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This season's edition of the Restoration Assessment and Monitoring Program for the Southwest Newsletter contains recent program highlights including research updates from our RestoreNet experiment, recently awarded funding, field updates and more.

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Experiment nestled in the Sonoran desert scrub with prickley pear and saguaro cactus.
The photos show the RestoreNet site at Tonto National Forest where managers are looking to improve seeding treatments in response to fire and invasive grass. The McDowell-Sonoran Conservancy is leading the effort for the Sonoran RestoreNet projects, which includes assistance from their incredibly passionate and skilled army of citizen science stewards who helped install and monitor the experiments.Photo: Katie Laushman, USGS. Public Domain.


RAMPS expands drought adaptation project with national parks in the 4-Corners area. National parks across the desert Southwest are experiencing ecological impacts due to climate change. Since late 2018, USGS RAMPS scientists have been working with Southeast Utah Group of national parks to better understand climate change impacts and build a suite of science-driven management strategies to increase ecological resiliency in the parks. The group received funding from the USGS Natural Resource Protection Program to focus efforts in grasslands ecosystems, and has recently expanded to begin work in pinyon-juniper woodlands. With the expansion into woodlands, they added a number of national park staff in the 4-Corners area of Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. The collective of park resource staff and scientists is seeking additional funding to develop a drought early warning system and associated management options that can better prepare the parks to mitigate and adapt to drought in the near and long-term.

RestoreNet hosts its first stakeholder engagement workshop. RestoreNet is a restoration field trial network that systematically tests seed mixes and other restoration treatments across a broad range of soil and climate conditions. The first 7 RestoreNet sites were installed on the Colorado Plateau near Flagstaff, AZ in the summer of 2018. After 1 year of data collection and analysis, RAMPS hosted a workshop for over 20 stakeholders involved in the project. USGS Southwest Biological Science Center (SBSC) and Northern Arizona University (NAU) researchers presented their findings and the group planned future treatments for this co-produced experiment. The multi-year project has many benefits to managers: results generate insight for on-the-ground decision-making through an iterative process between land managers and researchers, each site is a demonstration area for knowledge sharing, the network provides low-risk small test plots to decide what treatments will work for larger projects. Attendees left ready to install more sites, expand on treatments being tested, and scale-up results on the lands they manage. RAMPS looks forward to hosting similar workshops in other domains of the RestoreNet project across the Southwest in the future. Find out more about RestoreNet.

RestoreNet project expands partnerships in the Sonoran and Mojave Deserts.  This past fall, RAMPS installed four new experiments in the greater Phoenix area, a project led by Dr. Helen Rowe at the McDowell-Sonoran Conservancy. The partnership also includes Tonto National Forest, Scottsdale Community College and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, and the Bureau of Reclamation. In March, RAMPS teamed up with Dr. Loralee Larios at UC-Riverside, Dr. Chris Lortie at York University, the Antelope Valley Resource Conservation District, and private land owners near 29 Palms, CA to install two new RestoreNet sites. RestoreNet now includes 21 sites across 5 regions: the Colorado Plateau, Uintah Basin, Mogollon Rim, Sonoran Desert, and Mojave Desert. The next three sites will be installed in collaboration with Dr. Akasha Faist at New Mexico State University later this summer in the Chihuahuan Desert. Stay tuned for updates!


Invasive species projects on the horizon. RAMPS was recently awarded funding for two project through the USGS Invasive Species Program. The first project entitled, “Detection and monitoring of fire-prone early season invasive grasses in the Southwest,” is led by USGS SBSC ecologist Dr. Michael Duniway and will develop maps and tools for land managers dealing with the negative effects of invasive brome grasses. The second project entitled, “Evaluating treatment effectiveness of buffelgrass to strengthen invasive species management strategies across DOI lands” is led by USGS SBSC ecologist Dr. Seth Munson and will seek to understand the effectiveness of 20 years of treatments to contain buffelgrass in Saguaro National Park and surrounding areas. The project is being conducted in collaboration with national park staff and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and will lead to new insight on measures to control the invasive species throughout the Sonoran Desert.


RAMPS mentioned in the USGS Energy and Wildlife Annual Report 2019.  RAMPS was highlighted as being a part of the USGS Ecosystems Mission Area’s work at the nexus of energy development and wildlife impacts. Find out more about the Energy and Wildlife Program and read the RAMPS write-up on page 101 of the report. Link to the report.

A group of people stand around a map laid out in the back of a truck while on a field trip.
RAMPS met with DOI Office of Wildland Fire, US Customs and Border Patrol, and US Fish & Wildlife Service staff at Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge in southern AZ last November. The group is developing tools to reduce wildfire risk, conserve wildlife habitat and natural resources, and increase safety and security of border operations. Find out more here.Photo credit: Chester,USFWS. Public Domain.


Sharing research and tools to a broad audience. RAMPS researchers organized 1 symposium, gave 7 talks, 2 poster presentations, and hosted 1 decision-support tools workshop at the Society for Ecological Restoration—Southwest Chapter Annual Meeting this November in Tucson, AZ. The full day symposium on dryland restoration featured 13 restoration projects across desert ecosystems in the southwest, and included talks from New Mexico State University, University of Nevada—Reno, USGS SBSC, NAU, University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, US Department of Agriculture Natural Resource Conservation Service, New Mexico Department of Transportation, Stream Dynamics, and the Institute for Applied Ecology Southwest Seed Partnership.

RAMPS in demand for rangeland health! Molly McCormick, RAMPS coordinator, was recently invited to give two talks to groups restoring rangelands in Arizona. The first talk demonstrated how RAMPS approaches co-production of science with stakeholders at the Southwest Grasslands Research and Management Workshop in Tucson, AZ. The workshop hosted over 100 land managers and researchers working in arid grasslands. The second presentation was to stakeholders at the Diablo Trust land stewardship meeting, which included 30 local agency staff and private ranchers. The talk’s focus was the RestoreNet project, which works with ranchers and land managers to increase ecosystem resiliency.

Listening in the field. Touring public lands with land managers is an important part of the RAMPS approach to understanding the collective and site-specific management needs in our region. Recent tours of public lands have included a visit to Tonto National Monument, where the summer 2019 Woodbury Fire was largely carried by invasive grasses and burned over 88% of the park unit. During the tour, park staff worked with university and RAMPS researchers to develop a wildfire mitigation strategy and define research needs to combat invasive species and protect cultural resources. In March 2020, RAMPS traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border to support staff at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument developing a restoration plan in areas impacted by construction of new sections of the border wall.

An infographic summarizing activities of the RAMPS program.




RAMPS works with stakeholders within DOI and other federal and state agencies, private and tribal lands, to provide guidance and support for effective restoration strategies across the Southwest U.S. The RAMPS network consists of over 500 individuals representing 50+ entities working together to increase land productivity and reduce threats posed by environmental hazards. 

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