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Science Spotlights

Mule Deer with Large Antler Rack in Hay Field on the Fremont Winema National Forest
Individual animals and wildlife populations need to move across the landscape to follow seasonal food sources or disperse from their natal area, and human-created barriers pose a threat to those movements. Roads in particular fragment habitat, and may prevent animals from meeting their nutritional and life history requirements. Wildlife-vehicle collisions (WVCs) not only present a well-documented risk to the safety of the traveling public; they...
Map of India showing Predicted effective tiger population size across the Central Indian study area
RMRS research ecologist Samuel Cushman has co-led a large collaborative partnership in India for more than 10 years to understand the impacts that rapid economic development has on iconic wildlife species, including the Bengal tiger and Asian elephant. Cushman developed advanced modeling methods, taught them to several cohorts of graduate students and post-docs, and oversaw their implementation to assess tiger and elephant habitat quality and...
A zoom-in of biochar created at a workshop in Dillon, MT. The biochar is in large pieces in a pile.
During the last 20 years, federal and state governments have developed policies and regulatory instruments to support the production of electricity and heat from forest biomass, in addition to overall increases in utilization of low-value materials resulting from forest treatment projects (such as salvage logging near the wildland urban interface or wildfire risk reduction). However, several barriers exist to increasing the use of otherwise non-...
The role of designated wilderness to conservation efforts in the United States and worldwide has grown increasingly uncertain from climate change and other anthropogenic impacts. Increasingly, scholars, scientists, and conservationists are demanding that wilderness be either “untrammeled” or “natural,” but in some situations preserving one compromises the other. This tension puts agency managers in an extremely difficult position because the...
A stand of pine trees on a sloping forest. Lots of pinecones are on the forest floor.
Between 2011-2020, conifer forests in California’s southern Sierra Nevada forests experienced rapid transitions to lower density forest or non-forest vegetation types. Thirty percent of all conifer forests and 50% of mature forests saw declines, primarily due to the combination of wildfires, drought, and drought-associated beetle epidemics. California spotted owl Protected Activity Centers (PAC) experienced a 49% canopy cover decline relative...
Part of a pine forest on the edge of a grassland that has caught on fire. Visible flames are on the ground with massive plumes of white and black smoke emerging from the tree line. Lots of the forest and the sky are not visible.
The public health effects of wildfire smoke exposure are substantial. Prescribed fire is being promoted to reduce the ecological and social costs of wildfires, including smoke related health impacts. However, the science does not currently exist to know how the health benefits of prescribed fire compare to the costs.  
Aphrodite fritillary (Speyeria aphrodite) pollinating a wavyleaf thistle (Cirsium undulatum).
Phenological changes are projected to change growing season dynamics and potentially change ecosystem function leading to asymmetric vegetation responses. Contrary to some other research, we project that growing seasons are expected to be shorter in the future by as much as 30 days in some regions suggesting changes in management techniques and regimes will likely be necessary. 
PODs map on the Tonto National Forest
The PODs (potential operational delineations) concept is an adaptive framework for cross-boundary and collaborative land and fire management planning. Early evidence suggests PODs provide utility for planning, communication, coordination, prioritization, incident response strategy development, and fuels mitigation and forest restoration. This work explores new horizons that would help land and fire management organizations better address risks...
A landowner sprays to control weeds along windbreak near Belgrade, MT. USDA NRCS photo.
Herbicides are often used as a management tool to reduce and control undesirable weed populations in agricultural, rangeland, and forest systems. We identified 3 plant characteristics that predicted whether a noxious weed species would become herbicide resistant.  Based on these characteristics, we developed a ranked risk assessment identifying 63 noxious weed species at risk of developing herbicide resistance.  
Young plants of B. inermis and P. smithii growing in the greenhouse under different precipitation and grazing conditions reflecting future climate change scenarios.
Climate change and grazing can alter the invasion success of perennial grasses by influencing their establishment as young plants. Young perennial plant survival and success is dependent on the formation and use of their belowground bud bank to facilitate clonal growth through the vegetative reproduction of new aboveground stems.  In young plants, clonal traits of the invasive grass Smooth Brome (Bromus inermis) favored its superior expansion...

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