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In this edition: RestoreNet 2.0 installation, project highlights, publications, conferences, and saying goodbye to RAMPS staff

Opening Letter 

Hello and happy spring! RAMPS had a busy winter and spring preparing to install RestoreNet experiments, attending conferences, and generating restoration resources and publications with the restoration community. We are excited to share our current activities and future plans with you in this newsletter. We would also like to say thank you to Alex Croydon, who has worked with RAMPS since 2022 as a Biological Science Technician. Alex is moving on to start a Master's Program in Environmental Science and Policy at Northern Arizona University this fall, and she will be missed, but not far! Thank you for reading, and feel free to reach out with questions or to collaborate, 

Laura Shriver
RAMPS Coordinator


In the Field

Installing RestoreNet Version 2.0 with Livestock Treatments

In 2023, RAMPS and collaborators received a Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (WSARE) grant to incorporate live topsoil inoculation, seedballs, soil pits, and targeted livestock treatments into RestoreNet seeding treatments. These treatments are designed to improve seeding success and soil health in restoration experiments throughout the Southwest. Read more about the experiment in the Fall 2023 RAMPS Newsletter.

Over the past few months, we have been working hard to prepare for RestoreNet installations, which began in May 2024. Our collaborators Kitty Gehring and Ri Corwin at Northern Arizona University prepared live topsoil inoculum for field implementation by growing our native seed mix in soil collected from site-specific, intact reference sites that are matched with each RestoreNet site. These inoculation treatments are designed to boost beneficial soil microbial communities in degraded soils.

We also built a seedball bike to create seedballs to test alongside direct seeding treatments with help from Colorado State University and the University of Arizona. Seedballs are mixtures of seeds, a binding material such as clay, and materials that may boost seedling emergence and survival such as compost, nutrients, or in our case, soil inoculum. The protocol to build a seedball bike is available from RAMPS collaborator Elise Gornish at the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension: How to Construct A Bicycle-Powered Seed Pelletizer for Use in Gardening and Restoration ( En español:

In May, we implemented the soil pit, soil inoculum, seeding, and seedballs with and without targeted livestock treatments at two RestoreNet sites on Diablo Trust ranches Bar T Bar and Flying M near Flagstaff, Arizona. Our project partners at Diablo Trust moved cattle into an enclosure after implementing seeding treatments, where they grazed on hay for 5-6 hours, then were removed. The targeted livestock treatments were designed in partnership with our ranching project partners to increase seedling emergence through increasing soil-seed contact, creating micro-topography, and adding nutrients. We are excited to start monitoring these experiments in the fall, and to repeat this process at three more sites at the Canyonlands Research Center in southern Utah, the Tonto National Forest in eastern Arizona, and the Santa Rita Experimental Range in southeast Arizona this summer.

RAMPS employees and partners pose in front of a cattle grazing enclosure at a RestoreNet site
RAMPS employees and partners pose in front of a cattle grazing enclosure at a RestoreNet site. From left to right: RAMPS Ecologist Seth Munson, RAMPS Coordinator Laura Shriver, RAMPS Biologist Sarah Costanzo, NAU postdoctoral researcher Collin VanBuren, and Diablo Trust Program Manager Corinne LaViolette. Photo by Seth Munson (USGS).
Incorporating cattle into restoration treatments at a Northern Arizona RestoreNet site
Cattle inside a grazing enclosure at the Bar T Bar Ranch RestoreNet site in Northern Arizona. The cattle were allowed to graze on hay and existing vegetation in the enclosure for 5-6 hours after implementing seeding and restoration treatments (direct seeding, seedballs, soil pits, and live topsoil inoculation) to potentially bolster seeding success by increasing seed-soil contact, creating micrography, and adding nutrients. Photo by Laura Shriver (USGS).
Newly installed RestoreNet treatments including pits + seedballs + live topsoil and live topsoil + direct seeding
Newly installed RestoreNet Version 2.0 treatment plots at Bar T Bar Ranch in Northern Arizona. Left: a plot that received pitting + seedballs + live topsoil inoculum (in the seedballs), Right: a plot that received live topsoil inoculum (spread across the plot) and direct seeding. The treatments are fully crossed and include control plots without seed, direct seeding with and without pits, seedballs with and without pits, all with either live topsoil inoculum or sterilized soil either spread across the plot or put inside the seedballs. Photos by Laura Shriver (USGS).

