Research Associate Program
The Great Basin Institute’s Research Associates provide technical assistance, research, analysis and data to support the conservation and management of natural and cultural resource in the West. Through the following research programs, the Institute helps federal land management agencies, state wildlife management departments and other resource-management organizations make sound and informed management decisions: Rare plant inventories; Mapping and treating exotic species; Surveying recreational use and management activities; Landscape Health Assessments and habitat monitoring; Inventorying and monitoring wildlife populations; Inventorying and monitoring cultural resources; Monitoring and evaluating restoration initiatives. These research projects provide opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students, recent graduates, and experienced to begin or enhance their careers in resource management, conservation, stewardship, and other related fields. RAs can also provide leadership with project design, coordination, management and follow-through monitoring for NCC crew work and other projects. RA projects span the West, from coastal headlands to mixed conifer forests, riparian zones, high mountains and a variety of arid habitats. Research Associate Program project partners include the National Park Service, US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, US Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as numerous state and county agencies and NGOs.
The Research Associate Program aims to facilitate professional experiences for individuals who wish to apply field-based conservation and land management principles in an array of settings. In the Mojave Desert, Great Basin and Lake Tahoe Basin.
Accurate data and sound science are necessary to help managers make informed decisions regarding the land, wildlife, cultural and other resources under their care. Since 2005, the Institute’s Research Associate Program has provided research, technical assistance, quality data and expert analysis to our federal, state and nonprofit partners. Our projects and studies provide excellent opportunities to facilitate professional experiences for individuals who wish to enrich and apply field-based conservation and land management principles in an array of settings throughout the West—from the California coast to Lake Tahoe, the Sagebrush Steppe, and throughout the Mojave, Great Basin and Sonoran deserts. The Institute’s project partners include National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Forest Service, and a variety of state and local natural resource agencies and nonprofit organizations.
The RA program bridges the gap between Nevada Conservation Corps field crews and agency partner staff. The Program provides excellent opportunities for recent college graduates, graduate students, or experienced professionals looking to begin or enhance a career in environmental management, conservation, stewardship, and other related fields.
GBI also provides a collaborative bridge between university academics and resource management agencies. University credit is often available to those interested in using their field experience to support their academic goals. And a Research Associate position can be the next best step for recent graduates to apply their academic learning to real-world resource management challenges.
A central focus of GBI is education and professional development, facilitating experience in project management, coordination, reporting and administration skills. The RA program often bridges the gap between Nevada Conservation Corps field crews and agency partner staff; it is not uncommon for someone to matriculate from an NCC crew, to an RA position, to an agency staff position. We consider our program successful when our RAs move on to successful careers managing natural resources elsewhere.
Here is a roundup of some of the Institute’s current and recent Research Associate projects:
ASSESSMENT, INVENTORY AND MONITORING (AIM)
To manage renewable resources effectively, the BLM and other agencies need information at multiple scales about resource extent, condition and trend, stressors, and the location and nature of authorized uses, disturbances, and projects. The AIM strategy is an attempt to create standards in resource data collection that would be shared across jurisdictions and agencies, and applicable at both pasture and regional levels. Such standardized data collection will allow a US Forest Service hydrologist in central Nevada to make use of riparian monitoring data gathered by the BLM in the same region, or sage-grouse biologists in Idaho to consider data collected by mule deer biologists in northern Nevada. In other words, such data will help inform best-practice decision making for multiple resources in multiple jurisdictions at multiple levels.
In partnership with the BLM’s National Operations Center and the ARS Jornada Experimental Range, GBI Research Associates have completed pilot applications of AIM studies in Nevada, Idaho, California and Utah. AIM strategies have been implemented in the following projects:
Land Health Assessments. In order to collect accurate information about the health of sage-grouse habitats in Nevada, Nevada BLM has deployed GBI Research Associates to collect quantitative and qualitative data on vegetation, soils, hydrology and ecosystem processes across Nevada. To date, RAs have collected detailed data on more than 1,500 survey sites across Nevada, with an additional 300 survey sites documented in Idaho, Calfornia and Utah.
Vegetation Habitat Assessments. In partnership with the Nevada Department of Wildlife and the Nevada Partners for Development and Conservation, RAs lead teams of AmeriCorps field technicians to gather data in northern Nevada areas, where habitat restoration activities are scheduled to take place or are currently underway. Field crews use quantitative AIM monitoring techniques at these areas to assess restoration effectiveness over the years.
