Restoration Assessment & Monitoring Program for the Southwest (RAMPS)

Science Center Objects

The Restoration Assessment and Monitoring Program for the Southwest (RAMPS) seeks to assist U.S. Department of the Interior and other land management agencies in developing successful restoration strategies for dryland ecosystems of the southwestern United States. Invasive species, fire, urban expansion, and other disturbances have degraded southwestern ecosystems. In water-limited regions, restoration can be difficult and costly. Managers are also hindered by the lack of available information to help them develop effective strategies for reestablishing perennial vegetation and stabilizing soils. To meet the needs of managers, RAMPS will become a hub for the information, science, and tools needed to successfully restore degraded drylands.

Launched in June 2016, RAMPS was developed to assist U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) and other land management agencies develop successful restoration strategies for the water-limited ecosystems of the Southwest. RAMPS is funded by DOI and composed of scientists and managers from multiple USGS Science Centers, DOI management agencies, and universities.

RAMPS scientist meeting with two land managers in arid shrubland
RAMPS scientist meeting with two land managers in arid shrubland. (Credit: Mike Duniway, USGS, Southwest Biological Science Center. Public domain.)

Why is RAMPS Needed?

Drylands of the southwestern U.S. have been degraded by invasive species, wildfire, energy development, recreational activity, overgrazing, agricultural conversion, and urban growth. The Southwest is expected to experience decreases in water availability because of drought and increasing temperatures in the future. To further exacerbate potential land transformations, the Southwest is a region of some of the fastest human population growth in the United States. For example, in Arizona there are three cities among the top 15 fastest growing cities in the United States. 

Despite the demand for dryland restoration and rehabilitation, little information is available to help managers effectively reestablish perennial vegetation and stabilize soils. There is even less information available to help managers develop appropriate restoration strategies under changing climate and disturbance regimes. To address these issues, RAMPS will synthesize and analyze records of restoration treatments and monitoring, provide decision-support tools to increase probability of restoration success, provide guidance on the availability of locally appropriate seeds, assess the costs and benefits of dryland restoration, and support monitoring activities to track restoration effectiveness.  RAMPS aims to bridge science and management to produce the information and tools needed for successful land management. 

RAMPS Objectives (summary)

1) Synthesize restoration assessments and monitoring

a) synthesize scientific and management records of restoration treatments

b) evaluate standards for restoration success, identify where restoration treatment efforts have succeeded and failed, and determine the biophysical characteristics and management practices that have led to these outcomes

Lone researcher in degraded arid environment. Ripples on soil surface and dust cloud in background are evidence of wind erosion
Lone researcher in degraded arid environment. Note ripples on soil surface (caused by wind) and dust cloud in background. (Credit: Mark Miller, USGS. Public domain.)

c)  provide managers with information on effective restoration practices for their disturbed sites, including those at the large spatial scales

2) Provide decision-support tools to inform when and where environmental conditions are likely to be suitable for restoration

a) develop decision-support tools to estimate the probability of a species having sufficient soil water for successful germination and establishment based on near-term forecasts of climate and soil water for the current year

b) project long-term future climate suitability of current species used in in seed mixes/plantings and identify alternative species that may become suitable in the future 

c) assist managers in applying resources in years and locations where restoration is most likely to be successful

3) Develop and disseminate information for deciding locally appropriate seed mixes and native plant materials

a) develop tools to diversify available plant materials and improve restoration outcomes by determining how many sources per species are required to achieve different levels of climatic coverage and to minimize movement across a species’ range

b) evaluate the effects of using native versus non-native seed mixes/plant materials on ecosystem properties

c) provide guidance to managers on the availability and use of seed for local restoration efforts, including the identification of appropriate ecotypes to maximize restoration success

4) Assess the benefits and outcomes of restoration practices relative to their financial costs

a) evaluate the costs of planning, seed/plant materials, equipment, and time to conduct restoration practices relative to the benefits of ecosystem services provided

b) weigh the costs and benefits of implementing different restoration treatments

c) quantify the economic costs associated with restoration failures

d) help managers improve on expenditures of time and resources to maximize restoration effectiveness

5) Create frameworks and tools that support monitoring of restoration treatments

a) help managers develop performance criteria to measure restoration success 

b) analyze monitoring protocols to track restoration effectiveness

c) assess departures in plant and soil conditions from baseline conditions

d) project future recovery trajectories

e) determine suitable sampling designs

f) scale-up plot-based monitoring to the landscape-level