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Science Program Areas

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Air, Water and Aquatic Environments

The Air, Water and Aquatic Environments (AWAE) Science Program develops core knowledge, methods, and technologies that enable effective watershed management in forests and grasslands, sustain biodiversity, and maintain healthy watershed conditions.

Scientists with the AWAE Program conduct basic and applied research on the effects of natural processes and human activities on watershed resources, including interactions between aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Knowledge developed by this Program supports management, conservation, and restoration of terrestrial, riparian and aquatic ecosystems and provides for sustainable clean air and water quality in the Interior West.

With capabilities in atmospheric sciences, soils, forest engineering, biogeochemistry, hydrology, plant physiology, aquatic ecology and limnology, conservation biology and fisheries, AWAE scientists focus on two key research problems:

  • Core watershed research quantifies the dynamics of hydrologic, geomorphic and biogeochemical processes in forests and rangelands at multiple scales and defines the biological processes and patterns that affect the distribution, resilience, and persistence of native aquatic, riparian and terrestrial species.

  • Integrated, interdisciplinary research explores the effects of climate variability and climate change on forest, grassland and aquatic ecosystems.

AWAE has research labs and field unit locations located throughout the interior west. Science teams contributing to the programs' research are based in Albuquerque, NM; Flagstaff, AZ; Fort Collins, CO; Missoula, MT; Moscow, ID; and at AWAE headquarters, located in Boise, ID.

Three experimental forests exist across the geographic range of AWAE. These valuable scientific resources incorporate a broad range of climate conditions, forest and range types, research emphasis, and history. Forest Service, university, and other scientists conduct basic and applied studies on research themes including forest, stream, and rangeland ecology; hydrology; wildlife; biological diversity; and effects of forest and range management. Long-term data on climate, vegetation change, streamflow, and other site factors document environmental change and support research programs. More information about these sites is described in the links below:

Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute

The Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute is the only Federal research group in the United States dedicated to the development and dissemination of knowledge needed to improve management of wilderness, parks, and similarly protected areas. 

Fire, Fuel and Smoke

The Fire, Fuel, and Smoke Science Program (FFS) conducts national and international, cutting-edge work in wildland fire research.

The Program’s scientists, technicians, and support staff conduct research and develop management tools and applications designed to improve understanding of wildland fire and increase the safety and effectiveness of fire, fuel, and smoke management. Specific research activities are focused on physical fire processes, fuel dynamics, smoke emissions and dispersion, fire ecology, fire and fuel management strategies, and science synthesis and delivery. The FFS Program is based at the Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory in Missoula, Montana.

Forest and Woodland Ecosystems

The Forest and Woodland Ecosystems (FWE) Science Program acquires, develops, and delivers scientific knowledge and management tools for sustaining and restoring the health, biodiversity, productivity, and ecosystem processes of forest and woodland landscapes. This research is critical in light of the multiple and varied threats that these ecosystems face, including urbanization and human developments, extreme wildfire events, insect and disease outbreaks, exotic species invasions, and drought.

FWE scientists conduct short- and long-term research across a wide geographic area, with an emphasis on:

  • Spatial and temporal patterns of disturbance,

  • Managing complex landscapes in a changing environment,

  • Consequences of management activities,

  • Adaptive capacity of forests and woodlands, and

  • Mitigation of elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Grassland, Shrubland and Desert Ecosystems

The Grassland, Shrubland, and Desert Ecosystems (GSD) program investigates the biology, use, management, and restoration of grasses and shrublands. Scientists, professional technicians, and support staff with the GSD Program develop and deliver scientific knowledge, technology and tools that will enable people to sustain and restore grasslands, shrublands, and deserts under increasing threats from expanding human-related uses, invasive species, changing disturbance patterns, and climate changes.