VHA crews also use AIM monitoring techniques to assess endangered and imperiled species’ habitat. Some examples include pygmy rabbit habitat that was fragmented by construction of the Ruby Pipeline across northern Nevada; Pinyon jay habitat in the Desatoya Mountains, where nest locations are being monitored; and private lands in northeastern Nevada with crucial sage-grouse habitat. In its fourth year (2014), the VHA project added an additional field crew to monitor riparian areas and restoration efforts in the Walker River watershed.
Emergency Stabilization and Restoration. Fire regimes have been altered in the Great Basin physiographic province due to the invasion of cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum), which creates a carpet of fine fuels in shrublands. Sagebrush ecosystems that evolved with fire return intervals of 30 to 110 years are now burning much more frequently (every 5 to 10 years), preventing the re-establishment of native shrubs and grasses. If measures are not taken to restore burned shrublands the result is often a fire-prone monoculture of cheatgrass, which is less valuable to wildlife and livestock.
The priorities of the BLM’s ES&R program are two-fold. The first objective is to stabilize soils, reducing their susceptibility to wind and water erosion in order to protect watersheds. The second objective is to rehabilitate rangelands to productive, functional ecosystems that can provide for wildlife, grazing and recreation. Several native wildlife species are sagebrush-obligates, including sage-grouse and pygmy rabbit, which are candidates for listing under the Endangered Species Act by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Restoring sagebrush habitats is essential for the survival of these species.
After wildfires scorch the landscape, GBI’s Research Associates employ AIM protocols and other methods to support these efforts in Nevada, Idaho and Northern California, helping to identify areas that have high risk for erosion and weeds, and to monitor the survival of native sprouts.
OTHER NON-AIM MONITORING AND INVENTORY PROJECTS
Mojave Inventory & Monitoring Network Spring Surveys. Great Basin Institute has provided field technicians to implement Level I Spring Inventories in Death Valley National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, and Lake Mead National Recreation Area.
Hiking cross-country, the team collected the following data on hundreds of springs: water quality and turbidity data; careful field notes on source substrata, surrounding plant community, indication of use by wildlife, and photopoints; as well as data on the presence of rare, endemic spring snails. Upon completion of the field surveys, the RAs built a MS Access database with detailed biological and hydrologic data and photos of each spring.
Northern Nevada Spring Surveys. In Nevada’s Winnemucca District, two GBI RAs have spent the last two field seasons hiking the backcountry through prime sage-grouse habitat, conducting an inventory and assessment of springs, which provide essential brood habitat for sage-grouse and are valuable to other wildlife, ranching operations, hunters and other recreational users. The surveys assess the condition, health and flow of springs and provide inventories of native and invasive plants, and impacts from horses, cattle or people. In 2014 alone, the RAs completed inventories and assessments on more than 300 springs, some of which had never been documented before. This research provides the BLM with an up-to-date assessment of springs in the district, as well as information about management actions that may be necessary to maintain the health of these important sources of life in the arid backcountry.
Mojave Network Upland Monitoring. In 2014, GBI signed an agreement with the National Park Service, Mojave Network (Great Basin NP, Mojave National Preserve, Lake Mead NRA, Death Valley NP, Manzanar National Historic Site, Joshua Tree NP, and Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument) for Research Associate botanists to implement integrated Upland Monitoring protocol on upland areas (away from riparian areas) throughout these parks. As part of the Vital Signs Monitoring Program, RAs will collect standardized, scientifically rigorous data on vegetation change, invasive species and soils, which will help NPS resource specialists manage the parks’ natural resources in perpetuity.
Proper Function Condition (PFC) monitoring. A team of Ecosystem Monitoring Specialists (RAs) support resource monitoring efforts in the BLM’s Battle Mountain District. The primary task is to identify riparian-wetland problem areas and/or management issues in accordance with Land-Use Plan Management Objectives and Resource Advisory Council Standards and Guidelines. The PFC assessment involves qualitative assessment of riparian-wetland areas to determine the accepted minimal standard of functioning condition for streams.
The RAs employ a standard checklist that addresses the hydrology, vegetation, and soils of each site. The data gathered in these assessments help the BLM identify trouble spots, which can then be addressed through management actions in order to bring them closer to PFC.
