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IN THIS EDITION: New projects along the U.S.-Mexico border and on tribal lands, engaging diverse stakeholders, links between water supply and agriculture, listen to a RAMPS podcast, and more! 

This is a product of the Restoration Assessment and Monitoring Program for the Southwest (RAMPS), a program of the Southwest Biological Science Center & Ecosystems Mission Area.

Hello RAMPS Community,

Spring has sprung! Our efforts over the winter to find new funding for projects are proving to be fruitful; we have three new projects on the horizon. These projects demonstrate the importance of diverse science to support land management. The projects span interdisciplinary socioecological research to understand how human immigration at the US-Mexico border affects plant communities, to characterizing dust risk on tribal lands, to building species lists and training farmers to grow seeds of native species for restoration. We are casting a wide net to address the challenges we face from climate change and land degradation in southwestern U.S. dryland ecosystems. RAMPS is grateful to be included in your community - we hope you enjoy our updates.

Warm regards,

Molly McCormick, RAMPS Coordinator

Seth Munson, RAMPS Ecologist





New paper to help improve connections among researchers & stakeholders


Ecological restoration efforts are likely to be more successful when project components are informed by relevant stakeholders. However, key stakeholders are often not included in restoration design and deployment. This is largely driven by a lack of practitioner knowledge of and experience with stakeholder relations. However, inclusion of stakeholders across the entire restoration process can be accomplished by practitioners with no formal social science training. Here, we describe several easy (and usually inexpensive) ways to formally cultivate relationships among restoration practitioners, researchers and stakeholders to improve restoration outcomes. These include: how to identify and work with stakeholders; how to recognize the unique needs and contributions of stakeholder groups, and how to provide information back to stakeholders through outreach. Although how this practice occurs is dependent on restoration context, integrating these approaches more regularly into ecological restoration projects will likely result in more successful, relevant and community-supported management outcomes. Read the article.


Gornish, E.S., McCormick, M., Begay, M., and Nsikani, M.M., 2021, Sharing knowledge to improve ecological restoration outcomes: Restoration Ecology, online.


Figure showing results from study assessed via remote sensing.
PATTERNS OF PRODUCTION: The study regions in 2017 (A), including the lower Colorado river planning area (B), and the Pinal and Phoenix active management areas (C). Base map shows the 2017 fallow-land algorithm based on neighborhood and temporal anomalies active (blue) and fallow (red) cropland classification. Inset map in upper-left outlines in yellow the upper and lower Colorado River Basin (CRB) and in red the region of interest for this study.


The Colorado River Basin includes seven states and provides municipal and industrial water to millions of people across all major southwestern cities both inside and outside the basin. Agriculture is the largest part of the basin economy and crop production depends on irrigation, which accounts for about 74% of the total water demand cross the region. One important metric for measuring agricultural water use and food supply is through the amount of cropland area left unplanted or fallow. A fallow-land metric is one indication of a management decision to conserve water and is a common practice in dry regions with limited capacity for irrigation. In a new paper, RAMPS and USGS contributed to an effort led by Cindy Norton and Dr. Bill Smith of the University of Arizona to map fallow lands in two large cropping regions of Arizona. The team also determined how climate and socioeconomic factors influenced annual cropland extent and productivity in these regions. Findings from the study indicate that increasing aridity across the region may result in reduced cropland productivity and increased land fallowing for some regions, particularly those with junior water rights.   

CITATION: Norton, C.L., Dannenberg, M.P., Yan, D., Wallace, C.S., Rodriguez, J.R., Munson, S.M., van Leeuwen, W.J. and Smith, W.K., 2021. Climate and socioeconomic factors drive irrigated agriculture dynamics in the Lower Colorado River Basin. Remote Sensing 13(9): 1659,




DROUGHT PODCAST: The Come Rain or Shine podcas, recently interviewed SBSC RAMPS Ecologist Seth Munson and USGS Ecologist Sasha Reed in an episode entitled, “Drought and natural resources management.” Seth and Sasha shared research stories on how dryland ecosystems are enduring and changing under drought and climate change, and how RAMPS (and USGS science more broadly) results helps managers develop strategies to mitigate and adapt to drought. Come Rain or Shine is a podcast produced by the Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center and the USDA Southwest Climate Hub.

