MORA in the Trees

MORA in the Trees
Mt. Rainier through a variable retention harvest at Pack Forest, Washington, USA

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Photos from an early fall afield

Mt. Elden, AZ - where post-fire succession moves slowly 
Mt. Elden, AZ
Lake Powell, AZ
AK climbing out of work, Cache National Forest
Beirdneau Peak, UT. Photo B. Greene
USU WATS Graduate Induction Course at Pilgrim Creek, WY

Dr. Joe Wheaton and the 2014-15 USU ET-AL graduate students:
Nate, Alan, Martha, and Becca, minus Reid Camp, Pilgrim Creek, WY. Photo P. Belmont

Dropping into Green Canyon, Cache National Forest, UT

Climbing above Wood Camp, Cache National Forest, UT

Mt. Elden, AZ
Bad luck at the bunkhouse, Box Elder County, UT.
Low clouds and high spirits for an August run. Cache National Forest, UT
Keeping the sports nutrition industry in business, Logan, UT
Descending to Green Canyon, Cache National Forest, UT
September twerking at the Naomi Peak Wilderness boundary. Photo B. Greene

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Thoughts on finishing what you start

Gouging someone for nearfall with black dyed hair, OH, 152...160 lbs? 2001? 2002? Photo: Mom

I grew up a wrestler in a wrestling state. Wrestling generally pits two opponents against one another in a match within a circle of a known area and with a finite time limit. The match may end due to a pin, a a technical fall (think little league sports mercy rule) or as time expires. As a kid who starts wrestling in elementary school, you quickly learn that the most important thing that you can do is finish what you start, either ending the match by fall/tech fall or by scoring far more points than your opponent. Even though I was only ten years old, I recall ramping down my pace during a tournament match somewhere in Lake County, Ohio. I found that just because I'd ceased activity, it did not mean that my opponent had. A little relaxation on my part ended in a nasty wrist and half, and my big lead was reduced to me walking away as my opponent's arm was raised. I wasn't sure what had happened, but I hadn't won, and I definitely smelled like somebody else's armpit.

Inside control - practiced since the 16th century (University of Chicago archives)
As I grew older, the importance of disciplined training to build the skill, endurance, and strength that allow a wrestler to go through not only one six or seven minute match, but several matches a day for a few days at a time grew. It didn't matter whether you could start one match strong and score points for the first minute. You had to start...and finish...each and every match strong just to ensure that you had more points on the board than the individual standing across from you. And it all over after day. Finish strong...finish strong...finish strong. It didn't matter where you started as long as you saw the effort through until the end.

Finishing what you start (University of Chicago archives)
While this was a lesson learned as a youth in predominantly trivial sporting contests, the lesson itself holds up over time, minus the competitive hooey that accompanies amateur wrestling culture. In short, be prepared to finish what you start. It won't be easy, it may not always be fun, but in the end, what matters is having the tenacity to grind through a race, a match, a college degree, a day on the job, or a research project. Now that I've effectively become a part of the academic research culture, which some days feels like being a part of some esoteric secret society, finishing what I start is of greater importance than ever.

This one definitely finished early - blood round for a state tournament birth, 160 lbs, Mentor District, OH, 2002.
Photo: Mom
Twenty years after that fateful day at a youth wrestling tournament, and the importance of finishing what I start continues to grow. While being locked into a tight wrist and half is pretty low on my list of day-to-day worries, I now have to finish proposals, data collection, data analysis, writing, and grant and project reporting. The consequence of not finishing is delays in manuscripts and receiving less funding, without which I have a lower probability of completing my main objective: doing transformative research that informs the science and practice of stream, wetland, and riparian ecosystem restoration.

If I can't do what I set out to do with my current USU ET-AL and past UW colleagues, then I compromise my own ability to continue to professionally study and restore ecosystems. Simply put, if I don't finish my past projects and finish them well, then that time spent in the scientific process was not ultimately as effective as it could have been. Since my work is mission-driven, delays or partial completions are not conducive to informing ecosystem restoration and management. And, most researchers want to hire other researchers who can, well, finish things.

