Geos Institute

Ashland, OR, United States

Geos Institute

Ashland, OR, United States
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Odion D.C.,University of California at Santa Barbara | Odion D.C.,Southern Oregon University | Hanson C.T.,Earth Island Institute | DellaSala D.A.,Geos Institute | And 2 more authors.
Open Ecology Journal | Year: 2014

The Northern Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis caurina) is an emblematic, threatened raptor associated with dense, late-successional forests in the Pacific Northwest, USA. Concerns over high-severity fire and reduced timber harvesting have led to programs to commercially thin forests, and this may occur within habitat designated as "critical" for spotted owls. However, thinning is only allowed under the U.S. Government spotted owl guidelines if the long-term benefits clearly outweigh adverse impacts. This possibility remains uncertain. Adverse impacts from commercial thinning may be caused by removal of key habitat elements and creation of forests that are more open than those likely to be occupied by spotted owls. Benefits of thinning may accrue through reduction in high-severity fire, yet whether the firereduction benefits accrue faster than the adverse impacts of reduced late-successional habitat from thinning remains an untested hypothesis. We found that rotations of severe fire (the time required for high-severity fire to burn an area equal to the area of interest once) in spotted owl habitat since 1996, the earliest date we could use, were 362 and 913 years for the two regions of interest: the Klamath and dry Cascades. Using empirical data, we calculated the future amount of spotted owl habitat that may be maintained with these rates of high-severity fire and ongoing forest regrowth rates with and without commercial thinning. Over 40 years, habitat loss would be far greater than with no thinning because, under a "best case" scenario, thinning reduced 3.4 and 6.0 times more dense, late-successional forest than it prevented from burning in high-severity fire in the Klamath and dry Cascades, respectively. Even if rates of fire increase substantially, the requirement that the long-term benefits of commercial thinning clearly outweigh adverse impacts is not attainable with commercial thinning in spotted owl habitat. It is also becoming increasingly recognized that exclusion of high-severity fire may not benefit spotted owls in areas where owls evolved with reoccurring fires in the landscape. © Odion et al.; Licensee Bentham Open.

Dellasala D.A.,Geos Institute | Bond M.L.,Wild Nature Institute | Hanson C.T.,Earth Island Institute | Hutto R.L.,University of Montana | And 2 more authors.
Natural Areas Journal | Year: 2014

Complex early serai forests (CESFs) occupy potentially forested sites after a stand-replacement disturbance and before re-establishment of a closed-forest canopy. Such young forests contain numbers and kinds of biological legacies missing from those produced by commercial forestry operations. In the Sierra Nevada of California, CESFs are most often produced by mixed-severity fires, which include landscape patches burned at high severity. These forests support diverse plant and wildlife communities rarely found elsewhere in the Sierra Nevada. Severe fires are, therefore, essential to the region's ecological integrity. Ecologically detrimental management of CESFs, or unburned forests that may become CESF's following fire, is degrading the region's globally outstanding qualities. Unlike old-growth forests. CESFs have received little attention in conservation and reserve management. Thus, we describe important ecological attributes of CESFs and distinguish them from early serai conditions created by logging. We recommend eight best management practices in CESFs for achieving ecological integrity on federal lands in the mixed-conifer region of the Sierra Nevada.

Odion D.C.,University of California at Santa Barbara | Odion D.C.,Southern Oregon University | Hanson C.T.,Earth Island Institute | Arsenault A.,Natural Resources Canada | And 8 more authors.
PLoS ONE | Year: 2014

There is widespread concern that fire exclusion has led to an unprecedented threat of uncharacteristically severe fires in ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa Dougl. ex. Laws) and mixed-conifer forests of western North America. These extensive montane forests are considered to be adapted to a low/moderate- severity fire regime that maintained stands of relatively old trees. However, there is increasing recognition from landscape-scale assessments that, prior to any significant effects of fire exclusion, fires and forest structure were more variable in these forests. Biota in these forests are also dependent on the resources made available by higher-severity fire. A better understanding of historical fire regimes in the ponderosa pine and mixed-conifer forests of western North America is therefore needed to define reference conditions and help maintain characteristic ecological diversity of these systems. We compiled landscape-scale evidence of historical fire severity patterns in the ponderosa pine and mixed-conifer forests from published literature sources and stand ages available from the Forest Inventory and Analysis program in the USA. The consensus from this evidence is that the traditional reference conditions of low-severity fire regimes are inaccurate for most forests of western North America. Instead, most forests appear to have been characterized by mixed-severity fire that included ecologically significant amounts of weather-driven, high-severity fire. Diverse forests in different stages of succession, with a high proportion in relatively young stages, occurred prior to fire exclusion. Over the past century, successional diversity created by fire decreased. Our findings suggest that ecological management goals that incorporate successional diversity created by fire may support characteristic biodiversity, whereas current attempts to "restore" forests to open, low-severity fire conditions may not align with historical reference conditions in most ponderosa pine and mixed-conifer forests of western North America. © 2014 Odion et al.