Listen to the podcast here (Season 2, Episode 4).


SEED PROVENANCE EXPERIMENT: RestoreNet is partnering with the Gornish lab at the University of Arizona to better understand how a plant’s source location (provenance) influences its performance in a restoration setting. This greenhouse experiment will be conducted by PhD student, Sierra Lauman. Sierra will use locally collected and commercially purchased seeds of eight commonly used restoration species for warm deserts of the southwestern US, grow them in a greenhouse, and then subject some of them to simulated drought treatments. She will then compare various plant characteristics to understand what happens to plants under drought, and if plants of the same species behave differently depending on where their seeds were sourced. Many thanks to the organizations who helped supply seeds for the project: Bureau of Land Management New Mexico, Institute for Applied Ecology’s Southwest Seed Partnership, and the Desert Botanical Garden. Stay tuned for project updates!




Group of people learning about native plants


The Wildlife Conservation Society recently awarded funding for RAMPS and partners to conduct the collaborative project, "Native Seeds: Mitigating drought and building cultural-economic-ecological resilience at the scale of a nation."  The project is part of an ongoing effort between the Navajo Natural Heritage Program's Diné Native Plant Program, the non-profit Tolani Lake Enterprises, and RAMPS.  The project is working to increase tribal seed sovereignty and improve land conditions on the Navajo Nation, where tribal farmers are producing seeds of native plants for restoration of highly degraded tribal lands. A big piece of the proposal was linking the project to climate change related risks, and USGS science helped define the risks and strengthen the proposal.  USGS is providing technical support for development of restoration resources, including maps and lists of native species that will be used by tribal environmental professionals to mitigate the risks of climate change. 




Newly funded study to investigate social-ecological impacts to vegetation in the Borderlands


Dryland ecosystems along the nearly 3,200 kilometers of the US-Mexico border are at high risk of degradation due to interactions among climate change, water availability and quality, and human land use. The risk of degradation creates increasingly difficult challenges for agencies whose missions include protecting and managing 42% of US-Mexico borderlands. Mitigating impacts and restoring border land ecosystem structure and function following degradation is a critical management need, and, today, practitioners are tasked with developing management plans in response to impacts that rapidly change with political involvement, climate, and perceived risk. At the same time, comprehensive understanding of impacts to plant species along the border is lacking and no information or tools are available for managers. To meet this critical need, USGS ecologist Dr. Daniel Winkler and RAMPS partners will synthesize existing but unpublished datasets related to change in plant communities and species of concern to quantify direct and indirect impacts associated with border wall construction, increased foot and vehicle traffic, and the subsequent introduction and spread of invasive species. The team will work closely with restoration and management staff to build a comprehensive dataset and will simultaneously identify social conventions driving perceived and realized risk. In doing so, the team will provide actionable information that enables managers to visualize impacts, understand drivers of management action or inaction, and provide stakeholders with tools needed to develop realistic, impactful management plans. This work will also provide lessons learned and will identify new resources for pursuing work in risk research and applications. Stay tuned for updates!



Newly funded project to help Navajo Nation identify high-risk areas and deliver risk information to land-use planners and the community


Climate change and land use intensification place tribal lands on the Colorado Plateau at risk to accelerated rates of wind erosion and degradation. Sediment transport from wind erosion has cascading effects on ecosystem (soil and vegetation productivity, climate) and human health (respiratory illnesses, pathogens) and has intensified in recent years. Natural resource managers with the Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife and Natural Heritage Program are charged with protecting these at-risk ecosystem and human values, which includes development of maps of sensitive areas that must be considered before new land-use clearance is approved. Tribal resource managers are currently lacking knowledge about which locations are most vulnerable to wind erosion and associated risks. Maps that accurately depict wind erosion risk do not currently exist for many lands in the western US, let alone on tribal lands. This projectwill employ a foundational network of field measurements, databases, remote sensing imagery, new predictive soil maps, and wind erosion simulations to produce wind erosion vulnerability maps for tribal lands. Through ongoing tribal engagement, the project will deliver much needed information for land-use planning and community awareness.