This photo has nothing to do with finishing things or wrestling, but it's pretty. Wood Camp, UT.
Science is already a system that slowly and incrementally pushes along information. This is without the inevitable delays of leading a balanced life (read: not just working). So when I do manage to finish something relatively efficiently, I get pretty excited. These last few months I broke off a few new projects, plodded along on some incomplete projects, and closed out a few things that were submitted last year. The most exciting part was, of course, seeing finished products roll out.

In addition to the previously blogged paper in RRA, I managed to close down two projects that date back to my time as an M.S. student at the University of Washington. The first of which was a chapter from my greenhouse work on the functional traits of two sedges, Carex stipata and Carex obnupta. This was the first project that I ever undertook on my own, identifying how sedge species responded to different levels of soil resources and environmental stress. It marks the first time I took an idea from fruition to completion, largely on my own.

Hanging in Washington State's finest Carex obnupta, 2009
Additionally, I helped my friend and former UW colleague, Rodney Pond, finish up a restoration project assessment that he started several years ago. We looked at how soil amendment influenced Douglas fir, red alder, and black cottonwood survival and growth at a highly disturbed former gravel mine. In short, if you're a planted seedling, improving soil resources may help you grow...but it might also kill you. These findings ran in Ecological Restoration this month. Here's the ET-AL write-up that I put up a few weeks back.
Goodell 2011. We'll be back shortly...
While finishing one paper on the project was great, we're headed back to Goodell Creek, the last undammed tributary to the Skagit River later this month to grab another round of data and complete a twelve-year sequence of project analysis. Sometimes the work never really is finished...but at least I'm trying.

Rodney and the river, et al.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

2015 Nordic United CROWBAR backcountry ski race scheduled

Mark those calendars because the sixth skiing of the Nordic United CROWBAR will take place Saturday, January 31, 2015. This event usually pits the most serious of endurance athletes against one another while the rest of northern Utah's backcountry skiing/splitboarding community less gracefully skins, sweats and skis through one of two courses in the lovely Bear River Mountains. It's a great tune-up race for the Wasatch Powderkeg or a just fun day to have friends put their money where their mouths are regarding the fastest gal or guy in the skin track.

Full details will begin to gel as the season turns to fall, but for now, remember January 31st is the big day. Previous courses, results and photos can all be found at the Nordic United race page:

Here's a quick video from last year's race:

...and a couple photos from race set-up and race day:

Snow stability tests prior to the 2014 race.
CROWBAR is only possible through the dedication of volunteers and generosity of  our sponsors.
Doing work on the course.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Two deep cuts from Freshwaters Illustrated

I recently stumbled upon a pair of film shorts from Freshwaters Illustrated: Clackamas Complete and A Deeper Creek. Both tell stories of streams, one of conservation and restoration in Oregon's Clackamas River and one of environmental education on the streams of Tennessee's Cherokee National Forest. Both are well-produced, entertaining and freely-available. They're both embedded below for your convenience:

Clackamas Complete: A Return of Bull Trout from Freshwaters Illustrated on Vimeo.

Here's a link to the Clackamas bull trout reintroduction.

A Deeper Creek - The Watchable Waters of Appalachia from Freshwaters Illustrated on Vimeo.

Here's a link to the snorkeling program on the Cherokee National Forest.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Patience is a virtue...(Article Alert)

Teamwork from Oregon to Idaho - NH-S, BBR, JMW and RLL in the top row
It may be cliche, but I often hear from senior faculty that patience is a virtue - especially in academia. Nothing gets done quickly and often not in the first try. Accordingly, sometimes you have to be virtuous while submitting, revising, resubmitting, facing rejection, revising, submitting, revising, facing a slightly more positive rejection, revising, and then finally resubmitting again.
The academic equivalent of dropping a part in a snowboard movie.
Apparently all of the virtue and work paid off as "Riparian vegetation communities of the American Pacific Northwest are tied to multi-scale environmental filters" finally came into press at River Research and Applications. In this paper, we set out to answer the questions: what are the different riparian vegetation communities of the interior Pacific Northwest, and how do they change across multiple environmental gradients, many of which arise from processes that occur at multiple scales? We found that multi-scale environmental filters, from climate to watershed management and stream channel form all control the diversity and abundance of riparian plant species. Fortunately, this article was written when I was USDA Forest Service employee, so it is in the public domain here in the U.S.

