Sustain Our Nation's Forests and Grasslands

Summer field tour: Restoring and conserving the Great Basin ecosystems

Field trip participants investigate a wet meadow, made possible by elevated bedrock and an alluvial fan, Humboldt Toiyabe National Forest. Forest Service photo by Deborah Finch.

FORT COLLINS, Colo. – Rocky Mountain Research Station, in coordination with University of Nevada, Reno, Western Carolina University, and Humboldt Toiyabe National Forest, led a field trip through riparian meadows and sagebrush and pinyon-juniper ecosystems in the heart of the Great Basin.

Beginning at the Austin District Ranger Office in Austin, Nevada, field vehicles snaked through valleys and canyons, stopping at key spots. Each stop featured experts explaining the challenges and opportunities for managing ecosystems and plant and animal species impacted by factors such as invasive species, wildfire, drought, and improper livestock grazing. During the field trip and frequent stops, primarily at long-term research sites, topics of discussion included resilience and resistance concepts, and restoration of pinyon-juniper, sagebrush, and wet meadow ecosystems.

Ecologist David Board discussing fire patterns in pinyon and juniper land cover types at a prescribed fire site within the JFSP Pinyon and Juniper Demonstration Area on the Humboldt Toiyabe National Forest. Forest Service photo by Deborah Finch.

On the first day, participants learned about a multi-scale resilience-based framework for restoring and conserving Great Basin wet meadows and riparian ecosystems with differing resilience. On second day, the focus was on a long-term Joint Fire Science Program and National Fire Plan-sponsored Pinyon and Juniper Demonstration Area. Discussions focused on the factors that affect resilience to both wildfire and prescribed fire, including the longer-term response of sagebrush ecosystems exhibiting pinyon and juniper expansion to fire; resistance of sagebrush ecosystems to invasion by cheatgrass; and factors that influence sagebrush recruitment. Land managers and researchers are using this work to develop management strategies to conserve sagebrush ecosystems and greater sage-grouse habitat.

RMRS research ecologist Jeanne Chambers and ecologist/data analyst David Board coordinated the field trip, along with Professor Peter Weisberg, UNR, and Professor Jerry Miller, WCU. Scientists and experts from RMRS, the Agricultural Research Service, the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, BLM, Nevada Department of Wildlife, and university faculty and students led the discussions and provided demonstrations. The nearly 45 daily field trip participants represented a wide array of state and federal agencies, non-profit organizations, and universities, including Martin Paris, the Rural Field Representative from Congressman Mark Amodei’s office.