Interagency Collaboration Project on Causes, Consequences, and Restoration of Incised Streams in the Great Basin: a potential adaptation strategy for climate change

Three organizations within the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture have agreed to support a collaborative project that will help ranchers in the Great Basin adapt to projected climate change.

Background: Many of the streams in the western US are deeply or incised gullies or arroyos bordered by wide valleys of sagebrush. These valleys were once wet or marshy meadows, filled with wetland vegetation and grasses, and punctuated by beaver dams and ponds. Loss of the beaver and their dams that ponded water, stored sediment, and built up the valley bottoms was a major factor in transforming these waterways. One particularly successful strategy has been to build “artificial beaver dams”: small, low-head weirs made of rock or wood. Within 1-3 years these structures introduce both hydraulic and ecologic complexity into previously rather barren channelways, improve range productivity, and provide aquatic and riparian habitats for fish, beavers, and other species.

Project: Collaborators are investigating the effect of low--rise dams on water supply, groundwater recharge, ecosystem functions and health, and habitat for a wide range of organisms, including sage grouse. They are also assessing the costs to and benefits of both low-rise dams and proposed re-introductions of beavers to ranchers, together with attitudes of ranchers and managers towards them. Remote sensing is being used to identify locations of incised streams across the Great Basin

Outcome: Results will help guide new approaches and strategies for restoring watersheds on arid rangelands. Ranchers and wildlife will benefit when adapting to extended droughts.

Photos of Camp Creek showing the results of a four year restoration effort

Collaborators: Principal Investigators are from the USFS Pacific Northwest Research Station, USGS Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center, Desert Research Institute, and Oregon State University. Funding sources are the DOI Northwest Climate Science Center, the USDA Northwest Regional Climate Hub, and the Great Basin Landscape Conservation Cooperative.

This is a target of opportunity project.

Theme: Climate Change, Fish and Wildlife, Socioeconomic, Water

Project start date: 5/1/2015

Fiscal year funded: 2015

Project status: Active

Project managers: Beatrice Van Horne, USFS; Gustavo Bisbal USGS; Todd Hopkins, Great Basin LCC