Weather data and forecasting applications for management of ecological site transitions
Millions of hectares of rangeland in the western United States have been invaded, and are now dominated, by expanding populations of introduced annual weeds. These weeds are very effective competitors for soil water and nutrients, produce fine fuels that increase fire frequencies, and are resistant to many rangeland rehabilitation and restoration actions. Fire rehabilitation costs on western rangelands continue to escalate as hundreds of thousands of hectares a year are lost to weed dominance. Post-fire wind erosion in these annual-weed dominated systems can also result in irreversible soil loss that lowers ecological site potential. Restoration of degraded rangelands is hampered by a generally dry climate and exceptionally high variability in seedbed water availability and soil stability. We have developed relatively efficient procedures to temporarily control annual weeds, but these practices are ineffective if we are unable to subsequently establish desirable rangeland plant species. More efficient utilization of existing weather data, and development of seasonal weather forecasting tools would greatly enhance our ability to establish desirable plant species in good weather years, and avoid wasting money on large-scale restoration efforts in bad weather years. Production of better weather data and planning tools, however, is insufficient. Choices among restoration alternatives are affected by sociological factors, local traditions, economic constraints, and both actual and perceived accessibility of new knowledge. Reducing barriers to restoration success within human systems will require better understanding of how to enhance the user-friendliness of improved forecasting tools when they become available, and also managers' capacity to use those tools given various other constraints on their decisions. In this project, we will be developing weather-data tools that can be used in the fall planting season to make decisions about how to most efficiently spend limited restoration funds in a way that maximizes the probability of successful establishment of rangeland plant species. Throughout the project, we will work directly with land managers and land management agencies to ensure that the tools that we develop are practical, user-friendly, and integrated into current planning and management programs.