While I'm a bit pre-occupied to write a full summary at the moment, you can check out the full text below, download from figshare or link to the full text on the publications page.

It's good to see that patience gets rewarded every once in a while...

Monday, August 25, 2014

Another academic year rolls in...

The university semester system starts courses early. That means today (25 August 2014). The start of any "school year" (even if research never really stops) brings about a sense of urgency for most people around a college campus. There's a grip of stuff to do as the undergraduates flood back to campus with their corny longboards, even cornier Bonobos/Gilt fashions, raging hormones and watery, cheap beer (USU, oddly enough, replaces this with Mountain Dew and candy). With the influx of humans born between 1990 and 1997 comes an energy and a sense of what universities do aside from research: educate the masses. With these youthful, knowledge-hungry masses back around campus, I always get the impression that I need to take care of a few things before I can be officially get back into my own school mode. For example, last weekend's to-do list looks about the same as my back-to-school checklist did in 1994...when I was nine.
  • Pack my lunch. To-do
  • Get new school shoes. Check.
  • Fold clean laundry. To-do.
  • Back-up, double-back-up and triple-back up the season's field data. In process; procrastinating with blog.
  • Pack work-out bag and clean clothes for the week. To-do.
  • Set some goals for the year. Check.
  • Make a plan to reach those goals. In process.
  • Act on the plan to reach those goals. In process.
  • Update relevant contact information, website, CV, Linkedin, etc. (Okay, I didn't do this when I was nine). Check.
While the pre-school routine remains largely the same, one thing has changed: having to produce. With high self-imposed expectations and many projects, I have to aim high and get everything done that I aspire to within a given school year. With a stacked schedule for 15-straight week, it's pretty difficult to grind hard all semester. I only get by with some existing momentum, some good friends and colleagues, and when working in shared spaces that require headphones or earplugs, some sweet tunes.

Case in point, here's a view into the last three weeks of teamwork, cohort building and field data:

Mixing on the Snake River, Wyoming

#DronesforScience, Logan, UT
Patrick Belmont explains how much one can learn from a longitudinal profile, Moose, WY

Keeping it Kenny with the Drone in Logan, UT.

Salt dilution methods for measuring discharge...hidden by a tussock
Field ace, Logan Elmore keeping it real on Mahogany Creek, UT

Field boss, Marco Negovschi keeps his post-field attire classy. Lynn, UT

Cedar gif atop Arizona

In addition to working with my team on the field game and running hard on stream restoration, here's a sample of what I'm making figures and writing to right now:

Whether you're on these semesters or those quarters, make that work and have a damn good time doing it. Waking up every day to be surrounded by the smart and motivated and do work worth doing is a sweet privilege. Here's to a great 2014-15 academic year!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Restoring the West featured in the Logan Herald Journal (#RTW2014)

Last week I had the pleasure of sitting down with Utah State Forestry Extension's Darren McAvoy and Kevin Opsahl of the Logan Herald Journal to discuss this year's Restoring the West conference (#RTW2014 on Twitter). Kevin's write up is here and highlights the importance and rationale for convening the upcoming meeting with a riparian restoration focus. In short, streams have been used for a variety of management purposes, some of which have led to degradation of the services that rivers and their riparia provide: clean and abundant water, riparian habitat for wildlife, instream habitat for fish and other aquatic biota, and controls on how streams adjust their channels in response to water and sediment supply.

Kevin also quotes me in discussing the very successful Spawn Creek grazing exclosure in the Logan River watershed (see details: here, here, here, and on this blog). Thanks to Kevin and the Herald Journal for covering this year's conference and taking the time to discuss riparian zones with Darren and I!

