Landscape-scale Planning and Conservation of Wetland Resources for Wildlife and Ecological Resilience

Wetland resources are often the limiting factor defining wildlife species diversity and extent across western U.S. landscapes. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in desert landscapes where riparian and lacustrine environments become critical features for both narrow and broad-ranging species. Successful management of these important wetland resources requires landscape-scale analyses coupled with multiple partner, cross-jurisdictional collaborations at multiple scales. Wetlands not only support a wide range of species, they also are critical resources for a growing human population. Water resource utilization has historically been at odds with conservation of water-dependent ecosystems, and the history of water management in the West, including groundwater pumping and diversions of surface water, have had tremendous impacts on species. However, water also represents a shared interest across an enormous diversity of stakeholders. Water for the environment can also support human populations and land uses. We present examples of innovative analyses that expose the management challenges and showcase collaborative management approaches that meet these challenges for managing ecological resilience of wetland resources at large scales in desert landscapes.

1:10PM Using Quantitative Decision-Support Tools to Manage a Threatened Trout at Landscape Scales
  Helen Neville
Managers of at-risk species need to prioritize actions based on questions such as “Which populations are most at-risk of extirpation?”, “Which would benefit most from management?” or “Where could we reintroduce viable populations?”, but limitations of traditional modeling approaches and data inadequacies often hamper empirical guidance — especially for species comprising many isolated populations across broad geographies. The federally-listed Lahontan cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii henshawi, LCT) is one such species, for which there has been little quantitative foundation to guide range-wide management and recovery. We employed a recently-published hierarchical Multiple Population Viability Analysis model (MPVA), customized for LCT using all count data from backpack electrofishing surveys (1985-2015) and a suite of range-wide environmental and biological covariates, to address priority questions identified with management partners. Across 211 streams where LCT populations currently exist or may be reintroduced, we: 1) ranked extinction risk for current populations range-wide, 2) quantified the benefit of removing non-native trout and 3) estimated viability for LCT reintroduced to unoccupied waters using different protocols. Conservation populations tended to have lower extinction risks than non-conservation populations, but our model identified a suite of these populations being prioritized for recovery with high relative extinction risk (> 70%). Conversely, several non-conservation populations were estimated to have low (<10%) relative extinction risk and might be worthy of targeted management actions to restore genetically intact LCT in these resilient habitats. Our model also suggested substantial benefits to non-native trout removal, but both these benefits and the likelihood of successful LCT reintroduction varied spatially. The Lahontan MPVA, and associated decision support tools, provides a quantitative framework for linking recovery criteria to empirically-demonstrated improvements in extinction risk at landscape scales. Largely due to effective collaboration among academic, non-profit, state and federal entities, data-driven results are being incorporated directly into LCT management prioritization and conservation planning.
1:30PM Using Greenness Indices to Manage Riparian Areas for Sage-Grouse Chick Selection and Survival in the Great Basin
  John Severson
Water is a limiting factor for wildlife in much of the American west and may become more limiting due to climate change and increasing hydrologic demands. Greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus; sage-grouse) broods rely on riparian areas, irrigated pastures, and other mesic resources (hereafter, meadows) supporting green vegetation during the arid summer when upland vegetation desiccates. We focused on an area in the western Great Basin where water is distributed for ranching, municipalities, recreation, and wildlife and is managed by federal, state, and local agencies and private landowners. We evaluated changes in sage-grouse brood use of meadows and mortality risk related to changing habitat condition to better inform water distribution for wildlife. Broods selected for meadow edges during late summer when they also selected areas of relatively higher NDVI (greenness) than early summer. Broods selected meadow edges during years of moderate water availability, but used uplands more in wetter years. In dry years, broods moved further into the meadow interior, likely seeking green vegetation, which may increase energetic demands and predation risks to the chicks as they move further from shrub cover near the upland edge. Our results provide evidence for the importance of meadows to sage-grouse broods during late summer and in years when water availability is limiting. Broods generally selected for the meadow edge during late summer, seemingly to optimize both cover and food availability, which implies the importance of both quality shrub habitat on the upland edge and green, mesic habitat on the lower edge of the meadow. Maintaining green vegetation near meadow edges can reduce the risky behavior of venturing farther from cover, possibly increasing chick survival. Findings are preliminary and provided for timely best science.
