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Desert Experimental Range

Scientist in Charge: 

General Description

Photo of the Desert Experimental Range.
Photo of the Desert Experimental Range.
Established in 1933 by President Herbert Hoover, the Desert Experimental Range has long been a center for cold desert rangeland research. Desert Experimental Range is an internationally renowned site for range ecology education, and in 1976, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Culture Organization (UNESCO) designated it a biosphere reserve. Check out the Desert Experimental Range Brochure for more information.

Background Information and History

The Desert Experimental Range is located mostly in Pine Valley, Millard County, Utah. The plants and geography of its 62,500 square miles (160,000 square kilometers) are representative of salt-desert shrub and shrub-grass ecosystems that exist in the cold deserts of the Great Basin and Colorado Plateaus of western North America. Established in 1933 when President Herbert Hoover set aside 87-square-mile (225-square-kilometer) sections for “an agricultural range experiment station,” the Desert Experimental Range quickly became a center for cold-desert rangeland research and a range ecology educational site of international significance. In 1976, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Culture Organization (UNESCO), under the Man and Biosphere (MAB) program, designated Desert Experimental Range a biosphere reserve. Currently, the range is one of a handful of biosphere reserves representative of cold-deserts worldwide, and is unique in this respect in the Western Hemisphere.


Pineda, Noellyn ; Owen, Marjorie ; Tucker, Claire ; Wojda, Samantha ; Kitchen, Stanley G. ; Black, Hal ; Donahue, Seth , 2017
Richardson, Bryce A. ; Kitchen, Stanley G. ; Pendleton, Rosemary L. ; Pendleton, Burton K. ; Germino, Matthew J. ; Rehfeldt, Gerald E. ; Meyer, Susan E. , 2014
McArthur, E. Durant ; Kitchen, Stanley G. , 2013
Campos, Guillermo E. Ponce ; Moran, M. Susan ; Huete, Alfredo ; Zhang, Yongguang ; Bresloff, Cynthia ; Huxman, Travis E. ; Eamus, Derek ; Bosch, David D. ; Buda, Anthony R. ; Gunter, Stacey A. ; Scalley, Tamara Heartsill ; Kitchen, Stanley G. ; McClaran, Mitchel P. ; McNab, W. Henry ; Montoya, Diane S. ; Morgan, Jack A. ; Peters, Debra P. C. ; Sadler, E. John ; Seyfried, Mark S. ; Starks, Patrick J. , 2013
Zhang, Yongguang ; Moran, M. Susan ; Nearing, Mark A. ; Campos, Guillermo E. Ponce ; Huete, Alfredo R. ; Buda, Anthony R. ; Bosch, David D. ; Gunter, Stacey A. ; Kitchen, Stanley G. ; McNab, W. Henry ; Morgan, Jack A. ; McClaran, Mitchel P. ; Montoya, Diane S. ; Peters, Debra P.C. ; Starks, Patrick J. , 2013
Morris, C. ; Morris, L. R. ; Leffler, A. J. ; Holifield Collins, C. D. ; Forman, A. D. ; Weltz, M. A. ; Kitchen, Stanley G. , 2013
Kitchen, Stanley G. ; Carlson, Stephanie L. , 2008
Kitchen, Stanley G. ; Jorgensen, Gary L. , 2001
McArthur, E. Durant ; Ostler, W. Kent ; Wambolt, Carl L. , 1999
Barrow, Jerry R. ; McArthur, E. Durant ; Sosebee, Ronald E. ; , 1996

Publications (Non RMRS)

Alados, CL, Emlen JM, Wachocki B, Freeman DC. 1998. Instability of development and fractal architecture in dryland plants as an index of grazing pressure. Journal of Arid Environments 38: 63-76.

Alzerreca-Angelo H. 1996. Spatial and temporal dynamics of plant populations in salt-desert shrub vegetation grazed by sheep. PhD Dissertation, Utah State University, Logan, UT 292 p.