A little incision and a little algae: can it be restored to a more functional state?

Monday, August 11, 2014

Restoring the West (#RTW2014) registration now open!

Registration is now open for this year's Restoring the West conferenceDown by the River: Managing for Resilient Riparian Corridors, this October 21-22 on the campus of Utah State University in Logan, UT.

You can register at:

Early registration at discounted rates runs through Thursday, October 9th.

If you can't make the conference, Joe Wheaton, faculty in Watershed Sciences will offer a free pre-conference webinar entitled What role might beaver play in restoring the West? as a part of USU Forestry Extension's ongoing outreach efforts. The date and time are TBA, but stay tuned to USU forestry extension and for more details.

Beaver dam and willow forest above Cottonwood Lake, Cottonwood Creek, WY, USA

The ecologist's soundtrack

One thing that has always chapped my hide, at least professionally, is how ecologists and environmental scientists listen to pretty homogenous music. For people with diverse academic and personal interests (at least a few ecologists know there is life beyond work), it's kind of weird. I mean, I know it's like 90% upper-middle class white kids from the suburbs who go into the ecology field, but still, we can, and arguably should, branch out musically. I mean this as an entire profession. We have to read widely to be experts in a given field. We work in some of the most biologically diverse places in the world, and often write our papers from offices in major metropolitan areas or places of high cultural diversity, like major college campuses. We have the internet. Yet, many practicing ecologists have failed to get the memo that there is music that requires electricity or lacks banjo. A conversation on music at ESA or your other favorite professional conference would probably go something like this:

A: So you're interested in conserving biodiversity in rare ecosystems?

B: Yes, namely aquatic macroinvertebrates in boreal rivers and forest pollinators in subalpine heathland matrices.

A: Cool. Where do you work?

B: Alaska and the Northwest Territories

A: Right on. What do you like to do aside from work?

B: There are things other than work?

A: Yeah, like music, art, sports, travel.

B: I do like music, mostly bluegrass and folk.

A: Rad. So, you only like music that lacks drums?

B: Well, now that you mention it, I guess those subgenres do lack drums. But I find rap to be hostile and rock to be too caustic and shocking. It's all so commercial and consumer-driven. I like real, home-grown music.

A: That's cool, where's home? I mean, where are you from?

B: Long Island, but I went to school in New Jersey and Connecticut.

A: Righteous, lots of, uh, good bluegrass out that way, I surmise...

The reality is, ecologists and academics don't have to fall into the bluegrass trap. There are musical genres with drums. Folk is not the only way forward. You can head bang. You can dance. Music can be made by people who don't own sandals or plaid shirts. And you can listen to it. Next time you crack open R, revise a manuscript, or key a plant, I suggest the following for your headphones:

Thursday, August 7, 2014

#OpenAccess Article Alert: Direct and indirect drivers of instream wood in the interior Pacific Northwest, USA

While I briefly touched on the instream wood research that Alan Kasprak, Brett Roper, Christy, Meredith and I completed earlier this year, I wanted to take a moment to discuss both the rationale for our research and the rationale for where we published it in a longer article alert. 

A big question in federal and state aquatic monitoring programs is how riparian vegetation data can be used to make inference about aquatic ecosystems. This is partly because many programs have access to classified NAIP or LANDFIRE imagery that can be used to assess forest and rangeland changes following disturbances like wildfire, management actions like grazing retirement, or road building. Many organizations also measure riparian forest structure or composition as indicators of the integrity of the matrix surrounding a given stream network. This data can be used to assess individual streams over time or to compare the riparian composition and structure of groups of streams across successional or environmental gradients. Riparian vegetation is a bit political however, and fisheries and watershed managers often want to know, "what does riparian vegetation tell us about stream habitat quality, geomorphic change, or management impacts to the channel or fish population?" Because riparian vegetation is the keystone element of many stream networks, conferring shade to channel, stabilizing banks, contributing allochthonous energy to aquatic foodwebs, and forming habitat units like undercut banks, the popular thought has been that vegetation should be an indicator of aquatic processes and/or health. The relationships between riparian vegetation and aquatic ecosystem status have been well elucidated in the macroinvertebrate and fish literature.
Undercut banks are an important fish habitat type that is formed when flows carve out refugia along the active channel under riparian meadow and forest vegetation.

