Come Rain or Shine

Drought & Natural Resources Management

March 03, 2021 USDA Southwest Climate Hub & DOI Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center Season 2 Episode 4
Come Rain or Shine
Drought & Natural Resources Management
Show Notes Transcript

As of March 1st 2020, 85% of Arizona and 82% of New Mexico were in extreme to exceptional drought--the most severe drought categories used by the U.S. Drought Monitor--and other states in the Southwest were fairing similarly. Rangelands and other arid ecosystems that are able to withstand exceptionally high temperatures may not seem as vulnerable to drought as other types of ecosystems, but they may be even closer to thresholds and more vulnerable. In this episode, we spoke with two USGS scientists about their drought-related research in Southwest dryland ecosystems and how it informs natural resource management in the region. Listen in to hear some entertaining fieldwork stories, and learn about programs and projects, like the Restoration Assessment & Monitoring Program for the Southwest (RAMPS), that are designed to help managers develop better strategies for recovering ecosystems, and to foster knowledge exchange between land managers and researchers.

Co-presented by the Southwest Drought Learning Network. Email
Emile Elias for more information about the network.

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Emile: [00:00:00] Welcome to Come Rain or Shine, podcast of the Southwest Climate Hub and the Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center or CASC. I'm Emile Elias, Director of the Southwest Climate Hub. 

Sarah: [00:00:12] And I'm Sarah LeRoy Science Communications Coordinator for the Southwest CASC. Here, we share recent advances in climate science, weather and climate adaptation, and innovative practices to support resilient landscapes and communities.

Emile: [00:00:27] We believe sharing this information will strengthen our collective ability to respond to impacts of climate change in one of the hottest and driest regions of the world.

Sarah: [00:00:40] Welcome to this episode of Come Rain or Shine. The first in a series focused on the impacts of drought and co-presented by the Southwest Drought Learning Network. If you're interested in learning more about the network, we'll have some contact information in the episode description for you to check out.

We'd also like to take a moment to say thank you for a recent review from Agro-Ecosystem Resilience in times of Drought, also known as ARID who said about our January Climate Hope episode, "Really enjoyed this podcast episode on learning from one another for #resilience and #climate hope."

Thank you ARID, for that feedback and to all of our listeners. If you liked this podcast, please consider leaving us a review. You can add reviews on Apple podcasts, Podchaser, or Podcast Addict, or drop us a line on Twitter. We'd love to hear from you. And now down to business, living in the Southwest US, we are unfortunately accustomed to drought. This year, however is worse than normal.

And as we record this episode in mid-February, all of the Southwest has experienced some level of drought and nearly 50% of the region is experiencing the most severe classification of drought. 85% of Arizona and 82% of New Mexico are in extreme to exceptional drought, and other States in the Southwest are fairing similarly, if not worse. According to the National Integrated Drought Information System, 60.7 million people in the country are currently affected by drought and 95 million acres of crops are experiencing drought conditions. This episode on drought is focused on the impacts of drought on natural resources.

We'll be talking with two USGS scientists about their research related to drought in the dry land ecosystems of the Southwest US. Dr. Sasha Reed and Dr. Seth Munson are ecologists with the USGS Southwest Biological Science Center. Sasha is based in Moab, Utah, and Seth is based in Flagstaff, Arizona. Both Seth and Sasha worked closely with land management agencies to ensure their research results in useful and effective restoration options for natural resource managers as they deal with the on the ground impacts of drought.

Welcome. I’d like to first ask you both about how you got into this field of research. Could you tell us a little bit about your research as well as the path that you took to get there? So Sasha, why don't we start with you? 

Sasha: [00:03:29] Well, thank you so much, Emile and Sarah for having me here. I love your podcast and I always love talking to Seth.

So I'm excited. I consider myself a biogeochemist, which kind of sounds like every class nobody wanted to take in high school jammed into one word, but biogeochemistry is actually, I think, a very exciting tool in our toolbox of trying to understand how ecosystems work and how they respond to change like increasing drought severity and frequency, and biogeochemistry is really just following molecules around in ecosystems.

And I started off this journey as a biogeochemist as just a straight up chemist in my college years. And I loved how chemistry let me look at the world as a bunch of floating molecules, but I didn't feel very connected to the questions that I was asking. And I didn't see how they addressed the problems and the solutions that I wanted us to have, especially for thinking about our environment and our ecosystems.