RAMPS on the Road

The RAMPS Team hit the road to attend conferences across the Western United States in late 2023 and early 2024. Science communication is one of the key pillars of RAMPS, and presenting at diverse conferences and workshops allows us to connect with land managers, landowners, scientists, and restoration practitioners throughout the Southwest. RAMPS-related presentations included:

  • Innovative tools to monitor invasive grasses and restore dryland ecosystems: invited talk presented by RAMPS Ecologist Seth Munson at the National Conference on Ecosystem Restoration, April 2024 in Albuquerque, NM.
  • Detection and treatment of fire-prone invasive grasses: RAMPS Ecologist Seth Munson gave a webinar for National Invasive Species Awareness Week, March 2024.
  • RestoreNet: 5 years of testing effective restoration strategies across Southwest ecosystems: presented by RAMPS Coordinator Laura Shriver at the Society for Ecological Restoration – Southwest Chapter 2023 Annual Conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the 2024 Ajo Tri Nation Symposium in Ajo, Arizona, the 2024 Borderlands Soil Health Workshop in Patagonia, Arizona, and the 2024 Native Seed Virtual Conference.
  • Invasive grass influences on fire and treatment effectiveness to reduce their spread in the Southwest: presented by RAMPS Biologist Sarah Costanzo at the Society for Ecological Restoration – Southwest Chapter 2023 Annual Conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the 2024 Ajo Tri Nation Symposium in Ajo, Arizona, and the International Fire Ecology and Management Congress in Monterey, California.
  • Overcoming dryland restoration failures with new opportunities: oral symposium with eight global dryland restoration experts organized by RAMPS ecologist Seth Munson at the World Conference on Ecological Restoration, September 2023 in Darwin, Australia. Seth also presented in the symposium with a talk, “Soil surface treatments and precipitation timing determine seedling development across dryland restoration sites”.


RestoreNet poster presentation at the Society for Ecological Restoration – Southwest Chapter 2023 Annual Conference
RAMPS Coordinator Laura Shriver (left) and RAMPS Biologist Sarah Costanzo (right) pose with a poster describing the RAMPS project RestoreNet at the Society for Ecological Restoration – Southwest Chapter 2023 Annual Conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Photo by Shannon Lencioni (USGS).
RAMPS and the Institute for Applied Ecology get together at the Society for Ecological Restoration – Southwest Chapter 2023
RAMPS and the Institute for Applied Ecology (IAE) get together to discuss potential seeding network across New Mexico at the Society for Ecological Restoration – Southwest Chapter 2023 Annual Conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico. From left to right: Katy Silber (IAE), Laura Shriver (USGS), Melanie Gisler (IAE), Ashlee Wolf (IAE), Taylor Cain (IAE), Sarah Costanzo (USGS), Gwen Wion (IAE). Photo by Shannon Lencioni (USGS).

Project Highlights

Restoration Plan for Wupatki National Monument

RAMPS Coordinator Laura Shriver, RAMPS Ecologist Seth Munson, and USGS Biologist Emily Palmquist created a restoration plan for the Deadman Wash Confluence area in Wupatki National Monument (WUPA). The Deadman Wash Confluence Area is where the Deadman Wash and Little Colorado River meet and has been taken over by non-native invasive tamarisk (Tamarix sp.) and camelthorn (Alhagi maurorum). 

Riparian corridors in the Southwest provide important ecosystem services, but non-native trees like tamarisk are associated with negative ecological effects, including altered hydrology, displacement of native plants, reduced quality of wildlife habitat, and increased soil salinity. USGS conducted field surveys to document the spread of invasive species, suggested potential invasive removal methods, and identified native plant populations that could be used as sources for seed and other restoration materials within the park unit.