Beschta R.L.,Oregon State University | Donahue D.L.,University of Wyoming | Dellasala D.A.,Geos Institute | Rhodes J.J.,Planeto Azul Hydrology | And 4 more authors.
Environmental Management | Year: 2013

Climate change affects public land ecosystems and services throughout the American West and these effects are projected to intensify. Even if greenhouse gas emissions are reduced, adaptation strategies for public lands are needed to reduce anthropogenic stressors of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and to help native species and ecosystems survive in an altered environment. Historical and contemporary livestock production - the most widespread and long-running commercial use of public lands - can alter vegetation, soils, hydrology, and wildlife species composition and abundances in ways that exacerbate the effects of climate change on these resources. Excess abundance of native ungulates (e.g., deer or elk) and feral horses and burros add to these impacts. Although many of these consequences have been studied for decades, the ongoing and impending effects of ungulates in a changing climate require new management strategies for limiting their threats to the long-term supply of ecosystem services on public lands. Removing or reducing livestock across large areas of public land would alleviate a widely recognized and long-term stressor and make these lands less susceptible to the effects of climate change. Where livestock use continues, or where significant densities of wild or feral ungulates occur, management should carefully document the ecological, social, and economic consequences (both costs and benefits) to better ensure management that minimizes ungulate impacts to plant and animal communities, soils, and water resources. Reestablishing apex predators in large, contiguous areas of public land may help mitigate any adverse ecological effects of wild ungulates. © 2012 Springer Science+Business Media New York.

Brandt P.,Karlsruhe Institute of Technology | Brandt P.,Lüneburg University | Abson D.J.,Lüneburg University | DellaSala D.A.,Geos Institute | And 2 more authors.
Biological Conservation | Year: 2014

Forests produce a myriad of ecosystem related benefits known as ecosystem services. Maximizing the provision of single goods may lead to the overexploitation of ecosystems that negatively affects biodiversity and causes ecosystem degradation. We analyzed the temperate rainforest region of the Pacific Northwest, which offers a multitude of ecosystem services and harbors unique biodiversity, to investigate linkages and trade-offs between ecosystem services and biodiversity. We mapped nine actual and potential ecosystem services, grouped into provision, supporting, regulating and cultural ecosystem service categories, as well as species richness of four taxonomic groups (mammals, birds, trees, and amphibians). We analyzed linkages and tradeoffs between ecosystem services, their overall diversity, and species richness as well as different levels of taxon diversity. We also tested if ecosystem service categories, in addition to climate and land cover parameters, could indicate species richness. We found significant positive linkages between ecosystem service diversity and species richness of all considered taxa. The provision of the majority of ecosystem services was higher in areas of high taxon diversity, indicating both positive relationships and slight trade-offs in maximizing single ecosystem services. In general, ecosystem service categories were a comparable indicator of species richness as climate. Our findings show that multifunctionality largely coincides with high levels of biodiversity within the study region. Hence, an integrative ecosystem management approach that incorporates ecosystem services and biodiversity concerns is needed to both provide diverse ecosystem benefits and conserve biological diversity. © 2013 Elsevier Ltd.