And that's why when I realized that biogeochemistry was a thing, it was an epiphany because it allowed me to use my love of chemistry to address challenges and opportunities in real ecosystems that I thought could help. And I think biogeochemistry is a cool tool in our toolbox for a couple of reasons.

And one is a lot of the issues that we face environmentally have a biogeochemical skeleton at their core. Thinking about climate change, it's carbon, that's moving from places that it used to be stored into the atmosphere and affecting things like temperature and aridity. I also think it's a cool tool because it allows us to distill the incredible complexity of all of our ecosystems into measurable molecules that are floating around or sitting in soil or in plants. And so we need all of these different tools to address the complex challenges that we face and that our ecosystems face. Biogeochemistry isn't better than other tools, but it's a really cool compliment to those different tools.

And so I think my path, which was a winding one, started out with chemistry and a love of trying to help us have the ecosystems and the services that we want to have moving towards using biogeochemistry as a way to try to accomplish that. 

Sarah: [00:06:02] Thanks Sasha. Seth, how about you?

Seth: [00:06:07] Well, thank you, Sarah and Emile for inviting Sasha and I to join.

I'm very excited to be a part of your podcast today. Drought is, is really on the minds of a lot of us living in the Southwest as you mentioned. I kind of come at it from a plant ecology perspective. So I study drylands like Sasha and some of her work in biogeochemistry directly informs how plants kind of view the soil environment and use resources from the soil.

So there's a lot of connectedness between the research Sasha does and what I do in plant ecology. So my background really began as an undergraduate and I had a lot of very field intensive courses, so much so that all of our courses really required us to design our own experiments or observational studies as a part of the classroom.

And so I really got firsthand experience getting to be a part of research firsthand at a very early age. And it was great training, really for where I ended up today. After undergrad I worked for both land management agencies. I worked for the Forest Service and I collected data for research projects with universities.

So I kind of got both an applied perspective, why do we need science? And also a perspective of how we actually do science. And looking back, pertinent to our conversation today on drought, one of the most definitive parts of my research trajectory was actually working for the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona.

And so I was a seasonal biologist when the 2002 Rodeo-Chediski fire broke out, that was the largest fire in Arizona's history at the time. So I had been conducting surveys for rare plants and wildlife when dry conditions caused this very catastrophic fire to burn. And so that really fueled my interest in understanding how drought transforms ecosystems in the Southwest.

And it was a real eye-opener for me thinking about what I wanted to do with my future research trajectory. 

Emile: [00:08:37] Thanks, Seth. And that really leads into something that we were thinking about, that conversation about field work. Because when we were planning for this podcast, we started talking about our own tales from the field.

And we were wondering if you have any field research or field work humor, humorous tales, or horror stories that you'd like to share. 

Sasha: [00:09:04] I can go first. I have nothing but humorous horror story, field research experiences. I think it's one of the delights of doing field work is you never know what's going to happen and you often have to think on your feet.

 But one story that comes to mind when thinking about things that happened in the field that were unexpected and thinking about dry lands is when I was part of a flash flood event in Canyonlands National Park. So we were doing research in this never grazed grassland, Canyonlands National Park. And to get there, you have to hike up some different washes.

The first one is quite wide, you know, 20 or 30 feet wide. And then you go and cut off into a smaller wash and then up into the grasslands. So we were measuring plants and biological soil crusts and soils, beautiful day. And all of a sudden we hear this clap of lightning and look up and see these dark clouds moving in fast from the side, and it starts to rain and I don't, I definitely didn't think right away about flash flood, but I thought, okay, with lightning, we should probably get moving. We have a long walk back to the car, maybe an hour. So we got started. And by the time we were to the bottom of the small wash, the water was moving up by inches in seconds. I mean, it wasn't a wall of water, but it was a lot of water moving up in a frightening way.

We get to the big wash and it's now maybe a foot deep with water. Bone dry for most years, most of the year, now that it's turning into a river, cross to the other side and start walking down only to realize that our friend Tanya is on the other side of what is now a river, the non-vehicle side. 

And so in a move that I would not do currently, but in my twenties seemed like a really good idea, we threw a measuring tape across the river, had her tie it tightly to herself. And as the water's rising, we kind of move in. She crosses, we grab her and go across the river. We then walk to our vehicles where they have become stuck in quicksand.

