates were greater in sites were vegetation removal occurred. The potential impact of climate change on streamflow in the Upper Colorado River Basin will also be discussed.

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    Paul Miller

    Decision Support in the Cadillac Desert: Climate Change and Water Supply in the Water Stressed and Politically Charged Western U.S. Paul Miller, Service Coordination Hydrologist, NOAA - Colorado Basin River Forecast Center.

    NOAA’s Colorado Basin River Forecast Center provides seasonal water supply forecasts to a wide range of stakeholders in the Colorado River and Eastern Great Basins. These forecasts have traditionally relied on past historical climate information and tools created before widely available remote sensing data. Further, past historical hydroclimatic information, and our reliance on it, may not represent future conditions as climate change impacts are realized. The CBRFC is investigating forecast methodologies to aid stakeholders in decision support using newly available remote sensing information and stochastically generated future weather ensembles. Here, the CBRFC’s role in managing water resources is explained, and the challenges ahead for operational forecasts under changing climate conditions are discussed.

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    Peter Adler

    How Will Climate Change Alter the Abundance of Big Sagebrush? Peter Adler(7), Professor, Department of Wildland Resources and the Ecology Center, Utah State University, Logan, Utah. Co-authors: Katherine M Renwick(1), Andrew R. Kleinhesselink(2), Daniel R. Schlaepfer(3), Caroline A. Curtis (4), Bethany A. Bradley(5), Cameron L. Aldridge(6), and Benjamin Poulter(1). (1)Ecology, Montana State University, Bozeman, Montana, (2)Department of Wildland Resources, Utah State University, Logan, Utah, (3)Section of Conservation Biology, University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland, (4) Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, University of Massachusetts, (5)Environmental Conservation, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Massachusetts, (6)Fort Collins Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey, Fort Collins, Colorado, (7)Department of Wildland Resources and the Ecology Center, Utah State University, Logan, Utah

    Climate change is a primary threat to sagebrush obligate wildlife, but predicting climate change impacts on sagebrush habitat remains a challenge. We rely on models, but every model suffers from problematic assumptions, undermining confidence in predictions. However, by comparing predictions from different modeling approaches, we may be able to increase our confidence in model projections. We compared models based on four very different kinds of information, from spatial and temporal correlations between climate and sagebrush cover to the dependence of sagebrush physiology on moisture and temperature. Despite considerable variation in the predictions of these four models, consistent trends emerged. Warming appears likely to have a positive effect on sagebrush performance in cold locations but a negative effect in warm locations. In addition, changes in temperature will have a greater impact on sagebrush than changes in precipitation. This information may help managers prioritize areas for conservation.

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    J. Bradley Washa

    Climate Change and Wildland Fire. J. Bradley Washa, Utah BLM State Fuels Specialist, DOI Bureau of Land Management, Utah State Office, Salt Lake City, Utah.

    The impacts of climate change upon disturbance are demonstrated in numerous ways through wildland fire. The length of fire seasons have been extended, with snow packs melting earlier in the spring and wildfires continuing well into autumn under warmer and drier environments. Forest health issues from insect and disease infestations to increased fuel loadings are being exasperated by climate change. Invasive species have further increased and expanded across large parts of the west. These conditions impact the severity and number of acres burned on a landscape and regional level. Several recent wildfires and prescribed fires from Utah, along with associated weather data, will be reviewed to demonstrate the impacts of climate change on the wildland fire environment. Understanding the changing environment and management response to wildland fire disturbance is important in implementing management actions by land management agencies in restoring and maintaining resilient landscapes.

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