In Utah’s Grouse Creek and Raft River mountain ranges, The Nature Conservancy is working with a variety of public and private partners to improve land management across 1.3 million acres of sagebrush shrublands, pinyon-juniper and mountain mahogany woodlands, and aspen-conifer forest.
The coalition is using cutting-edge spatial modeling and GIS techniques pioneered by the Intermountain West Fire Learning Network to better understand the lands and waters of this region. The computer models will help land managers analyze the impacts of various land-use practices on this vast ecosystem, and to collaborate on future management scenarios—developing a unified and strategic vision to benefit both humans and nature.
“It’s inspiring to see the many landowners and stakeholders in this region come together to use this technology,” said Elaine York, the Conservancy’s west desert regional director. “A collaborative vision for this area will not only alleviate risks to its plants and animals, but it will also foster information exchange among the stakeholders, and better equip them to meet their various land management goals.”
Using Technology to Foster Collaborative Conservation
To get the process started, the Conservancy will host a series of partner workshops to develop objectives and specifications, and then launch the actual spatial modeling program. The software—which is called the Tool for Exploratory Landscape Scenario Analyses or TELSA—will compile and analyze historical land-use data to help community partners forecast and explore the past and future implications of specific land-use scenarios, including grazing, weed control, prescribed fire and other types of restoration.
With this valuable information, the partners can explore future projects that could differ from current management regimens. One potential scenario, for example, could be to concentrate all restoration projects in one watershed for five years before concentrating on another watershed.
The results of the models will be disseminated through an electronic database and report, as well as another round of community workshops. When complete, the Grouse Creek and Raft River Mountains technology and collaboration could serve as a model for community-based conservation in large-scale landscapes throughout Utah and the West.
Linkages to Other Initiatives
The models will be "driven" by the various partners in the Grouse Creek / Raft River mountain landscape and build upon LANDFIRE products recently developed for the Great Basin. These products include non-spatial ecological models created with the Vegetation Dynamics Development Tool (VDDT) and descriptions of "natural range of variability" or desired future ecological conditions. The latter will serve as benchmarks against which to measure restoration success.