The National Grassland Council has prepared an audiovisual presentation about the history and value of our National Grasslands. GSD Research Ecologist Jackie Ott, Rapid City and member of the National Grassland Council, helped to prepare the presentation which she narrates. The presentation takes 10 minutes and is a fascinating account of the homesteading period, 1930’s Dust Bowl, formation of the national grasslands, and their current multiple uses and contributions to the national economy. Nearly all of the 21 National Grasslands are within the territory covered by the Rocky Mountain Research Station, making research on the national grasslands an important RMRS niche.  RMRS researchers including Jackie Ott, Research Ecologist Paulette Ford, Albuquerque, Research Ecologist Brice Hanberry, Rapid City, and Research Biologist Francis Kilkenny, Boise and members of his lab, as well as wildlife biologist Brian Dickerson, Rapid City and Biological Technician David Hawksworth, Albuquerque, conduct research on fire, invasive species, plant communities, plant genetics and wildlife on national grasslands. To view the audiovisual presentation, click here: America's Grasslands 

In 2001 GSD and the Bureau of Land Management initiated the multi-state Great Basin Native Plant Project. Now with over 25 collaborators, the project continues to improve the availability of native plant materials and to provide the knowledge and technology required for their use in restoring diverse native plant communities across the Great Basin.

Members of the GSD Program are located at seven laboratories in six states in the intermountain West (Provo, UT and Reno, NV), Rocky Mountains (Boise and Moscow, ID), northern Great Plains (Bozeman, MT and Rapid City, SD), and American Southwest (Albuquerque, NM).

Learn more about the GSD Program in their research updates:

Human Dimensions

The Human Dimensions Science Program provides science-based innovation to help human societies develop sustainable relationships with their environment. Program scientists, professional technicians, and support staff use rigorous research methods to produce knowledge that can improve the understanding and integration of social and economic values and effects with ecosystem processes in natural resource planning and decision-making. Major issues confronting societies around the world, such as global climate change, management of energy, fire, and water, and ecosystem services, have important socioeconomic dimensions that this Program explores and addresses.

Inventory and Monitoring

The Inventory & Monitoring Program provides the data, analysis, and tools needed to effectively identify current status and trends for forests, including the effects of various management options and the threats and impacts of fire, insects, disease, and other natural processes.

The Inventory & Monitoring Program conducts and continuously updates a comprehensive inventory and analysis of present and prospective conditions of the forest and rangelands of the Interior West. Specific objectives of the Program are to:

  • Collect and disseminate information about the forests of the Interior West States relating to forest distribution, condition, health and utilization;

  • Develop innovative methods for sampling and integrating inventory data with remotely sensed information;

  • Maintain a database of up-to-date statistics in order to provide resource information to the Forest Service, its cooperators, other public agencies, and the public at large; and

  • Develop methods and procedures to test and evaluate indicators for assessing rangeland status and health.

Science Application and Communication

The Science Application and Communication program is a knowledge transfer unit that provides leadership for the integration and use of scientific information in natural resource planning and management across the Interior West. This Program is comprised of four main units that provide services to the Station:

  • The National Forest Service Library is hosted at the Station and provides services across the Forest Service, nationwide.
  • The Public and Legislative Affairs staff can assist news, media, Congressional members, and other stakeholders with their requests for information and interviews.
  • The Science Application and Exchange staff work directly with scientists to help deliver research to various stakeholder groups. The organize webinars and other seminars with partners to share science findings, as well as publish the Science You Can Use Bulletin.
  • Publishing Services is a one-stop-shop for planning and consultation for publishing manuscripts and other Station / Program information. They can help with editing, creation of figures and tables, original artwork, layout and design ideas, symposium instructions, advertising, posting publications online, and multimedia products (brochures, pamphlets, web designs, meeting presentations, and posters).

Wildlife and Terrestrial Ecosystems

The Wildlife and Terrestrial Ecosystems program is engaged in sustaining species and ecosystems of concern through integrated and multidisciplinary research. The program investigates ecological interactions within and between aquatic and terrestrial plant and animal communities, social and economic values associated with consumptive and non-consumptive uses of fish and wildlife, management of terrestrial and aquatic habitats, and outcomes of land and water uses and natural disturbances on wildlife populations and habitats.