I mean, half of them submerged in sand because so much water has wet the soil. So we have to walk back to our camp. We're walking along the road and in the ruts of the road, if you can picture looking at a dirt road in the ruts, you could stand where the ruts used to be and look at the rest of the road and the ecosystem above your head, because that compacted soil had been washed away by the massive amounts of water that were coming down in this rainstorm.

And I think what I like about that story is not only that we survived. But that it shows how such a dry place can become such a wet place so fast. And a lot of the exciting questions that are being asked about extreme events right now have to do not only with how we're getting drier, but how these big bursts of wet times could be affecting ecosystems as well.

Emile: [00:12:16] Thanks Sasha. That was really, that's an excellent story. I'm glad it had a happy ending. Seth, did you have anything you wanted to share about any field experiences?

Seth: [00:12:37] Oh, wow. That was a tremendous story. Sasha. So, I think as we're talking about drought today, Sasha's point is, is really a good one that we can also expect deluges and really intense precip events that led to such an exciting story that Sasha shared with us. My stories from the field, poor or humorous. You know, honestly, to flip Sasha's story around to the other extreme, I have a habit of starting field work that goes up in flames.

So I mentioned working for the forest service and some of the transects that we were using to survey for rare plants, literally burned up in the fire. Later on, I was working at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. Had spent years contributing to research only to have that go up in flames.

And then recently, some of our work in the Sonoran Desert has started to burn up as well. And for me, that's really the scary part of the story because forests, you know, are adapted to fire, deserts or not. And so thinking about the field work in the deserts, It's really the invasive species that are starting to spread out into our systems that are causing these really catastrophic fires, including the Bush Fire in Arizona and part of the big Bighorn Fire near Tucson that happened this summer.

So really that's kind of my horror story. A funny story, I'd have to say that I also have a habit of having to hike out long distances in really remote field sites. So, some of my work was kind of before the age of cell phones and having those portable battery chargers in vehicles, which really come in handy.

So, unfortunately I've had to hike out, uh, you know, upwards of 10 miles out of desert field sites in the heat of the summer. The silver lining in this story is that I have a reputation of carrying and drinking a lot of water. So the field crews I worked with often made fun of me cause I always had to stop and pee.

Well, it turned out that really worked to my advantage when I had these long hikes out and I was well hydrated. So. Kudos to all of you working in the field that stay hydrated and stay safe under these hot extreme conditions. 

Emile: [00:15:14] Absolutely. I think water can cure almost any ailment, but that's spoken as a hydrologist.

So, yeah. Thanks for sharing that. And that leads into our next question. Which is maybe not for you Sasha and Seth, because you research the systems, but often other people don't think of rangelands or arid ecosystems as vulnerable compared with some other types of ecosystems. And so, I think your experience with fire and your experience with these intense precipitation events and floods might affect your perspective on vulnerability and resilience and threats during drought and, how the climate is changing, especially in arid ecosystems, where you work. So we'll go ahead and start with you, Sasha, and I'm curious about your perspective on vulnerability and resilience. 

Sasha: [00:16:11] I definitely think that drylands and rangelands, grasslands, shrublands, and dryland forests are really vulnerable to increasing drought. And I can see why we often think they wouldn't be, they're so tough. These ecosystems are able to withstand really high temperatures, really dry conditions, really low fertility soils, and they just crush it.

They do a great job. And so it makes sense to think that what couldn't they handle? Nothing! But I think what I'm beginning to realize with a lot of my work and what I think Seth's amazing work and others also show is that they're close to these thresholds and that they are living in these tough lives already.

These dryland ecosystems, these grasslands and rangelands. And so it could be that getting a little bit drier, a little bit hotter is the straw that breaks the camel's back and pushes them into a state change that really makes them quite different than what they used to be before. And I think that can be true of lots of our plant communities.

Also the biological soil crusts, the photosynthetic soil, mosses and lichens that are in rangelands and grasslands around the world that I love to study. These organisms that seem to withstand so much reach a breaking point. And we're at that point in a lot of these systems and expect to be at that point and even more with climate change.

And so I think thinking about our improved understanding of what our options to help these ecosystems and to help ourselves with these conditions. What can we learn about how the systems work and how they respond to change that help us avoid the vulnerability that we're worried about, but that also help us capitalize on what I think is their high resilience.