Alzerreca-Angelo H, Schupp EW, Kitchen SG. 1998. Sheep grazing and plant cover dynamics of a shadscale community. Journal of Range Management 51: 214-222.

Bradford DF, Franson SE, Neale AC, Heggem DT, Miller GR, Canterbury GE. 1998. Bird species assemblages as indicators of biological integrity in Great Basin rangeland. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 49: 1-22.

Chambers JC, Norton BE. 1993. Effects of grazing and drought on population dynamics of salt desert shrub species on the Desert Experimental Range, Utah. Journal of Arid Environments 24: 261-275.

De Soyza AG, Van Zee JW, Whitford WG, Neale A, Tallent-Hallsel N, Herrick JE, Havstad KM. 2000. Indicators of Great Basin rangeland health. Journal of Arid Environments 45: 289-304.

Duda JJ, Freeman DC, Emlen JM, Belnap J, Kitchen SG, Zak JC, Sobek E, Tracey M, Montante J. 2003. Changes in native soil ecology associated with invasion of the exotic annual chenopod, Halogeton glomeratus.Biol Fertil Soils 38: 72-77.

Franklin MA. 1996. Field survey for Sphaeralcea caespitosa M.E. Jones in the Beaver River and Warm Springs resource areas Beaver and Millard Counties, Utah. Final Report for Utah Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife Resources and USDI Bureau of Land Management 16 p.

Freeman DC, Emlen JM. 1995. Assessment of interspecific interactions in plant communities: an illustration from the cold desert saltbush grasslands of North America. Journal of Arid Environments 31: 179-198.

Kitchen SG. Hall DB. 1996. Community stability in a salt-desert shrubland grazed by sheep: the Desert Experimental Range story. In: J.R. Barrow, E.D. McArthur, R.E. Sosebee, and R.J. Tausch, (comps.), Proceedings: shrubland ecosystem dynamics in a changing environment. 1995 May 23-25; Las Cruces, NM. Gen. Tech. Rep. INT-GTR-338. Ogden, UT: USDA, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station. p. 102-107.

Kitchen SG, Hall DB. 1996. Diversity and sheep-induced compositional shifts in salt-desert communities (USA). In: N.E. West (ed.), Rangelands in a Sustainable Biosphere--Proceedings of the Fifth International Rangeland Congress Vol. 1; 1995 July 23-28; Salt Lake City, UT: Society for Range Management, Denver, CO. p. 292-293.

Kitchen SG, Jorgensen GL. 1999. Annualization of rodent burrow clusters and winterfat decline in a salt-desert community. In E.D. McArthur, W.K. Ostler, and C.L. Wambolt (comps.), Proceedings: shrubland ecotones; 1998 August 12-14; Ephraim, UT. Proc. RMRS-P-11. Ogden, UT: USDA, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. p. 175-180.

Pineda N, Owen M, Tucker C, Wojda S, Kitchen S, Black H, Donahue S. 2017. Hibernating little pocket mice show few seasonal changes in bone properties. The Anatomical Record 00:00-00 DOI 10.1002/ar.23676

Tew RK, Kitchen SG, Holmgren RC. 1997. Soil survey--Desert Experimental Range, Utah. Gen. Tech. Rep. INT-GTR-347. Ogden, UT: USDA Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station. 22 p.

Thacker RK, Flinders JT, Blackwell BH, Smith HD. 1995. Comparison and use of four techniques for censusing three sub-species of kit fox. Final Report (M.S. Thesis) Brigham Young University, Provo, UT. 72 p.

