Earth Notes - Dugout Ranch

Flagstaff, AZ – Earth Notes: Dugout Ranch

The Dugout Ranch sprawls at the door to Canyonlands National Park in southern Utah. One of the oldest cattle ranches in the state, it's now headquarters for The Nature Conservancy's Canyonlands Research Center.

The Conservancy bought the ranch a dozen years ago, and with partners is getting ready to build a center where researchers can live and work. Focusing on the interaction between climate and land uses, their research may shed light on what we can expect, and how we might cope with, climate change on the Colorado Plateau.

The study area ranges from 36 hundred to 12 thousand feet in elevation and sprawls over 860 thousand acres of public and private land. That means abundant opportunities to investigate how climate change will affect agriculture, wildlife, plants, soils and, importantly, flows in the Plateau's two major rivers, the Colorado and the Green.

Some of the projects will use cattle as research tools to see how grazing meshes with climate. Other projects will examine how dust from soil erosion affects snowpacks; they'll also assess rangeland and watershed conditions, model the restoration of pinyon-juniper woodlands, and devise ways to monitor Mexican spotted owls.

All these projects will be set against what could well be a drier, hotter Colorado Plateau. One Nature Conservancy study forecasts that Utah could heat up six to nine degrees by the end of this century. Results from the investigations at the Dugout, and solutions they suggest, will help us respond to that possible reality.

For more information, visit the Canyonlands Research Center.

-Rose Houk