1:50PM Assessing the Role of Climate and Resource Management on Groundwater Dependent Ecosystem Changes in Arid Environments with the Landsat Archive and Cloud Computing
  Justin Huntington
Groundwater dependent ecosystems (GDEs) rely on near-surface groundwater. These systems are receiving more attention with rising air temperature, prolonged drought, vegetation changes, and land and water management. Phreatophyte shrublands, meadows, and riparian areas are GDEs that provide critical habitat for many sensitive species, especially in arid and semi-arid environments. While GDEs are vital for ecosystem services and function, drivers of their long-term spatial and temporal variability are poorly understood. In this work, we illustrate how GDE changes can be assessed over large areas with respect to climate, groundwater availability, and land management by using the Landsat satellite archive, gridded climate data, and hydrologic information paired with cloud computing resources.
2:10PM Not All Wet Meadows Are Equal to Greater Sage-Grouse and Managers Forecasting Landscape Restoration
  Louis Provencher
Remote sensing vegetation mapping, state-and-transition simulation models (STSM), and University of NV, Reno greater sage-grouse habitat suitability models were applied to predict restoration needs for sagebrush systems and wet meadows in a central Nevada landscape. Potential vegetation types and current vegetation classes were mapped using 1.5m resolution multi-spectral satellite imagery and the effectiveness of alternative management scenarios to increase greater sage-grouse habitat suitability was assessed using STSM looking 35 years into the future. Chick survival was critical to the ability of sage-grouse to persist in the landscape and was primarily dependent on wet meadows at lower to middle elevations. Restoration success was also dependent on wet meadow condition; however, wet meadow restoration was expensive to both achieve conservation and sustained livestock grazing. Careful choice of wet meadows to achieve the greatest uplift in habitat suitability was important as apparently similar meadows in the same portion of the landscape were not quantitatively comparable due to slight differences in condition, shape, and degree of isolation.
2:50PM Refreshment Break
3:00PM Conservation Efforts Database v2: Conservation Planning and Implementation Monitoring
  Lief Wiechman
The Conservation Efforts Database (CED) is a secure, on-line, spatially explicit conservation planning tool and database. Natural and anthropogenic disturbances that are detrimental to fish, wildlife, plants, and ecosystems are often the focus of conservation. While the intensity and extent of these impacts, in many instances, are well documented, the conservation actions applied by resource management agencies and organizations and their effectiveness to address environmental impacts are often poorly and inconsistently documented. Even when conservation actions are documented, it can be difficult to determine the short- and long-term effects on targeted species or habitats because of poor record organization and lack of post-action monitoring. The CED enables partners to document and record conservation actions and post-action effectiveness across the landscape at multiple scales. The CED has begun tracking the implementation of conservation and restoration actions for riparian and wet meadow habitats in the sagebrush ecosystem. The CED is an important tool, along with scientifically-rigorous post-conservation monitoring, for implementing landscape-scale adaptive management. The CED provides an opportunity to compile, comprehensively across all jurisdictions, the sum of all conservation planning and effort and evaluate the resources that receive conservation benefit as a result of conservation and/or restoration efforts. Spatial data displayed in the CED provides useful context to planning and siting of future conservation efforts, fostering collaborative conservation across the biome.
3:20PM Riparian Restoration for Fish and Wildlife Along an Urban Corridor in the Rio Grande
  Chad McKenna
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers funded Middle Rio Grande Habitat Restoration Project was a large-scale and large-investment ($25 M) habitat restoration project centered in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Major construction elements included non-native species treatments, floodplain excavation to improve river-floodplain connectivity, and re-vegetation. Project implementation spanned two construction phases between 2011-2015, and long-term maintenance and adaptive management activities are largely being implemented by numerous local sponsors and stakeholders – requiring a well-coordinated and well-organized monitoring and maintenance process. This presentation will provide a broad overview of implementation techniques utilized and a synopsis of lessons learned from project implementation phases; but focus more on the monitoring, maintenance, and adaptive management techniques, challenges, and successes.
