Restoring the West (#RTW2014) speaker preview


Next week, beginning on Tuesday, October 21, the 2014 offering of Utah State's Restoring the West conference kicks off. This year, the agenda is stacked with global experts in riparian ecology, conservation, restoration and management. While the whole group is excellent from top to bottom, I'm particularly excited to see a few talks. To preview the conference, I've briefly outlined the speakers whom I'm really stoked for. In chronological order of their Restoring the West talk times, here are five speakers that I'm especially looking forward to:

1. David M. Merritt, USDA Forest Service, Fort Collins, CO, USA

Dave Merritt needs little introduction to those who work on rivers of the northern hemisphere. At the turn of the millennium Dave wrote a seminal paper with David Cooper that compared the vegetation of the regulated Green and free-flowing Yampa Rivers. At the time, this study was one of the only comparisons in vegetation between regulated and unregulated rivers, and by far the largest. It brought in the era of environmental flows and stream conservation made famous by LeRoy Poff, Julian Olden, Christer Nilsson, et al. and has been cited nearly 300 times. Dave followed this up by doing his PhD work with Ellen Wohl, also at CSU, leaving a paper trail a mile long and a hundred feet wide. One part plant ecologist, one part hydrologist and another part geomorphologist, Dave writes big papers on big, often regulated rivers, often with strong conservation and management implications. Most recently, he has been pushing forward the concept of riparian flow guilds, a trait-based approach to assessing riparian plant diversity in response to hydrologic variability. I was excited to give Dave a call when I worked at the USFS and find out that he was as approachable and pleasant as he is creative. I'm elated that he agreed to keynote day one of Restoring the West this year.

RTW Talk: The Colorado River: Supply and Demand - Tuesday - 8:40am

Recommended paper:
Merritt, D.M., M.L. Scott, N.L. Poff, G.T. Auble, and D.A. Lytle. 2010. Theory, methods, and tools for determining environmental flows for riparian vegetation: riparian vegetation-flow response guilds. Freshwater Biology 55:206-225.

BDA - Northern Utah

2. Lindsay V. Reynolds, United States Geological Survey, Fort Collins, CO, USA

Like John Stella below, I heard of Lindsay Reynolds' excellent work because I was a fan of her advisor's work. Lindsay worked with David Cooper at Colorado State during her dissertation research where she used species distribution models to predict the spread of Tamarisk across the West and performed controlled in situ experiments on Tamarisk removal. She complemented this effort collaborating on a paper on how carbon dioxide and climate change will affect Western dryland rivers. Lindsay also dropped two recent papers in River Research and Applications on the role of abandoned channels in serving as refugia for riparian plant diversity and on how Russian olive and tamarisk invade streams. Lindsay is one of the top young riparian ecologists in North America and maybe the world and we're very fortunate that she's coming to Logan to participate in Restoring the West.

RTW Talk: Climate Change and Riparian Forest Communities: Implications for Small Streams in the Upper Colorado River Basin - Tuesday - 9:20am

Recommended paper:
Reynolds, L. V., D. J. Cooper, and N. T. Hobbs. 2014. Drivers of riparian tree invasion on a
desert stream. River Research and Applications 30:60-70.

Goodell Creek, WA, USA
3. John C. Stella, SUNY Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse, NY, USA

I'm not sure when I first heard of John Stella's work. I had heard of his PhD advisor at UC Berkeley, Matt Kondolf through some of the stream restoration papers of the late 90s and early 2000s. As a recovering physiological ecologist, I really enjoyed seeing how John linked environmental processes around rivers to the diversity and distributions of riparian forests. It seemed that John was looking at the environmental drivers and the biotic communities that responded to them, often with equal understanding and emphasis on processes as much as patterns of biodiversity. In 2012, I had the pleasure of meeting John at a beaver and stream restoration short course at USU, and have been impressed when we get to talk shop and I hear what he and his students are up to. To boot, he worked with Alex Fremier before Alex got his faculty post.

RTW Talk: Riparian Forest Dynamics and Management Challenges on Mediterranean-Climate Rivers - Tuesday - 2:00pm

Recommended paper:
Stella, J.C., M.K. Hayden*, J.J. Battles, H. PiƩgay, S. Dufour, and A.K. Fremier. 2011. The role of abandoned channels as refugia for sustaining pioneer riparian forest ecosystems. Ecosystems 14: 776-790. DOI: 10.1007/s10021-011-9446-6

Horshoe Bend, Colorado River, AZ, USA
4. Alex Fremier, Washington State University, Pullman, WA, USA

I first saw Alex Fremier's work in an issue of Wetlands, where he modeled the distribution of a riparian shrub. While the article wasn't ground-breaking, I remember looking into his vita and being blown away by the breadth and depth of his science. I would call Alex a landscape ecologist and conservation biologist with a tendency towards riparia and an aptitude for the spatial side of ecology. He is now working on large-scale and process-based conservation planning in tropical agro-forest ecosystems and rivers of the North American West.

RTW Talk: A Riparian Conservation Network to Develop Ecological Resilience - Tuesday - 3:30pm

Recommended paper:
Harper, E.B., J.C. Stella, and A.K. Fremier. 2011. Using ecologically meaningful sensitivity analyses to quantify complex model uncertainty: A case study of Fremont cottonwood (Populus fremontii) population dynamics. Ecological Applications. 21(4):1225-1240

Beaver Creek, UT, USA
5. Heida Diefenderfer, Battelle Pacific Northwest Lab, Sequim, WA, USA

As a young M.S. student at UW, my advisor advised me to get in touch with Heida since she had recently completed her PhD in our department while working at the Pacific Northwest Lab. I called Heida and she took hours to fill me in on her work that spanned the eelgrass beds of Western Washington to restored and reference Sitka spruce swamps in the Columbia River estuary. She was the first "wow" scientist I met. As in, "Wow, she can do it all...and wow, she knows so many different ecosystems so well. Wow."

Heida has worked extensively in the tidal portions of the Columbia River below the Bonneville Dam. Her work is also interdisciplinary, spanning geomorphology and ecology, both with a heavy restoration focus. She currently works to bridge applied ecology and landscape ecology to help decision-makers plan for and prioritize restoration across the Columbia River Basin. She will be delivering the closing keynote for Restoring the West, which also serves as the QCNR seminar for the week.

RTW Talk: Evidence-Based Evaluation of Hydrologic Reconnection of Floodplain Wetlands: Lower Columbia River and Estuary - Wednesday - 4:00pm

Recommended paper:
Diefenderfer HL, RM Thom, GE Johnson, JR Skalski, KA Vogt, BD Ebberts, GC Roegner, and E Dawley. 2011. A Levels-of-Evidence Approach for Assessing Cumulative Ecosystem Response to Estuary and River Restoration Programs. Ecological Restoration 29(1-2):111-132.


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