I think these ecosystems have a very strong ability to come back after an event that changed them if conditions are right. And so kind of maximizing that high resilience and minimizing the conditions that, um, go negatively towards their vulnerability are a lot of the science that Seth and I try to do.

Emile: [00:18:19] Thanks Sasha. And, um, that high resilience that you mentioned reminds me of something we recently talked about around climate hope, and that is a little piece that makes me think of hope. And I would like to ask Seth a similar question, your perspective on vulnerability and resilience, and Sasha also mentioned  state change and transitions. And I know you do some research around that if you want to include those topics. 

Seth: [00:18:45] Yeah. So I think Sasha really nailed it in terms of thinking about two sides of the coin when we think about arid ecosystems and their vulnerability. And as Sasha mentioned, you know, on one hand, these plants have drought adaptations that are amazing, you know, kang- animals like kangaroo rats can go without drinking water and rely on metabolic water.

You know, some of these desert shrubs can kind of almost appear to die, but are actually still alive and re-sprout. So I think, yeah, Sasha is getting to the point of thresholds and a lot of these organisms in arid systems are at their physiological limits. So if you take more water away, really they can be stressed to the point where they're going to have some pretty strong changes. And we've seen that in the Southwest, we've seen piñon mortality, we're losing a lot of cool season perennial grasses in the four corners areas and even there's cases where, for example, a severe frost followed by drought in 2011, knocked back creosote bush.

 And creosote bush is a very drought tolerant, desert shrub. So I think when you asked the question about state changes, a lot of those happen at tipping points for either plant species or the ecosystems that they're contained in. And one thing that I'd like to point out with vulnerability that I don't think we think about a lot.

Is the fact that a lot of these ecosystems are losing their capacity for regeneration. So it's not just the mature vegetation and vulnerability that it has, but also the capacity of these plant communities to actually regenerate. And so the germination and establishment requirements for a lot of these communities are not going to be met under future climate change.

And so that's a real scary possibility that these ecosystems won't be self-sustained anymore. And I think when you talk about state transitions, that's when transitions can really start to happen quite rapidly when you can't have the community that was there before regenerate and be self-sustaining anymore.

Sarah: [00:21:13] Thanks Seth. And so this kind of transitions into our next question. And I think you both alluded to this a little bit as well. But maybe you could speak to what managers can learn from arid ecosystems that might help them adapt to future climate. Seth, why don't we start with you and just continue on.

Seth: [00:21:37] That's a great question. So I think it's important to not focus our entire conversation on the doom and gloom. There is a lot of adaptive capacity within these systems and there's a lot managers can do to help them adapt moving forward into the future. 

So I think with respect to management and what management solutions we have. I think we're really only beginning to really press that issue and press thinking outside the box. I think leaving ecosystems intact and limiting our land use impacts when possible is a great start. Just because, you know, Sasha mentioned the resilience of these arid systems.

I think just kind of as much as we can leaving these ecosystems to have that resilience that they have and not introducing invasive species or other pressures that kind of create additional stress.

So with respect to what we can learn from arid ecosystems, I think understanding how they can survive under these really extreme conditions really has applications, even in wetter regions that are moving towards the drier side of the climate coin. So if we can't leave ecosystems intact and we're going to have to inherently have some land use going on within these natural systems, I think we need to start talking about anticipatory strategies to help managers adapt to climate in both the short and the long-term.

And so I think with short-term forecasts of weather becoming a lot better, we can use that information to kind of inform us if it's going to be a drier or wetter than average summer, for example. And if we can implement treatments like restoration, that might have a better chance of success during wet periods and limiting what we do on the landscape, if we're entering into these really dry conditions. Over the long-term, I think we can really think about other actions such as assisted species migration. So moving species that are vulnerable to areas where they might persist  in a longer term situation and considering refugia where on the landscape, they might be better buffered from climate change.

So these topographic lows where water might be retained. Those are kind of the ways I think about management, but importantly, Sasha and I are both working with a lot of our land management partners to come up with better adaptation strategies, to these really extreme climates that we're expected to face in the future.

Sarah: [00:24:35] Sasha. Do you have anything to add?

