The Canyonlands Research Center, based at The Nature Conservancy’s Dugout Ranch near in Southeast Utah, is an acclaimed outdoor laboratory attracting scientists from throughout the country and around the globe. The Center is a collaborative effort among the Conservancy, universities and public agencies to make key advances in climate science and sustainable land use.
The mission of Canyonlands Research Center is to facilitate research, education, and collaboration for understanding the interactive effects of land use and climate and developing management solutions that meet human needs while maintaining ecological viability on the Colorado Plateau and in semi-arid lands worldwide.
The Colorado Plateau is becoming one of our country’s most popular and conflicted regions – a coveted remnant of American wilderness, a hotbed of growing human pressures and an at-risk home for unique species and systems.
Colorado Plateau: Nowhere Else on Earth
The Colorado Plateau, flanked by the Rocky Mountains on the east and the Great Basin on the west, spans 76,000 square miles across four states, and rises from below 2,000 feet to almost 13,000 feet in elevation. Although it is a desert, the Plateau contains two of the continent’s largest rivers. The Colorado and the Green provide water to millions of people in seven U.S. states and Mexico, including five of the country’s fastest-growing cities.
The complex geology and specialized land forms of the Plateau support numerous species found nowhere else in the world. Plants are the most biologically diverse group, with 300 endemic species found only on the Plateau. The region also provides critical habitat for some of the West’s most charismatic species including desert bighorn sheep, pronghorn and mountain lions as well as a wealth of aquatic species, such as the endangered Colorado pike minnow and humpback chub.
A Growing Need
The Colorado Plateau is facing mounting ecological problems that threaten its lands and waters. Invasive plants and animals, recreation, development and inappropriate grazing are disrupting ecosystems, threatening water resources and devastating native species. More than 150 of the Plateau’s plant and animal species are considered at risk, and 27 species are currently listed as Endangered or Threatened.
In addition, scientists predict that the Colorado River Basin is on track for severe and unprecedented drought which, when combined with higher temperatures, will accelerate the loss of native vegetation and wildlife habitat - encouraging an explosion of invasive species such as cheatgrass - and reduce soil moisture and a range of associated problems, such as:
- Accelerated plant death;
- Increased susceptibility of soils to wind erosion;
- More wind-deposited dust on western snowpacks; and,
- Accelerated snowmelt and decreased runoff, threatening the quality and quantity of Colorado River water.
The Canyonlands Research Center and the scientists, agencies and partners involved are working to address these growing threats using on-the-ground research and developing working solutions for land managers throughout the West.
Designed to address the most pressing challenges facing rural Utah, the Canyonlands Research Center will provide new information about how temperature, rainfall and land uses combine to affect the productivity and health of natural resources on the Colorado Plateau.
With The Nature Conservancy’s Dugout Ranch at its core, the Canyonlands Research Center Study Area spans lands managed by the USDA Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and Canyonlands National Park, giving scientists the opportunity to study wide gradients of elevation, ecology and land-use histories. The Center is also situated along the boundary of the Southwestern monsoon climate zone, making it particularly sensitive to climatic variation.
The Right Science
The Center brings together scientists, public land managers, ranchers and other local stakeholders to answer the questions that will define the future of the Colorado Plateau's environment and economy. Research topics are designed to translate into land management tactics and strategies that will produce tangible results. Answers generated at the Center will help rural Utah as it strives to:
- Maintain multiple land uses that meet human needs in an ecologically-sustainable fashion.
- Ensure adequate water quantity and quality.
- Control invasive species, which promote massive fires and degrade streams and soils.
The Canyonlands Research Center is located at The Nature Conservancy's Dugout Ranch — a gateway to the Canyonlands National Park, 20 miles northwest of Monticello. Spanning over 3,000 square kilometers with an environmental gradient ranging from 1,100-3,600 meters, the Center’s study area in comprised of lands managed by the USDA Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service. As such, scientists have the opportunity to study wide gradients of elevation, ecology and land-use histories, making the Center an ideal location for research on the effects of climate on ecosystem processes and community dynamics. The Center is also situated along the boundary of the southwestern monsoon climate zone, making it particularly sensitive to climatic variation.