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IN THIS EDITION: Best wishes to staff moving on, research updates, and we celebrate our work from Fiscal Year 2022.


Climate Adaptation Strategies for Arid Grasslands

Climate Adaptation Strategies for Arid Grasslands

RestoreNet Testing Soil Inoculation

RestoreNet Testing Soil Inoculation

Seed Technology Training Course

Seed Technology Training Course

Hello RAMPS Community,

We have big changes to announce. As many of you know, back in July, Katie Laushman, RAMPS Field Manager, moved to Washington to become the manager of a state preserve. At the end of October, Molly McCormick, RAMPS Coordinator, is moving on to be the program manager of the Southwest Fire Science Consortium, part of the Joint Fire Science Program in Flagstaff, AZ. Our post-doc Hannah Farrell is moving to Ft. Collins, CO to conduct science outreach with the USDA-USFS Rocky Mountain Research Station. This means RAMPS will be re-assessing its needs while continuing to produce great science for Southwest drylands. We wish our colleagues the best on their new endeavors.

In this issue, we also take a look back at Fiscal Year 2022 and celebrate our accomplishments.

Warm regards,

Seth Munson, RAMPS Ecologist

Molly McCormick, RAMPS Coordinator


Fiscal Year 2022 YEAR IN REVIEW

$1.8 Million in New Funding Leveraged

31,429 People read #USGSRAMPS tweets @USGSAZ

5,907 People Reached via RAMPS website

849 people clicked a link from a tweet @USGSAZ

672 Newsletter Subscribers (32% increase from 2021)

531 Links clicked on newsletters

140+ People Attended RAMPS Training Workshops

28 Presentations

21 Research Projects

14 New Publications

10 New Research Projects

7 Collaborative Working Groups



"This (Navajo Dust Risk Project) is an important project because dust storms are a huge problem on the Navajo Nation that no one seems to be recognizing until now. With the strong winds and dust storms this year, people are losing roofs on their houses & there aren’t resources to help. It is important that as a researcher, I go out and talk to the local people and capture their local knowledge and experiences. My hope for this project right now is to elevate the voices of the Navajo community members, especially the farmers and ranchers; they are on the front lines of climate change and experiencing the worst right now. I want to understand the issues and how this connects with land, food, water, health, and environmental justice for the benefit of the Navajo people and future generations.”-Marquel Begay, PhD student at University of Arizona and RAMPS collaborator

"You do an excellent job of (supporting) management. I truly hope you continue to provision your sister agencies.” - NPS Program Manager

“Conversations with Molly and Seth and others have been super helpful here at the park I manage as we try to figure our restoration options!” -Natural Resource Program Manager, NPS

“The work that you are doing is important in the field of impacted and rehabilitated soils.  Thank you.” - County Park Supervisor

“I am extremely interested in ecological restoration and what the U.S. government is doing about his crisis. I am excited about the research projects underway in the in the Southwest.” - Member of public who found the RAMPS website and submitted feedback on USGS.GOV

“I'm starting as a new refuge manager in the Southwest, so (the RAMPS Newsletter is) definitely appropriate and good information for my new role.” - USFWS Colleague

“Thank you so much for the great presentation yesterday! I received several notes on how useful/informative it was - and well delivered.” – DOI Office of Resource Damage Assessment



Helping National Parks with Climate Adaptation

New report assesses climate impacts to grasslands on the Colorado Plateau

National Park Service (NPS) managers face growing challenges resulting from the effects of climate change. In particular, as temperatures rise in coming decades, natural resource management in the western United States must cope with expectations for elevated severity and frequency of droughts. These challenges are particularly pronounced for vegetation managers in dryland environments. Developing adaptive strategies requires specific information about the expected magnitude of change in climate and drought conditions as well as insights into how those changes will affect important vegetation resources. This report describes research focused on Southeast Utah Group park units (Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, Hovenweep and Natural Bridges National Monuments) designed to provide information about exposure and sensitivity of perennial grasses to aridification. Analyses at larger regional scales are also reported for context and comparison.

This report is a product of an ongoing climate adaptation collaboration between the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), NPS, and Northern Arizona University. The study it summarizes contributes quantitative information for vulnerability assessments that are needed by the Climate-Smart Conservation framework many NPS units have adopted. As such, the results informed a series of climate adaptation workshops conducted between 2018 and 2021 for Colorado Plateau scientists and managers. This is a giant step forward in science-informed management. The information in this report can be used to craft management strategies that can be implemented at the right place and time for individual species of concern. Project Webpage: Climate Adaptation Strategies for Arid Grasslands | U.S. Geological Survey (

CITATION: Bradford, J.B., Havrilla, C.A., Hartsell, J.A., Schlaepfer, D.R., McCormick, M.L., Munson, S., Yackulic, C., Fisk, T.T., Thoma, D.P., Perkins, D., Witwicki, D., VanScoyoc, M., Duniway, M., and Reed, S., 2022, Southeast Utah Group climate and drought adaptation report—Exposure and perennial grass sensitivity—cooperator report: Fort Collins, Colo., U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Natural Resource Report NPS/NCPN/NRR—2022/2432, 632 p.,


Understanding how forest restoration improves forest health

New paper demonstrates how forest thinning and prescribed fire reduce impacts from ongoing drought

Key Findings:

•Dry western US forests are at risk of large-scale tree die-offs due to hot-drought.