Sasha: [00:24:38] I do that was excellently said, Seth. Thank you. And I think a lot of my thought process is identically aligned with yours. So that gives me hope that that it's a good thought process. Cause you're so smart. But I think one of the things that I totally agree with that I've been thinking about a lot is thinking outside the box, as you said, Seth, and what are the opportunities that we have for improved outcomes?

That we want, that are different than the methods we're using now. What can we learn about these systems that could really big, be much larger levers to pull into helping the systems move forward than what we're currently using. And so I think being creative and I think that managers, as Seth discussed, have a lot to offer in terms of expert knowledge, to what those levers may be.

They know their systems they're in their systems. And when they share with Seth and I and others, that information, it does a lot to help orient our science in good directions that could help us think outside the box to help all of us think outside the box. So I think that kind of being creative and sharing ideas openly is a big part of what deserts have to teach us. I also think that as Seth talked about taking advantage of good times is an important aspect of management. Now, if we can consider next year is going to be a good year in terms of precipitation, what kind of planting do we want to do? What kind of ecosystem modification do we want to do?

That would be much more likely to be successful in a good year. And as Seth talked about, we're getting much better at anticipating the upcoming growing seasons climate. Emile, for example, is a big leader in the Grass-Cast, upcoming growing season prediction tool. That is so cool. If you guys haven't checked it out, everyone definitely should.

And so how can we use that information to make management decisions that have increased likelihood of success. And Seth and I, and many others in our center are working along those kinds of lines to improve our ability to anticipate what's coming because with that anticipation comes increased management success.

And I think the, the third thing that I think about is paying attention to the small things in deserts and kind of these patterns that might be easy to overlook that could actually be telling us important things about how the ecosystems work or the organisms that are small and might not seem as important to us that we might not be as likely to study, or people might not be as likely to manage that actually can have really large impact in these systems.

And so I think deserts, try to teach us cool things about life. I think thinking outside the box and working together and, and enjoying good times and using them to our advantage and, and paying attention to life's little treasures are all good things. 

Sarah: [00:27:42] Thanks, Sasha. Yeah. Living in the Sonoran Desert here in Tucson, I definitely appreciate all the desert has to give, and it's really beautiful. And so I want to talk for a minute specifically about your research projects. And so the question is of your many research projects you have going on past or present which ones do you feel especially proud of? You think, you know, actually resulted in some, on the ground action. Take it away.

Sasha: [00:28:19] Thanks. There's a couple of projects that come to mind when thinking about drought and research that I'm excited about. And one of them is a project that we have in the Mojave and Chihuahuan and Great Basin deserts where we are giving ecosystems droughted conditions. So we have these special shelters that take some of the rainfall that would otherwise fall in this system and shuttle it away. And then we also have disturbance treatments at these sites. So we're looking at what does, does physical disturbance. Turning over of the soil and the plants do to the system.

What does drought do to the system? And then what does drought and disturbance at the same time do to the system? And so trying to think about how some of these stressors that are co-occurring in ecosystems might have effects that are difficult to predict. If we study just one of the stressors alone, and Seth said this really nicely earlier.

Thinking about, can we reduce disturbance in some areas as a way to lessen the stress and increase maybe the fortitude of the system in its response to drought, which we're not really able to control at local or regional levels. And so I think that that project stands out to me as something that I'm enjoying learning from the data, because they're showing us that disturbance and drought together do indeed have different effects than either alone.

And the more that we can understand those effects, especially across different dryland types across these different deserts. The more management options we have, and this project is in close collaboration with resource managers who manage the lands, where all of these experiments are. And we're trying to learn things about what it means for water use, what it means for the other resources in the soil.

What does it mean for the plant community? Both in how big it can grow and what the composition of those plants are. And so I think that project, I enjoy it a lot because it's trying to look at multiple factors at once. And because it is such a close collaboration with managers. 

And I think a second project that comes to mind was looking at hot drought, what we sometimes called global change type drought, where we're seeing drought happen, but it's also happening at the same time as hot temperatures. 

And so that puts added stress onto the system. And with that project, we were working with collaborators at Los Alamos National Lab with experiments where we were able to heat Piñon-Juniper systems. We were able to drought other parts of the Piñon-Juniper system. And then we both heated and droughted parts of the Piñon-Juniper system.

