Saving the Desert: Push to Restore Arches & Canyonlands National Parks

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A video put out by CBS discusses some of the ecological issues of Arches and Canyonlands National Parks in UT such as nonnative annual grasses, disturbance caused by cattle grazing, and the difficulty of getting native, perennial grasses established. The video focuses on the research of SBSC’s Rebecca Mann and Mike Duniway, who are studying the use connectivity modifiers (ConMods) in restoration.

A video put out by CBS discusses some of the ecological issues of Arches and Canyonlands National Parks in UT such as nonnative annual grasses, disturbance caused by cattle grazing, and the difficulty of getting native, perennial grasses established. The video focuses on the research of SBSC’s Rebecca Mann and Mike Duniway. Mike and Rebecca use connectivity modifiers (ConMods), which are short mesh screens that function as mini fences that modify patches of bare ground by limiting wind and water erosion and create microsites for native grass seed germination. The CBS piece is called, “Saving the Desert: Push to restore Arches & Canyonlands National Parks”, and the link to the video is here: http://www.cbs.com/shows/cbs_this_morning/video/7YlcD9T8jWzNzZbycOZ_PbOO_p1zglt5/restoring-arches-and-canyonlands-national-parks/.

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A healthy native sand dropseed grass inside a connectivity modifier consisting of small mesh screens that trap seeds
December 15, 2016

Historic over-grazing of arid grasslands in the Intermountain West has led to widespread soil erosion, loss of plant diversity, and invasion by exotic species.  Degraded grassland conditions can be very persistent, even after livestock use has ceased. For example, in national parks on the Colorado Plateau, livestock have been excluded for decades, but soil and native plants have not recovered on their own in many instances.  Recent droughts and forecasts for more frequent and severe droughts in makes natural recovery of these important ecosystems even less likely.  Unfortunately, many traditional methods of restoration have only marginal success rates and risk increasing soil erosion.

Our project investigates a novel restoration method that uses connectivity modifiers (ConMods).  These are small fencing structures that “modify” large connected patches bare ground by impeding wind and water erosion, creating microsites favorable to seedling establishment.  In a recent field trial, ConMods resulted in a 90% establishment rate of seeded native plants.  We are currently looking at various installation patterns of ConMods, to inform and optimize restoration of degraded arid grasslands.