3:40PM Water Resources As a Central Theme for Collaborative Conservation across North America’s Hot Deserts
  Matthew Grabau
Across the Desert Southwest, water is a critical resource for ecosystems and human populations. Groundwater pumping, water diversions, and development have drastically reduced water availability and overall health of rivers, streams, and springs. Because water is naturally scarce in the Mojave, Sonoran, and Chihuahuan Deserts, these actions can risk extinction of highly endemic species and compromise riparian gallery forests that provide habitat and corridors for many species. It is increasingly recognized that water resources are finite and that human livelihoods are at risk just like native ecosystems. Humans not only need water for agriculture, cities, and industry; we also benefit from healthy water-dependent ecosystems that provide flood control, ecotourism, and social and cultural values. The shared dependence of humans, ecosystems, and native species on water creates conflict, but it also presents an opportunity for collaborative partnerships to move forward with the shared objective of maintaining water on the landscape. Agencies, conservation organizations, and researchers across the region are working to advance collaborative conservation of water resources for both humans and the environment. First, we have worked to quantify environmental flow needs to inform water allocations and mitigation options. Next, we are using Landscape Conservation Design to prioritize landscape-scale challenges for springs, streams, and other riparian areas, explore the cultural and social-ecological value of these ecosystems, and prioritize conservation actions (what beneficial actions should be applied where). Finally, we are populating a catalog of case studies on restoration, conservation, and actionable science to increase open communication and share lessons learned. While significant advances are being made in this collaborative approach, much work remains. Not only must these collaborations receive continued support, they must address emerging challenges to include a warming climate and invasive aquatic species.
4:00PM Providing a Model for Successful Collaboration and Restoration in Southwestern Desert Riparian Systems
  Ben Bloodworth
Collaboration and partnership across the boundaries of policy, management, and ownership are the only ways to successfully accomplish landscape-scale restoration in the present-day southwest. This presentation will use the Dolores River Restoration Partnership (DRRP) as a case study of truly successful restoration at a watershed-scale. The Dolores River flows across four Bureau of Land Management Field Offices in two states, as well as hundreds of acres of private lands. Over the decade since the DRRP was formalized through Memorandums of Understanding between dozens of entities, more than 2,000 acres of tamarisk have been removed, hundreds of local and seasonal jobs supported, thousands of volunteer hours generated, and almost 1,000 acres of riparian lands restored. Throughout this process more than $7M in funding has been garnered through federal, state, nonprofit, corporate, and private sources. Involving all of the potential stakeholders from the start of the Partnership allowed goals to be set and restoration criteria developed to meet everyone’s needs. The success of the DRRP has led to state and national-level awards as well as recognition and support from the communities intersected by the project area. The collaborative model championed by the DRRP enabled similar landscape-scale work throughout the desert southwest, providing a template for partnership development, planning, funding, and implementation. The Partnership has evolved and is now in the monitoring and maintenance phase, bringing an entirely new set of challenges and funding needs, addressed by stakeholders as they arise. This presentation will highlight some of the accomplishments of the DRRP, but will focus on the replicable successes and lessons learned during partnership development and collaboration that have led to the restoration of so many acres of crucial riparian habitat.
4:20PM Binational Partnerships for Restoration of the Colorado River Delta
  Gabriela Caloca
• After decades of desiccation caused by the construction of large reservoirs and diversion in the Colorado River basin, the floodplain of the river delta in Mexico experienced a recovery in response to inadvertent flows during the 1980s and 1990s. However, the basin has endured a severe drought since 2002, and flows into the delta were curtailed. Since 2012, as a result of a binational agreement between Mexico and the United States, and the work of a binational coalition of environmental organizations, known as Raise the River, several restoration projects have been implemented, protecting 30,000 hectares of priority wetlands and recovering over 2,600 hectares of new riparian, marsh and estuarine habitats. Furthermore, these collaborations allowed for the release of 195 million cubic meters of water for environmental restoration during a 5-year period (2012-2017), including a pulse flow event in 2014 that helped to reconnect the Colorado River with the Gulf of California for the first time in 20 years. These restoration outcomes are based on the collaboration of government agencies, non-profit organizations, academic institutions, water users and river stakeholders from both countries, with continuous work on governance, science-based planning, public policy, stakeholder involvement, mechanisms to secure land and water for nature, the implementation of restoration actions, and the operation of a monitoring program to evaluate the ecosystem response in an adaptive management process. The restoration actions have been based on the combination of hydrological modelling, restoration ecology, landscape design and hydraulic engineering, to optimize the available resources to enhance habitat conditions in the area. As a result, bird populations and diversity has increased in the area, as well as the ecosystem services provided to local communities. A new binational agreement was signed in 2017, extending the commitments of funding and water for the restoration of the Colorado River delta.

Organizers: John Tull, Matthew Grabau
Supported by: Nevada Chapter of The Wildlife Society

Location: Reno-Sparks CC Date: October 2, 2019 Time: 1:10 pm - 5:00 pm