•The authors modeled forest restoration effects on future ponderosa pine drought mortality.

•Without thinning, mortality will increase 45–57% over current rates by mid-century.

•With thinning, mid-century mortality rates remain near or below contemporary rates.

•Lower tree density can mitigate the effects of climate change on drought mortality.


CITATION: McCauley, L.A., Bradford, J.B., Robles, M.D., Shriver, R.K., Woolley, T.J., and Andrews, C.M., 2022, Landscape-scale forest restoration decreases vulnerability to drought mortality under climate change in southwest USA ponderosa forest: Forest Ecology and Management, v. 509, 120088, p. 1-11,


Understanding how ponderosa pine density leads to mortality

New paper models how temperature, drought, and forest density lead to tree mortality

The study used repeat measurements of ponderosa pine forests across the West.

Key Findings: 

  • Tree mortality was greatest in areas with high tree density when those areas also experienced high temperature or low moisture over a number of years (7-8 years in this study).
  • Mortality decreased during wetter periods that lasted up to 3-years.
  • These results imply that a 50% reduction in forest basal area (tree density) could reduce drought-driven tree mortality by 20%–80%.
  • The largest impacts of density reduction are seen in areas with high tree density and places that experience high temperatures and/or severe multiyear droughts.

CITATION: Bradford, J.B., Shriver, R.K., Robles, M.D., McCauley, L.A., Woolley, T.J., Andrews, C.M., Crimmins, M., and Bell, D.M., 2021, Tree mortality response to drought-density interactions suggests opportunities to enhance drought resistance: Journal of Applied Ecology, online,


Which plant traits best improve soil health and suppress weeds?

New paper from RestoreNet sheds light on this question

Restoring degraded ecosystems is a massive environmental challenge. Establishing the right types of plants is often considered critical to restoring soil health, suppressing weeds, and producing biomass for forage and wildlife. However, biomass might also play a supporting role by magnifying the effects of the right types of plants on other restoration objectives, such as those with the right root characteristics to enhance soil health, or competitive traits to suppress weeds.

To test this hypothesis, the authors developed a network of experimental restoration sites in degraded locations across a high-elevation dryland region, the Colorado Plateau (USA). Within each site the authors established plots of many species commonly used in restoration, either growing as a single species, or as four-species mixes. The authors measured indicators of soil health, weed suppression, and biomass production across these plots. The authors also measured numerous traits of the plant species relevant to how they take up and use resources, including root, leaf and whole plant characteristics. The authors found that neither biomass nor traits alone were good predictors of soil health or weed suppression, but rather their interactions mattered: the effect of biomass depended on traits of the plants, and vice versa. High amounts of biomass only produced good outcomes when the plant species present had the right root characteristics to improve soil health, and the right leaf characteristics to suppress weeds. The primary implication of this work is that biomass amplifies the effects of plant traits on ecosystem functions and services, and that this interdependency of traits and biomass should be incorporated into management frameworks and models for predicting the impacts of biodiversity on ecosystem functioning.

CITATION: Balazs, K.R., Munson, S.M., and Butterfield, B.J., 2022, Functional composition of plant communities mediates biomass effects on ecosystem service recovery across an experimental dryland restoration network: Functional Ecology, online, Plain language summary taken found here.



PROJECT: RestoreNet Version 2.0 Pilot
White clay seed balls sit in small depressions on bare ground

This summer, we started testing a second set of treatments into our restoration field trial network. The focus of these treatments is to understand if restoration outcomes can be enhanced by increasing beneficial soil microbial communities in degraded soils. For the experiment, we gathered soil at reference sites near seven of the RestoreNet experiment locations in undisturbed, intact plant communities. After gathering the soil, we enhanced the amount of beneficial soil microbes in the greenhouse before applying the soil at the RestoreNet locations and using it to form seed balls, which also contained seed and clay. The new treatments test these treatments, along with pitting (small depressions in the ground that capture soil moisture) that worked the best in RestoreNet Version 1.0. We are using a new seed mix that is a collection of the best performing species from the RestoreNet Version 1.0. Seven out of the 24 RestoreNet sites already received this new treatment, and six more sites will receive the treatment late this fall.

Find out more about RestoreNet and read publications from the project here.


PROJECT: Seed Technology Training Course

RAMPS partnered with colleagues across the West to create a new training course in restoration for drylands. The course is open to everyone.