News Article | February 8, 2017

U.S. food security, forest health, and the ability of farmers to respond to climate change are all at risk if President’s Trump’s pick to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture brings climate change skepticism to the agency, agricultural researchers and environmental law experts say. That concern takes root not only in Trump’s own statements scoffing at climate policy, but also in the words and actions of his nominee for agriculture secretary — former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, who in 2007 resorted to prayer as a strategy to deal with a severe drought Georgia was enduring. “Snowstorms, hurricanes, and tornadoes have been around since the beginning of time, but now they want us to accept that all of it is the result of climate change,” Perdue, whose Senate confirmation hearing has not yet been scheduled, wrote in a 2014 National Review column. “It’s become a running joke among the public, and liberals have lost all credibility when it comes to climate science because their arguments have become so ridiculous and so obviously disconnected from reality.” In fact, the science of human-caused climate change is far from a running joke. Established climate science shows that greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels are quickly warming the planet, leading to melting polar ice caps, rising seas, and more frequent extreme weather. Sixteen of the world’s 17 hottest years on record have all occurred since 2000 — a level of global warming leading to more frequent, more intense, and more deadly heatwaves and extreme drought. Though climate models are less certain about the role of global warming in hurricanes and tornadoes, they suggest that hurricane intensity will increase as the atmosphere warms. Major hurricanes are already becoming more common in the Atlantic, and landfalling typhoons have become more intense in the Pacific, threatening millions of lives in coastal cities. Responding to climate change is a key mission of the USDA, which is America’s chief supporter of agriculture research, forestry, and rural development. The agency funds millions of dollars of research at land grant universities across the country such as Cornell, Clemson, and Texas A&M to help farmers learn the risks they face from a world that has been largely warmed by pollution from carbon emissions. The agriculture industry is responsible for about 10 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change. If confirmed, the decisions Perdue will make will influence whether farms shrink their carbon footprint and how farms and forests are managed to respond to climate-related disasters. The USDA’s climate programs extend far beyond farms. As America’s largest forest manager, Perdue will determine the direction of the science conducted by the U.S. Forest Service and whether some of America’s most carbon-dense and diverse forests are clear-cut for timber harvesting or managed to sustain and blunt the impacts of climate change. “Just about every activity that the USDA regulates is likely to impact climate policy,” said Mark Squillace, a natural resources law professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder. “Forests and soils store vast amounts of carbon. When forests are logged or when they burn, much of that stored carbon is released into the atmosphere. Crop farming also contributes to climate change by releasing large quantities of nitrous oxides, much of it from fertilizers, and animal farming contributes vast amounts of methane, especially from ruminant animals.” If the USDA dismisses the threat of climate change, “then there is reason for grave concern,” said Michael P. Hoffman, executive director of the Cornell University Institute for Climate Smart Solutions, which focuses on sustainable agriculture. “Those who grow our food in the U.S. are facing more extreme weather, more flooding and drought, more high temperature stress — in general, more risk due to more variability, more uncertainty,” Hoffmann said. “It will be a travesty if USDA cuts back on its support of climate change research and education.” Allison Chatrchyan, a sustainable agriculture researcher at Cornell University, said the losses both farmers and the university’s research could sustain if the USDA cuts back on climate funding could be significant. At particular risk are the USDA’s 10 regional climate hubs, she said. The Obama administration established the hubs in 2014 to coordinate with land grant universities to help private farmers, ranchers, and forest managers adapt to climate change. Through the universities, the hubs help farmers understand how global warming will alter weather patterns and affect their crops and irrigation methods. “It is unlikely Cornell will get additional funding to work with the hub,” Chatrchyan said. “The hub has told us they will be looking to university partners to carry this work if the hubs are disbanded.” The USDA also provides scientists at land grant universities with small research grants. At Cornell, researchers are using $6 million in USDA grant money to study how climate change is affecting food security, corn crops, trees, and grasses in urban areas, the spread of invasive mussels in New York lakes, the spread of mosquitoes, and much more. Chatrchyan said that if the USDA shuts off that funding, it would be a huge setback for farmers and the research that supports them. “We have regions of the country and the world that are going to be less able to produce food because of more extreme drought and higher temps and more pests and disease pressure,” she said. “We have to be innovative. We have to be helping farmers. We can’t step back from that.” The USDA manages 193 million acres of national forest and grasslands, including the rainforests of Oregon, Washington, and Alaska. Those forests act as large “carbon sinks” because they store more carbon from the atmosphere in tree trunks, roots, and soil than any other type of forest in the country. Altogether, America’s national forests offset and store about 14 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions each year, according to the U.S. Forest Service. The agency also works with state and local agencies to help manage nearly 500 million acres of local and city forests across the country. “The U.S. Forest Service is heading in a direction both cognizant of problems posed by climate change in terms of wildfire and bark beetle infestation, and adaptation, resilience, and carbon sinks,” said Jack Tuholske, director of the Vermont Law School water and justice program. “The tone of the administration one week on the ground, they want to go back to the old days when public lands were viewed as commodity producers for private gain.” Tuholske is referring to statements made by some of Trump’s other cabinet nominees during their confirmation hearings in January. Interior Secretary nominee Ryan Zinke, whose Interior Department is in charge of more federal land than any other, spoke of forests and fossil fuels the agency manages as “assets” to be harvested or extracted. For decades, the U.S. Forest Service managed national forests mainly for commodity production in the form of timber harvesting, an approach that began to change in the Obama administration, which saw forests as important for their ecological value, Tuholske said. “The U.S. Forest Service is like a big ship slowly turning,” he said. “It took them 30 years to reach this new vision of the forest as something more than logs on a stump.” The stakes are high for USDA-managed forests because the way they are managed can help reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire, promote biological diversity, and store atmospheric carbon in temperate rainforests, such as those in western Washington state and the panhandle of Alaska. “Federal lands managed by the USDA are increasingly a cost center for the effects of climate change on the United States,” said said Jayni Hein, policy director for the Institute for Policy Integrity at the NYU School of Law. “With more severe droughts and a warming climate, an increasing share of the U.S. Forest Service budget is directed at fighting wildfires. The new administration must keep its eyes open and focused on this growing, costly threat.” Firefighting made up 16 percent of the U.S. Forest Service’s budget in 1995, but as climate change led to longer and more severe fire seasons, the share of the agency’s budget dedicated to fighting fires ballooned to 50 percent by 2015 — roughly $1.2 billion. Fire seasons now average 78 days longer each year than in 1970, according to the Forest Service. The wildfire threat will not be reduced by efforts in Congress or in the Trump administration to increase logging, said Dominick DellaSala, chief scientist at the Geos Institute, a climate change think tank. “As climate change results in more extreme fire weather in places, throwing more money at the problem won’t result in a fire-fix as climate increasingly becomes the top-down driver of fire behavior,” he said. DellaSala said it’s also important that the USDA manage and preserve forests — especially Alaska’s rain forests — as carbon sinks in order for the U.S. to uphold the Paris Climate Agreement. The pact calls for countries to cut climate pollution to prevent global warming from exceeding 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F), a level considered dangerous by the United Nations. The Obama administration angered conservationists last year when it approved a plan to log some old-growth rainforest in southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, which is America’s largest and one of its most pristine national forests. “Any additional logging that could come under a Trump administration or congressional efforts to give away large portions of the Tongass to the state of Alaska would make matters even worse,” DellaSala said. “I worry about how forest plans will be revised in this administration, which has signaled its intent to roll back the clock to unsustainable logging levels.” It’s unclear how far Perdue’s USDA could go to roll back forest protections because many of them are mandated by law and regulatory changes require a time-consuming process to implement. The law that governs how the USDA manages national forests mandates that forests be managed sustainably — not just for timber harvesting, Hein said. “This requires attention to both the impact of climate change on our national forests and the preservation of these forests as carbon sinks,” she said.