This project will be led by RAMPS scientists and the Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife.







New USGS fact sheet helps managers understand how an invasive tree transforms riparian ecosystems


Tamarisk, or saltcedar, an invasive tree, was intentionally introduced to the U.S. from Asia in the mid-1800s. Tamarisk thrives in today’s human-altered streamside (riparian) habitats and can be found along wetlands, rivers, lakes, and streams across the western U.S. In 2001, a biological control agent, the tamarisk leaf beetle, was released in six states, and has since spread throughout the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico. Beetle defoliation of tamarisk has altered tamarisk’s water use and effectiveness as erosion control, as well as the dynamics of native and nonnative plant and wildlife species. The recently produced fact sheet explores how tamarisk and the tamarisk leaf beetle have transformed riparian ecosystem function. The U.S. Geological Survey is currently collaborating with tribal, state, and federal agencies, along with other institutions to provide current information on the effects of tamarisk and the tamarisk leaf beetle on managed resources, and provides sound science for the conservation and restoration of riparian habitats in the southwestern U.S.

Read the fact sheet


Nagler, P.L., Hull, J.B., van Riper, C., Shafroth, P.B., and Yackulic, C.B., 2021, The Transformation of dryland rivers: The future of introduced tamarisk in the U.S.: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2020–3061, 6 p.




USGS and RAMPS science highlighted in special journal issue


The Sky Island Restoration Collaborative (SIRC) is a growing partnership between government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and private landowners in southeast Arizona, the United States, and northern Sonora, Mexico. Starting in 2014 as an experiment to cultivate restoration efforts by connecting people across vocations and nations, SIRC has evolved over 5 years into a flourishing landscape-restoration initiative. The group is founded on the concept of developing a restoration economy, where ecological and socioeconomic benefits are interconnected and complimentary. The variety of ideas, people, field sites, administration, and organizations promote learning and increase project success through iterative adaptive management, transparency, and sharing. The collaborative seeks to make restoration self-sustaining and improve quality of life for citizens living along the US-Mexico border. Research and experiments are developed between scientists and practitioners to test hypotheses, qualify procedures, and quantify impacts on shared projects. Simultaneously, partners encourage and facilitate connecting more people to the landscape—via volunteerism, internships, training, and mentoring. Through this history, SIRC’s evolution is pioneering the integration of community and ecological restoration to protect biodiversity in the Madrean Archipelago Ecoregion. This editorial introduces SIRC as a unique opportunity for scientists and practitioners looking to engage in binational partnerships and segues into this special journal issue we have assembled that relates new findings in the field of restoration ecology. RAMPS has an article in the special edition curated by SIRC (see Laushman et al. 2020).

Read the SIRC article.


Norman, L. M., Pulliam, H. R., Girard, M. M., Buckley, S. M., Misztal, L., Seibert, D., Campbell, C., Callegary, J. B., Tosline, D. J., Wilson, N. R., Hodges, D., Conn, J. A., & Austin-Clark, A. V. (2021). Editorial: Combining the Science and Practice of Restoration Ecology—Case studies of a Grassroots Binational Restoration Collaborative in the Madrean Archipelago Ecoregion (2014-2019). Air, Soil and Water Research. 




A new report published by the U.S. Forest Service along with 155 authors serves as a comprehensive resource for invasive species management. The report includes 16 chapters that cover multiple aspects of terrestrial and aquatic invasive species in changing times. Regional summaries, including one for the southwestern US (starting on page 355), contain detailed information for primary invasive plants, plant pathogens, insects, and vertebrates.

Read the report here.


A group of female scientists gather for a meeting
CONGRATS TO OUR PARTNERS!Congrats to Dr. Kathleen Balazs (third from left) for finishing her PhD, and Dr. Caroline Havrilla (fourth from left) who received an assistant professor position at Colorado State University.Kathleen led the seedling experiment of RestoreNet, growing over 10,000 plants! Read one of her research papers on plant traits here.Carrie led the first RestoreNet research publication! Information about Carrie’s new lab can be found at photo was taken during the first RestoreNet researcher meeting in November 2019.


An infographic summarizing activities of the RAMPS program.




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. 


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