Ecological Information

Photo of solar panels at the Desert Experimental Range.
Photo of solar panels at the Desert Experimental Range.
The climate of Desert Experimental Range is that of a cold desert, with cold winters and warm summers. Mean January and July temperatures are –25.7 °F (-3.5 °C) and 73.9 °F (23.3 °C), respectively. Daily swings in temperature of 50 °F (28 °C) are not uncommon during summer months. The average frost-free period is from about mid-May to late September (125 days). Mean annual precipitation at valley sites is about 6.5 inches (165 mm), with roughly half of precipitation falling from May through September. Monsoonal rains (July-August) often come and go so quickly that water does not penetrate the soil enough to benefit deep-rooted plants. In contrast, winter and spring precipitation (snow or rain) typically reaches soil depths of 6 to 28 inches (15 to 70 cm), and is available to plants during the growing season. Precipitation on Tunnel Spring Mountain (maximum elevation 8,415 ft. [2565 m]) can be as much as 50 percent higher than that of valley locations (5,100 to 6,500 ft. [1550 to 2000 m]).

Mountain ranges surrounding the Desert Experimental Range are composed primarily of Paleozoic limestone, dolomite, and quartzite. These sedimentary rocks, along with some remnant deposits of early Tertiary volcanic ash, comprise the soils. Soils are Aridisols (Calciorthids and Camborthids) and Entisols (Torrifluvents and Torripsamments). They are mostly gravelly loams, sandy loams, and loamy sands with low clay content, except for the mostly barren hardpan, or playa, in the valley bottom. Soil pH averages around 8.0 and salt concentrations are low in the upper 12 to 16 inches (30 to 40 cm). Undisturbed areas develop desert pavement from gravels and small rocks. A Calcic horizon beginning at depths of 10 to 14 inches (25 to 35 cm) is common on most alluvial surfaces.

Soil disturbance is important on local and landscape scales. Conspicuous patches of soil disturbance 10 to 40 ft (3 to 12 m) in diameter are maintained by burrowing animals, and collectively cover about 10 to 15 percent of the landscape. On a larger scale, a small (41 square miles, 106 square kilometers) Pleistocene (ice age) lake filled the bottom of Pine Valley and left still recognizable shorelines and the mostly barren lake bed or playa. Water from infrequent but intense summer thunderstorms scours ephemeral washes, moving sediments downward across the long alluvial slopes that skirt the rocky high ground.

Native vegetation for most of the Desert Experimental Range is known as salt-desert shrubland or mixed shrub and grassland. Short-statured (8 to 16 in, 20 to 40 cm tall) shrubs such as winterfat, shadscale, budsage, black sagebrush and low rabbitbrush combine with both warm and cool season perennial grasses in various combinations. A number of native forbs add variety, especially in wet years. Important introduced annuals include cheatgrass, Russian thistle, and halogeton. Larger shrubs such as Nevada Ephedra, rubber rabbitbrush, desert almond, and little leaf mountain mahogany become important on upper alluvial slopes, in washes, or on exposed rock. Woodlands dominated by single-needle pinyon and Utah juniper occupy higher elevations on Tunnel Spring Mountain.

Research – Historical and Present

Past research at the Desert Experimental Range focused on the impacts of livestock on changes in plant communities in North American salt-deserts; winter sheep management; desertification; rodent ecology; pronghorn antelope biology and management; organisms that live in concealed soil-crust ecology; and bird and mammal population changes. In addition to continuation of existing long-term studies, current research explores the effects of invasive weeds and climate variability on salt-desert ecosystem stability. Current studies also explore the effectiveness of shrub replanting treatments on degraded landscapes.

Long-term Monitoring and Data

Precipitation and temperature data are available from 1934 to 1983, and from 1993 to present (with some omissions). Researchers have collected community composition for paired grazed and ungrazed exclosures periodically from 1934 to present. Biomass production data are also available for portions of this time period. Maps reveal grazing treatments, roads, fences, and soil classifications. 

Facilities Information

The Civilian Conservation Corps constructed the headquarters complex of the Desert Experimental Range from 1934 to 1935. Headquarters includes an office, three living quarters, support buildings, a tennis court and a well. The Forest Service maintains these facilities to support research and education activities at this remote location.