Black S.H.,Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation | Kulakowski D.,Clark University | Noon B.R.,Colorado State University | Dellasala D.A.,Geos Institute
Natural Areas Journal | Year: 2013

Appropriate response to recent, widespread bark beetle (Dendroctonus spp.) outbreaks in the western United States has been the subject of much debate in scientific and policy circles. Among the proposed responses have been landscape-level mechanical treatments to prevent the further spread of outbreaks and to reduce the fire risk that is believed to be associated with insect-killed trees. We review the literature on the efficacy of silvicutural practices to control outbreaks and on fire risk following bark beetle outbreaks in several forest types. While research is ongoing and important questions remain unresolved, to date most available evidence indicates that bark beetle outbreaks do not substantially increase the risk of active crown fire in lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) and spruce (Picea engelmannii)-fir (Abies spp.) forests under most conditions. Instead, active crown fires in these forest types are primarily contingent on dry conditions rather than variations in stand structure, such as those brought about by outbreaks. Preemptive thinning may reduce susceptibility to small outbreaks but is unlikely to reduce susceptibility to large, landscape-scale epidemics. Once beetle populations reach widespread epidemic levels, silvicultural strategies aimed at stopping them are not likely to reduce forest susceptibility to outbreaks. Furthermore, such silvicultural treatments could have substantial, unintended short- and long-term ecological costs associated with road access and an overall degradation of natural areas.