And one of the interesting things that we found was that the nitrogen cycle of the soil in the hot drought part of the system was really different and may actually have been benefiting some of the plants relative to the not hot drought. So we know hot drought is a big problem and that it's resulting in a lot of mortality.

This didn't stop that mortality, but it did provide some climate hope. And I listened to that podcast that you guys had and thought it was wonderful. That the systems will be able to do some things potentially to mitigate their own effects. And the more we can learn about those things, the more we'd be able to use that information.

And so nitrogen, we often say that we're carbon based life forms here on Earth, but we're also nitrogen based life forms. We need that nitrogen to be able to grow at all, plants do, we do, kangaroo rats do, everything does. And so, yeah. I think that a lot of times, for good reason in drylands, we think about water and drought resulting in a lack of water as the only driver of the change.

When, while it's definitely the dominant driver, there are other resources that living organisms rely upon that drought could also affect in a way that could be what determines the overall outcome. And I think thinking again about climate hope, I hope Seth will talk about his RAMPS program a little bit, because that's where he's doing all kinds of diverse science to find out what restoration options exist including altering soil resources, like nitrogen for the system, because if we can figure out what some of those levers are, we can totally put them to use in our management in order to try to restore more effectively or build more resilient or more resistant ecosystems. And so I liked about that project that we weren't just thinking about water or just about temperature or just about soil nutrients, but thinking about all of them together.

Sarah: [00:33:05] Seth, what about your projects? 

Seth: [00:33:07] Yeah. So I just first want to comment that I love those little surprises in our research that Sasha mentioned, seeing that connection with the nitrogen cycle is really what kind of advances our understanding of these systems. And that's a really cool story you shared with us, Sasha.

So my research, I think what I'm maybe most proud of is the RAMPS program, which Sasha mentioned. And so this is a Restoration Assessment and Monitoring Program for the Southwest, and we affectionately call it RAMPS. But RAMPS is a program that tries to develop better strategies for recovering ecosystems that are in a degraded state.

And so drought can cause them to be in a degraded state. Drought in combination with factors can, but really this is kind of empowering managers to come up with new solutions, new options that are research driven. And so I had a, an epiphany in my career maybe six or seven years ago, where I was telling the vulnerabilities side of the story about ecosystems succumbing to drought and high temperature.

And so at the end of my talks, I would get questions from resource managers. You know, they'd raise their hand, they'd politely listen to my talk. And then at the end of the talk, they would ask me, so what can we do about it? What can I do about it as a manager? And I grew really frustrated with that question.

It was a great question, but I never had a great answer for it. And so that in part fueled me to think about proactive things managers can do to help prepare for and mitigate the impacts of drought. And so the RAMPS program, I think is a great example of kind of thinking about what we can do creatively between scientists and land managers to co-develop solutions that will really help sustain our ecosystems in the Southwest.

And USGS has really backed this program. And I feel really proud that we built that program collectively. One project within RAMPS that's really, got a lot of on the ground action and led to some really great results is a project we call RestoreNet that Sasha is involved in. And so RestoreNet is what it says.

It's a restoration experiment that's networked across the Southwest. So we have about 25 sites that span cool and warm deserts in the Southwest. Why do restoration in a network setting? Well, I think a lot of practitioners feel like they're working in a bubble when it comes to restoration, they have really specific things they're thinking about.

They often don't have a chance to learn from other areas and also share the knowledge that they're learning from their site. So really we built RestoreNet to kind of share this information among land managers and researchers to really get at what strategies work across environmental gradients that we have in the Southwest.

So for example, seeding my work, if you get wet enough conditions, but what about the Mojave desert? You know, typically just throwing seed on the ground isn't really gonna lead to any germination or establishment. So we need to think about strategies to increase water retention or perhaps seed them in these wetter years.

And so that's exactly what RestoreNet's about, where our strategy is going to work versus where do we kind of need to work on improving what we currently have to work with? So each of the RestoreNet has small experimental gardens where managers can try out different practices. And so part of the experiment is networked and we do the same thing across all of our sites and the other part is what should we really do here at this site? And what things am I most interested in kind of trying out. And so the small RestoreNet sites give managers an opportunity to try things out at a small scale before a really large disturbance breaks out and they need a solution at a very large scale.