Accordingly, the project that would become our manuscript was undertaken as an early stab at identifying how large-scale monitoring data can be used to make inference about the drivers of aquatic ecosystem services. In the case of small streams, we know that instream wood (also often called large woody debris) is an important driver of channel change in small streams. For example, trees fall into channels where they shape local hydraulics that cause heterogeneity in shear stress that sorts sediment, forces scour and creates complex step-pool riffles (also referred to as plane-bed morphology). These geomorphic units are often tied to fish life cycles as fish use pools to forage or as refugia from predation and riffles for spawning. But what does it take to get trees into the channel as instream wood? Well, intuitively, trees or large shrubs that grow large enough to influence small channels. What changes the composition of a stream's riparian vegetation and will this influence instream wood loading? 

We started by assessing how much wood has been found in 720 low-order streams of the interior Columbia and upper Missouri River basins, USA. We looked at trends between environmental gradients, including climate, management, and matrix forest cover. In short, the coolest, wettest areas exhibited more large, long-lived and persistent tree species like Pseudotsuga menziesii, Thuja plicata, and Picea engelmannii and were unlikely to have recently burned or be heavily grazed. In short, forested areas have different climates than shrubland or grassland ecotones. We also saw that these species that occurred at reaches with heavy instream wood loads had distinct channel morphologies: they were wider, steeper and more likely to connect to steep hillslopes in the surrounding watershed.

A visual on the different riparian ecosystems based on their wood loading. Reaches are shown from first quartile to fourth quartile (least to most wood).
Given the correlations between riparian vegetation composition and instream wood loads and environmental gradients and riparian vegetation, we built a path model to look at how environmental change in climate, channel form and disturbance shape vegetation and how vegetation shapes instream wood. The big takeaway was visualized in a massive spaghetti-monster of a structural model: 
Nobody should ever forgive me for the complexity of this graph. Ever.
In short, wood volume and frequency were positively correlated to the forested vegetation types within the NMDS ordination. Woody vegetation was negatively correlated to grazing and wildfire and positively correlated to precipitation and catchment elevation, which also corresponded to wider channels with lower gradients, a product of numerous wide, low-elevation channels in Idaho's northern panhandle forests. We can infer from these relationships that anything that shapes either the ability of a landscape to grow and maintain forest vegetation or any factor that changes the channel dynamics responsible for transporting large wood will likely change instream wood loads. Accordingly, any area where woody vegetation might be predicted to decline due to climate change or disturbance will likely show less instream wood. In many cases, the relationships could be more complex, such as when a fire or insect outbreak kills trees that are quickly contributed to the active channel, but understory recruitment maintains riparian wood production. These same disturbances might also change channel forms to types that evacuate rather than store wood as water and sediment are rapidly evacuated from hillslopes, reshaping channels in large flow events. While not a conclusive predictive model of future scenarios, we outlined that direct vegetative and indirect climatic and disturbance effects are responsible for how wood loading varies across landscapes. Accordingly, managers can visualize the different gradients across which instream wood targets should be set, modifying goals in areas where wood recruitment is unlikely due to potential riparian vegetation composition.

We chose to publish this article in the open-access riparian ecology journal, Riparian Ecology and Conservation. I learned of the journal by chance in early 2013 when looking around for open access journals that catered to the applied water resources and ecology communities. I was pleased by the quality and thoroughness of the reviews that we received, even if southern hemisphere field work led to a less rapid review process than we had initially anticipated. With a great editorial board that includes Christer Nilsson, John Stella, Henri DeCamps, Lee Brown, and Editor, Yixin Zhang, I think that eventually the journal will rise to mid-level sub-disciplinary prominence amid Wetlands, Hydrobiologia, and River Research and Applications. This may happen quickly as all articles are distributed under a Creative Commons attribution license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).