Tackling Climate Change in Utah

2023 Research Highlights

A man works near cattle.
Canyonlands Research Center Research ranges from new (but old) breeds of cattle for a drier West. © Stuart Ruckman

Media Contacts

Learn about 2023 research highlights from TNC’s Dugout Ranch, including biocrust restoration, recreational impacts and exploring options for sustainable ranching. 

Biological Soil Crusts: Biocrust is the craggy, often dark or “burnt” looking soil stretching between shrubs and grasses in arid lands. Biocrust is a community of lichens, mosses and cyanobacteria that live on the soil surface of drylands around the world. Healthy biocrusts reduce erosion and control dust, add soil fertility, increase critical water storage, and sequester carbon—just like trees. A unique study to restore biocrusts included CRC’s creation of the world’s largest outdoor “biocrust nursery.”

Expert: Sasha Reed (PhD), USGS

Cattle: New research is confirming conventional wisdom that Rarámuri Criollo cattle –from Spain via Mexico – may have less environmental impact on arid rangelands. Using GPS collars, scientists and cowboys have been tracking the movement of Criollo cattle—as well as hybrid cattle—and are finding they are heat tolerant and will travel farther for water and will graze on a wider variety of bushy forage than the traditional British breed (Angus). These characteristics could be a game changer for beef production.

Experts: Mike Duniway (PhD), USGS, Matt Redd, TNC’s CRC Program Director and rancher, and Kari Veblen, Utah State University

Precision Ranching Technologies: Heritage cattle behavioral research coupled with precision ranching technologies makes up a promising package for environmentally and economically sustainable ranching. Drones, cameras, sensors and virtual fencing are set up to monitor animals, grazing, and water levels to provide efficiency and a cost-savings after the initial investment.

Experts: Sheri Spiegal (PhD), USDA Rangeland Management and Matt Redd, TNC

Food Chains: Increasing U.S. beef production to meet growing global demand presents opportunities and challenges manifest in the American Southwest. A wide-ranging, multi-year research project is exploring the environmental, economic, and social tradeoffs of production options from pasture to plateThe CRC hopes to fill in the knowledge gaps around conventional production and grass-fed beef production.

Experts: Sheri Spiegal, USDA and Matt Redd, TNC

Recreational Impact: Arid lands have recently been identified as major carbon sinks. A CRC fellow from Brigham Young University is studying the impact recreation has on the desert. She also hopes to understand better how desert ecosystems act as carbon sinks and help identify effective conservation strategies.

Expert: Elisabeth Currit, Brigham Young University master’s student

The Canyonlands Research Center (CRC) is a collaboration of multiple science and land management entities and is headquartered at The Nature Conservancy’s Dugout Ranch, located south of Moab, Utah.

The CRC was created to offer a place for scientists, state and federal agencies, and indigenous communities to collaborate and study ways to improve land use in the arid West in the face of a drier and more variable future. TNC’s CRC Program Manager, Kristen Redd, collaborates, coordinates and facilitates the research here.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world’s toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. The Nature Conservancy is working to make a lasting difference around the world in 77 countries and territories (41 by direct conservation impact and 36 through partners) through a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit or follow @nature_press on X.