Claudia Dimartini holds a long camelthorn rhizomes exposed in a wash at Wupatki National Monument
USGS Biological Science Technician Claudia Dimartini poses with a long camelthorn (Alhagi maurorum) rhizome (underground root structure from which new plants can propagate that was exposed in a wash at the Deadman Wash Confluence Area. Photo by Laura Shriver (USGS).

RAMPS hosts park restoration ecologist from South Africa

In summer 2023, RAMPS hosted Dr. Mmoto Masubelele from South African National Parks who was visiting on a US Embassy fellowship to exchange information on successful restoration and climate adaptation practices conducted by the USGS, National Park Service, and South African National Parks. Dr. Masubelele toured USGS-NPS collaborative projects, gave a seminar on his research, and developed future collaborations with NPS staff and USGS scientists.

RAMPS hosts park restoration ecologist from South Africa, Dr. Mmoto Masubelele
RAMPS and NPS host South African National Park scientist, Dr. Mmoto Masubelele, for field visits to exchange information on restoration and climate adaptation strategies. From left to right: Seth Munson, Dr. Mmoto Masubelele, park biologist Mark Szydlo. Photo by Seth Munson (USGS).

Research Updates - New Publications

Comparing RestoreNet direct seeding vs outplanted seedlings

In this study, RestoreNet co-creators Brad Butterfield (Northern Arizona University) and Seth Munson (USGS RAMPS Ecologist) explored the outcomes of RestoreNet direct seeding vs outplanting greenhouse-grown seedlings. These two methods represent a tradeoff between low cost but risky seeding vs expensive but more reliable seedling planting to meet revegetation goals. This study compared seed emergence to planted-seedling survival among perennial species commonly used for restoration across eight RestoreNet sites in the Colorado Plateau. They found that emergence was positively correlated with survival in the cooler sites, meaning that species with high emergence also had high survival and vice versa, but had no relationship at the hottest sites. Additionally, soil surface treatments to enhance moisture in seeded plots (soil pits and mulch) also resulted in positive relationships between emergence and survival among species, while seeding without additional soil surface treatments did not. These results suggest that investments in seedling planting at hotter dryland sites, or in creating microtopography/soil pits or mulching prior to seeding across sites, are likely to promote establishment success compared to simple seeding methods in degraded dryland ecosystems.

CITATION: Butterfield, B.J., Munson, S.M. (2023). Do seeding and seedling planting result in similar restored plant communities? Applied Vegetation Science 26(4), e12758. DOI: 10.1111/avsc.12758

RestoreNet outplanted seedlings (left) v. direct seeding with soil surface treatments (right)
Left: RestoreNet outplant trials with greenhouse-grown seedlings planted into the field, Right: RestoreNet direct seeding trials with seeds combined with soil surface modifications including ConMod artificial nurse plants, mulch, and soil pits. Photos by Katie Laushman (USGS).

Oil and gas reclamation – operations, monitoring methods, and standards

This publication, led by the USGS RAMPS collaborators and Bureau of Land Management, provides broad and comprehensive guidance for management of oil and gas development with a focus on promoting successful reclamation for operators and contractors conducting oil and gas activities and surface management agencies responsible for guiding and enforcing these activities and reclamation.

CITATION: Lupardus, R.C., Simonsen, J., Toevs, G., Sterling, B., Bowen, Z.H., Davidson, Z., Hanser, S.E., Kachergis, E., Laurence-Traynor, A., Lepak, N., Mann, R.K., Nafus, A., Pilliod, D.S., Duniway, M.C. USGS Techniques and Methods 18-A1. DOI: 10.3133/tm18A1

What influences reclamation outcomes following dryland energy development?

This study, led by USGS RAMPS collaborators and Northern Arizona University, explores the effects of soil attributes, climate, and time since reclamation on oil and gas reclamation success across 134 reclaimed well pads in the in the Colorado Plateau. They identified attributes that were associated with favorable reclamation outcomes, and found that reclamation is failing in key metrics at most well pads. This approach has applicability for setting benchmarks and outcomes standards for energy reclamation.