Once you're at a very large scale, you know, the risk of restoration failing is pretty catastrophic. If you don't get it right, you know, you can get some really bad hillslope erosion or you can have some other problems. So the network really allows for very intensive and manipulative ways of changing factors and tweaking restoration strategies.

So you get them just right. 

Emile: [00:37:56] Wow, Seth, that's excellent. I hadn't heard about RestoreNet and it just seems like that network approach where scientists can learn from other scientists about different areas and how restoration works across gradients could be really powerful. So it's really, it's exciting to hear about networked research in that way or networks really testing a restoration because we're starting to learn that networks such as the Drought Learning Network, where peers learn from peers or communities learn from communities might be the way for us to respond more rapidly to some of the changes we're seeing. So that's really excellent. And it was fun for me to learn about.

So Seth and Sasha, as we wrap up, I know as you're listening to each other talk and thinking about these ideas, did any last stories or anecdotal accounts or things that you wanted to mention come up for you related to drought and your own work experience. And we'll go with you first, Sasha. 

Sasha: [00:38:59] I think something that stands out to me and always makes me so happy is how much Seth and I love working with managers and trying to provide useful, usable, accessible information to them.

And I think RAMPS and RestoreNet is such a beautiful example of that. Not only in the hardcore science that's happening, but in the outreach that Seth and Molly McCormick and others are undertaking. And so, I think Seth and I are both federal researchers on purpose. We love working as public servants and being part of organizations whose mission is to serve as a scientific resource for others.

We love learning from and sharing information with people with lots of different ways of knowing. And I think that that's where true understanding of ecosystems and what our opportunities for management come from. And so nothing makes me happier than hearing Seth talk about the science and in thinking about resource managers opening up to giving us a call if they have a question or something that they've been wondering or noticed. Something that might be meaningful on the landscape and seeing us here as kind of their scientific arm, ready to do the work of trying to figure things out together. 

Emile: [00:40:20] Excellent. Thanks Sasha. Seth, did you have anything you'd like to add? 

Seth: [00:40:24] Yeah. So thanks again for having us. This has been a great discussion and I keep learning more from Sasha. We work closely together, but her sharing these stories, especially about that deluge in the remote part of Canyonlands was incredible. So I think one of the surprises or things that I should have known would work well, but didn't really fully appreciate with respect to a drought management response was actually learned through RestoreNet.

And so one of our treatments within RestoreNet that we do across the board is to implement these pits or small depressions within the soil. So we're basically changing the micro-topography to allow water to pool and be retained so that the seed that we put down can have a better chance of germinating and establishing.

So we tried other treatments too. We tried like fake nurse plants and mulch and all different kinds of ways of increasing water retention. But these pits worked remarkably well in terms of their recruiting native species. And in the end I guess it was a real, it shouldn't have been a surprise to us because Indigenous Knowledge has known this for years.

The Zuni and Hopi waffle gardens did exactly this. And so I think one of the great things about working with resource managers is the relearning things that worked well in the past. And so I think we have a lot to learn from Indigenous Knowledge and thinking about incorporating the expertise and really deep understanding they have of these ecosystems into our learning about strategies that will work well moving forward.

And actually as researchers, Sasha and I are very excited about that because we can actually have scientific backing for things working, you know, not just having anecdotal evidence, but this is a really sound method that's going to work for you in the future with respect to drought mitigation, or even preparing a system to handle a transformation, if that's where things are headed. 

Emile: [00:42:46] Awesome. Thanks, Seth. I really appreciate that thinking about historic knowledge and maybe what we learned from different locations or from our past and how that might apply as we collectively try to respond to a new and changing future. So I just want to thank so much Seth and Sasha for joining us today.

Yeah. It's been delightful to speak with you. Thank you. 

Sasha: [00:43:12] We have loved it. Thank you. 

Seth: [00:43:14] Yes, this has been a great experience. And thank you for the opportunity to talk to you today. 

Emile: [00:43:22] Thanks for listening to Come Rain or Shine, podcast of the USDA Southwest Climate Hub.

Sarah: [00:43:28] And the DOI Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center. If you liked this podcast, don't forget to subscribe like or follow for more great episodes. If you want more information, have any questions for the speakers, or would like to offer feedback, please visit or Our sincere thanks to USDA Agricultural Research Service, the Sustainable Southwest Beef Project and the US Geological Survey for supporting this podcast.