Official Course name:  Arid and Semi-Arid Lands Seed Technology and Restoration Course

Course Description: This self-paced on-line course is intended to serve as an introduction to seed technology and arid and semi-arid lands restoration as a first step towards more in-depth in person restoration and revegetation courses​

Course ObjectivesBy the end of the course, participants will have an understanding of:​ ecological restoration principles, standards of practice, and concepts to increase the success of restoration efforts​, arid/semi-arid ecosystems and the challenges they pose to successful restoration​, and how to apply ecological restoration best practices and concepts in restoration planning in arid and semi-arid ecosystems​

Required Prerequisites: None

Dates/Times:  This is a self-guided course

Cost (if any):  None

Availability (# of students allowed) - unlimited

Target Audience: Natural Resource Specialists, Fire Managers, Emergency Stabilization and Rehabilitation Staff, Botanists, Wildlife Biologists, Ecologists, Range, Minerals, Mining and Reclamation Specialists.

Link: DOI Talent. Non-DOI employees may request an account here to access the training.


CONVERSATIONS: Exploring the Health and Management of Pinyon-Juniper


A group of people stand in a grassland

Pinyon - juniper (PJ) plant communities occur throughout the western US and provide valuable biodiversity, ecosystem functions, wildlife habitat, and natural and cultural resources. Despite their importance, many PJ communities have been facing unprecedented impacts from climate change as trees die-off, wildfire increases, dependent wildlife and suitable wildlife habitat declines. At the same time, thinning trees, particularly juniper, to reduce wildfire risk, enhance forage production, rejuvenate desirable shrubs, and meet other management objectives is one of the most common land treatments in the western U.S. These differing perspectives about the value and appropriate management actions in PJ communities are often fragmented, with limited connections among scientists and land managers across tribal, state, federal, private, and research institutions.

As part of the Biennial Conference for Science and Resource Management on the Colorado Plateau and Southwest Region, RAMPS along with Arizona Game and Fish Department, Northern Arizona University, and the University of Colorado-Boulder co-hosted a field trip, a 4-hour session and workshop. In this series of events, a diverse group at the nexus of science and land management met to discuss climate change, and the health of these important vegetation communities. Attendees left with a more complete and nuanced understanding of the historical and current condition of PJ communities, where they may persist under climate and land use change, current management practices, how decisions on management are made, and identified emerging concerns and pathways for improving management decisions. Stay tuned for more fruits of this collective work. 



Uniting Western Restoration Strategies and Indigenous Knowledges to Build Capacity and Climate Resilience on the Navajo Nation

Project funded by the Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center

RAMPS is working with colleagues at the University of Arizona and the Navajo Natural Heritage Program to test restoration strategies and conduct outreach on the Navajo Nation.

Across the Navajo Nation, soil and vegetation management practices are interacting with climate change to the detriment of ecosystem function, human health, cultural resiliency, and economic well-being. Conducting ecosystem restoration and shifting land management practices have been identified as critical elements to climate adaptation and dust mitigation strategies for the Navajo Nation, however, barriers to restoration exist. Restoration in drylands is incredibly difficult and nuanced, requiring the use of appropriate technologies, the integration of multiple types of knowledge, the appropriate high-quality locally-adapted native plant materials, and environmental professionals skilled in the techniques of dryland restoration in an increasingly drier and unpredictable world. Despite preliminary steps made by Navajo leaders and agencies to address some of the most pressing environmental concerns, there remains considerable need for ecological restoration. Tribal environmental professionals have identified a need for additional training to integrate information and build experience, a desire to build botanical expertise and learning/teaching gardens, and additional training materials to improve success of revegetation projects. This project addresses the need for improving revegetation techniques across the Navajo Nation and increasing capacity of environmental professionals in ecosystem restoration. We propose to explore ways to link Navajo Nation plant species, financially feasible high desert restoration technologies, and climate resiliency in an experiment deployed in an area of the Navajo Nation most deeply impacted by climate change: degraded drylands. From this experiment, we expect to (1) identify Navajo native plants that contribute to successful restoration of drought-degraded areas; (2) identify easily measurable plant traits that confer drought resilience to guide restoration species choice; and (3) identify inexpensive management practices that enhance effects of traditional restoration strategies. Project products will include recommendations describing best restoration practices to enhance climate resiliency within and external to the Navajo Nation; field days; workshops; garden plantings and seedball making demonstrations.


RAMPS is a program of the USGS Southwest Biological Science Center located in Flagstaff, AZ

RAMPS engages stakeholders within the Department of the Interior, other federal and state agencies, tribal governments, and on private lands to provide guidance and support for effective restoration strategies across the southwestern U.S. The RAMPS network consists of over 500 individuals representing 50+ agencies, organizations, and universities working together to increase land productivity and reduce threats posed by environmental hazards. RAMPS is a program of the USGS Southwest Biological Science Center and Ecosystem Mission Area.


An infographic summarizing activities of the RAMPS program.


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