CITATION: Lupardus, R., Sengsirirak, A., Griffen, K., Knight, A.C., McNellis, B.E., Bradford, J.B., Munson, S.M., Reed, S.C., Villarreal, M.G., Duniway, M.C. (2023). Time, climate, and soil settings set the course for reclamation outcomes following dryland energy development. Land Degradation & Development 34(17), 5438-5453. DOI: 10.1001/ldr.4856

Testing the hierarchy of predictability in grassland restoration across a gradient of environmental severity

This study, led by university and USGS RAMPS authors, sought to understand which restoration outcomes are more predictable across 11 grassland restoration projects that spanned an environmental gradient across the US.

CITATION: Bertuol‐Garcia, D., Ladouceur, E., Brudvig, L.A., Laughlin, D.C., Munson, S.M., Curran, M.F., Davies, K.W., Svejcar, L.N. and Shackelford, N. (2023). Testing the hierarchy of predictability in grassland restoration across a gradient of environmental severity. Ecological Applications, 33(8), p.e2922. DOI: 10.1002/eap.2922

Rangeland soil pitting for revegetation and annual weed control

This paper, written by scientists from Colorado Parks and Wildlife and a USGS RAMPS collaborator, reviews soil pitting, which is an ancient technique for concentrating soil moisture to encourage plant establishment and growth. Soil pits have been used successfully in RestoreNet, and are a promising tool for revegetation and restoration in the arid and semiarid Southwest.

CITATOIN: Bilyeu Johnston, D., Mann, R. K. (2024). Rangeland pitting for revegetation and annual weed control. Rangelands 46(1), 23-30. DOI: 10.1016/j.rala.2023.11.002

How well do existing native plant materials match the climate of highly disturbed areas in need of restoration in the Colorado Plateau?

This study, led by USGS RAMPS collaborators and Bureau of Land Management land managers, identified areas of high restoration need based on disturbance patterns in the Colorado Plateau, assessed the regional suitability of existing plant materials based on climate similarity, and highlighted gaps where existing plant materials are likely unsuitable and plant material development projects could be prioritized. This method is flexible and can be used by researchers and practitioners to assess the suitability of plant materials in other regions.

CITATOIN: Winkler, D.E., Sterner, S., Bradrord, J.B., Pilmanis, A.M., Massatti, R. (2024). Matching existing and future native plant materials to disturbance-driven restoration needs. Restoration Ecology, 32(4), e14088. DOI: 10.1111/rec.14088

What happens to piñon-juniper woodlands after fire and thinning?

In this study, researchers from the USGS, U.S. Forest Service, Northern Arizona University, Utah State University, Colorado State University, and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe explored the trajectories and tipping points of piñon-juniper woodlands after fire and thinning. They examined data following ~20 years of post-fire and thinning treatments, and found that burned areas had undergone a state shift that did not show signs of returning to the previous state. Thinning created distinct plant communities and served as an intermediate between intact and burned communities.

CITATION: Phillips, M.L., Lauria, C., Spector, T., Bradford, J.B., Gehring, C., Osborne, B.B., Howell, A., Grote, E.E., Rondeau, R.J., Trimber, G.M., Robinson, B., Reed, S.C. (2024). Trajectors and tipping points of piñon-juniper woodlands after fire and thinning. Global Change Biology 30(2), e17149. DOI: 10.1111/gcb.17149

What factors control invasive annual grass hotspots in the Mojave Desert?

This paper, led by researchers from Brigham Young University, the U.S. Forest Service, and USGS explores the biophysical factors that control invasive annual grass hot spots in the Mojave Desert. They used Landsat imagery and plot data to map invasive grass hot spots across the entire Mojave Desert, and identified important variables predicting hot spot distribution, including soil texture, aspect, winter precipitation, and elevation.

CITATION: Corless Smith, T., Bishop, T.B.B., Duniway, M.C., Villarreal, M.L., Knight, A.C., Munson, S.M., Waller, E.K., Jensen, R., Gill, R.A. (2023) Biophysical factors control invasive annual grass hot spots in the Mojave Desert. Biological Invasions (25), 3839-3858. DOI: 10.1007/s10530-023-03142-z

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

RAMPS engages stakeholders within the U.S. 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. 

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