Matsuoka S.M.,U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service | Matsuoka S.M.,University of Alberta | Johnson J.A.,U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service | Dellasala D.A.,Geos Institute
Journal of Wildlife Management | Year: 2012

We repeated bird and vegetation surveys in 1991-1992 and 2005-2006 among young managed stands and old-growth forests in southeast Alaska to evaluate whether pre-commercial thinning of managed stands influenced the bird community. We compared decadal changes in bird densities and forest vegetation among 3 stand types: managed stands originating from clearcuts 35 years ago that were left untreated (unthinned), managed stands thinned at uniform spacing (thinned), and old growth with no prior timber harvest. We did not detect differences in decadal trends in avian densities between thinned and unthinned stands for 15 of 16 common bird species using a repeated-measures design. Thinning did not result in greater recruitment of overstory-nesting species as predicted. This was likely because of 1) similar increases in tree heights (̄x = 9-10 m) and canopy cover (̄x = 29-43%) between unthinned and thinned stands across decades and 2) the relatively young successional stage of these stands, which had only begun to recruit medium and large size conifers (dbh ≥ 36 cm). Decadal trends in densities of most (88%) understory-nesting bird species did not differ between thinned and unthinned stands. Shrub cover decreased by 22% and 31% across decades in thinned and unthinned stands, respectively. Bird community composition in managed stands reflected the general decadal changes in forest vegetation with a shift in dominance from understory species in the early 1990s (80-85% of total bird density) to an equal abundance of understory (45-54%) and overstory species in the mid-2000s. The latter was more similar to old-growth stands, which were dominated by overstory species (67-71%). Overstory-nesting birds in old growth increased in density by 49% across decades. Densities of cavity-nesting species remained unchanged in managed stands and less than densities in old growth across decades, possibly because of a lack of large trees and snags for nest sites. Overall, thinning of clearcut stands, the primary silvicultural system in the region, had few measurable benefits to birds nearly 20 years after treatment. Monitoring over the 70-100-year harvest rotation may be necessary to fully test whether thinning accelerates succession of bird communities in clearcut stands. However, partial harvests that retain large trees and snags should also be explored as alternatives to better maintain late-succession avifauna throughout the harvest rotation in southeast Alaska. Copyright © The Wildlife Society, 2012.

Olson D.,Mcfarlane | Dellasala D.A.,Geos Institute | Noss R.F.,University of Central Florida | Strittholt J.R.,Conservation Biology Institute | And 2 more authors.
Natural Areas Journal | Year: 2012

The Klamath-Siskiyou Ecoregion has been a refuge for species during past climate change events, but current anthropogenic stressors are likely compromising its effectiveness as a refugium for this century's projected changes. Reducing non-climate stressors and securing protection for large, complex landscapes are important long-term actions to alleviate climate change impacts on biodiversity. Equally important is the immediate protection of a network of climate change microrefugia, particularly old growth and intact forests on north-facing slopes and in canyon bottoms, lower- and middle-elevations, wetter coastal mountains, and along elevational gradients. Such areas provide local opportunities for vulnerable species to persist within the ecoregion. We identify a provisional set of 22 highest-priority and 40 high-priority microrefugia that occur mostly outside of existing protected areas and along wetter and lower elevations of the ecoregion. Proposed reserve designs, if fully implemented, would capture most of the recommended microrefugia, although we found 11 important gaps. Most of the region's biodiversity, endemic species, and species vulnerable to climate change are invertebrates, non-vascular plants, and fungi that are largely restricted to persistently cool and moist late-successional forests. Opportunities for climate change response for vulnerable taxa will necessarily be local due to a limited capacity of many species to move to new habitat, even over relatively small distances where land use practices create inhospitable conditions. The ecoregion's distinctive and endemic serpentine-substrate flora also is at risk and possible refugia are sites that will retain wet soil conditions, such as seeps and bogs.

Petersen B.,Western Michigan University | Montambault J.,The Nature Conservancy | Koopman M.,Geos Institute
Environmental Management | Year: 2014

As conservation increases its emphasis on implementing change at landscape-level scales, multi-agency, cross-boundary, and multi-stakeholder networks become more important. These elements complicate traditional notions of learning. To investigate this further, we examined structures of learning in the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs), which include the entire US and its territories, as well as parts of Canada, Mexico, and Caribbean and Pacific island states. We used semi-structured interviews, transcribed and analyzed using NVivo, as well as a charrette-style workshop to understand the difference between the original stated goals of individual LCCs and the values and purposes expressed as the collaboration matured. We suggest double-loop learning as a theoretical framework appropriate to landscape-scale conservation, recognizing that concerns about accountability are among the valid points of view that must be considered in multi-stakeholder collaborations. Methods from the social sciences and public health sectors provide insights on how such learning might be actualized. © 2014, Springer Science+Business Media New York.

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