Beavers have become a source of inspiration for public and private land managers over the past decade. Beaver dams can help control flooding, raise groundwater levels, and improve surface water flows. Some land managers are now designing stream restoration projects that mimic the way beaver dams shape river ecosystems. Beaver-related restoration may even help the recovery of endangered species that depend on healthy aquatic and riparian areas.
The approach also holds promise for ranchers who graze livestock on rangelands in the Western United States where drier conditions are expected in the coming years. Those already experimenting with beaver-related restoration are discovering that it can increase water and forage availability for their livestock.
Until recently, the social factors that influence the success or failure of these projects on rangelands were not well understood. To assess the social and regulatory environment associated with this new approach, Susan Charnley, a research social scientist with the USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station, and her colleagues conducted five case studies in California, Idaho, Nevada, and Oregon. Interviews with more than 100 ranchers, nongovernmental organizations, and regulatory agencies shed light on their attitudes and motivations, as well as the regulatory landscape that influences successful implementation. The findings are important for successfully implementing beaver-related restoration projects in other areas.
The complex topography, climate, and geological history of Western North America have shaped contemporary patterns of biodiversity and species distributions in the region. Pacific martens (Martes caurina) are distributed along the northern Pacific Coast of North America with disjunct populations found throughout the Northwestern Forested Mountains and Marine West Coast Forest ecoregions of the West Coast. Martes in this region have been classified into subspecies; however, the subspecific designation has been extensively debated. In this study, we use genomic data to delineate conservation units of Pacific marten in the Sierra-Cascade-Coastal montane belt in the western United States. We analyzed the mitochondrial genome for 94 individuals to evaluate the spatial distribution and divergence times of major lineages. We further genotyped 401 individuals at 13 microsatellite loci to investigate major patterns of population structure. Both nuclear and mitochondrial DNA suggest substantial genetic substructure concordant with historical subspecies designations. Our results revealed that the region contains 2 distinct mitochondrial lineages: a Cascades/Sierra lineage that diverged from the Cascades/coastal lineage 2.23 (1.48– 3.14 mya), consistent with orogeny of the Cascade Mountain chain. Interestingly, Pacific Martes share phylogeographic patterns similar with other sympatric taxa, suggesting that the complex geological history has shaped the biota of this region. The information is critical for conservation and management efforts, and further investigation of adaptive diversity is warranted following appropriate revision of conservation management designations.
Sagebrush ecosystems are a major component of western U.S. landscapes and they provide vital habitat to a wide array of wildlife species, including greater sage-grouse and pygmy rabbits. However, in recent decades, sagebrush ecosystems have been reduced or degraded by a wide range of disturbances, including human development, overgrazing, severe fires, and encroachment by cheatgrass and pinyon-juniper woodlands. These factors are expected to continue or worsen with anticipated climate change.
Climate change poses a clear danger to salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River basin. Rising water temperatures increasingly limit their ability to migrate, spawn, and successfully produce the next generation of fish.
Steve Wondzell, a research ecologist with the USDA Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station, conducted a study on the upper Middle Fork of eastern Oregon’s John Day River. By using computer modeling, he and colleagues found that adding shade was the single most effective way to cool the water and preserve habitat for salmon into the future. With enough added shade, they found that future water temperature in the river could be cooler than today, even as air temperatures warm.
Adding sufficient shade involves strategically planting streamside vegetation that will grow tall enough to shield long sections of the river from sunlight. The Forest Service and other federal agencies, the state of Oregon, and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs are leading an effort to do just this. They are also working to reconfigure sections of the river that were artificially straightened in the past. Wondzell’s research confirms the importance of coupling riparian planting with those efforts and is helping the different parties involved direct their efforts in a more strategic way.
For decades, federal, state, and nonprofit organizations have been working to restore freshwater habitat for Oregon coastal coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch), a species listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. Much of the restoration, however, has been done without directly considering the availability and connectivity of seasonally important freshwater habitats.
Research by Rebecca Flitcroft, a research fish biologist with the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station, and colleagues reveals that connectivity among different types of freshwater habitat is important for coastal coho salmon. In fact, salmon occupancy in rivers or streams over time is best explained by the level of connectivity among habitat used for spawning, summer rearing, and winter refuge. Juvenile fish benefit when they can move easily among these habitat types.
Restoration projects that focus on only individual habitat segments may not result in watershed-scale improvements. Targeted restoration that fills habitat gaps may be more effective when diversity, location, and proximity of seasonally important habitats already present in a watershed are considered.
Resource managers are using these findings to reevaluate how they think about coho salmon habitat, as well as habitat for other species such as trout and beaver.
Monitoring vegetation phenology is important for managers at several scales. Across decades, changes in the timing, pattern, and duration of significant life cycle events for plant groups can foreshadow shifts in species assemblages that can affect ecosystem services. In the shorter term, managers need phenological information to time activities such as grazing, ecological restoration plantings, biocontrol of pests, seed collection, and wildlife monitoring. However, tools to deliver timely seasonal development have been limited either spatially (data from a single tower or weather station, or on a single species, or both) or temporally (annually, quarterly, or monthly summaries). We developed another option called PhenoMap. This is a weekly assessment of land surface “greenness” across the continental United States that employs the Normalized Differential Vegetation Index (NDVI) derived from Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) satellite data. Here we present the PhenoMap Web map and its validation by using 54 in situ PhenoCam camera sites representing six vegetation structure types and 31 different ecoregions. We found that PhenoMap effectively tracks phenology on grasslands, shrublands, deciduous broadleaf and mixed forests. Results for evergreen needleleaf sites were poor owing to the low green-up signal relative to the total amount of foliage detected by NDVI. Issues of extent and field of view were critical when assessing remotely sensed data with in situ oblique camera imagery.