The RAs also constructed riparian exclosures in target grazing allotments, which were later used to compare plant growth and composition with areas outside the exclosures left open to grazing.
Riparian Monitoring. In partnership with the BLM’s Winnemucca Field Office, a GBI Research Associate has established and implemented a monitoring program to support informed range management of riparian areas that were recently affected by the Holloway and Hansen wildfires, and to assess the quality of streams that have been known to support populations of Lahontan cutthroat trout (LCT). The RA employed the Multiple Indicator Monitoring (MIM) stream survey protocol, which provides a standardized robust assessment of indicators, such as stubble height and alteration. Additional MIM parameters (e.g. greenline-to-greenline width and residual pool depth) were measured on several streams to provide a better characterization of LCT habitat. The MIM data and photographs collected during this monitoring effort will establish a baseline against which future changes can be compared. A total of 16 LCT occupied or recovery stream reaches were surveyed using MIM, and 6 of these included the full suite of 10 MIM parameters.
This monitoring led to informed decision-making on the status of eight grazing pastures and established a good starting point for tracking the future health of water resources within the Winnemucca District.
Water Monitoring and Management. At Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, “fossil” water flows from a vast underground aquifer into the springs of Ash Meadows. This water is a critical component of the aquatic systems supporting the refuge’s many endemic species. RAs monitor the output and quality and quantity of water at major springs and wells across the refuge.
At Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge, Research Associates collected surface water, ground water, weather, plant inventory and soil data in order to characterize soils, determine water quality and characteristics, establish vegetation types and estimate evapotranspiration (ET) for the refuge. Using wetland maps from the National Wetland Inventory and USGS studies of ET for other locations in Nevada, the RAs established ET rates for the lakes on the refuge. The RAs returned monthly to test water quality parameters (dissolved oxygen, conductivity, pH, and temperature) at six sites.
WILDLIFE AND HABITAT
Sky Island Botany, Forestry and Wildlife Surveys. The Spring Mountains National Recreation Area (SMNRA) includes 316,000 acres of National Forest system land west of Las Vegas. Rising to nearly 12,000 feet at the summit of Mt. Charleston, the Spring Mountains comprise six life zones, hiking trails, springs, extensive wilderness areas and over 50 species unique to the Spring Mountains.
GBI Research Associates have been actively working to conduct flora and fauna surveys in the SMNRA since 2004. Over the years, RAs have conducted vegetation surveys to identify plants of management concern, surveys for butterfly host plants, as well as neotropical migrant bird surveys, acoustical bat inventories, and northern goshawk and owl surveys.
Wild Horse and Burro Herd Management. In southern Nevada, RAs collect information regarding wild horse and burro populations to help find a balance between wild horse and burro populations and other public land users. Overarching objectives for this program include assessing rangeland health in the Spring Mountains and Gold Butte Heard Management Areas (HMA); developing Herd Management Area Plans (HMAPs) that guide the long-term management of wild horse and burro populations; improving water sources and monitoring the spring/water development flow in the Nevada Wild Horse Range (NWHR) and the Red Rock HMAs; as well as supporting emergency gathers on the NWHR.
Desert Tortoise Conservation. The desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) is federally listed as a threatened species north and west of the Colorado River under the Endangered Species Act. In partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service since 2007, GBI has fielded an annual team of Research Associates to conduct Line Distance Sampling (LDS) monitoring of eastern Mojave Desert tortoise populations in Nevada, Arizona, and Utah. As part of a 25-year monitoring program, LDS monitoring and tracking of radio telemetered tortoises takes place in April and May of each year. This intensive monitoring effort also requires a dedicated technical support staff including a project coordinator, data specialist, and GIS specialist.
Pacific Fisher. For the last seven years, GBI conservation biologist Rick A. Sweitzer, PhD, has been studying the population dynamics of a small, isolated population of fishers (Pekania pennanti) in the southern Sierra Nevada, California near Yosemite National Park. Fishers in this region are struggling to exist in the face of threats from logging, forest fires, collisions with vehicles on highways, and poisons being used around illegal marijuana grow sites between Yosemite and Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks.
As a member of the USDA Region 5 Forest Service Fisher Technical Team, Dr. Sweitzer has contributed analyses and results from his research and helped produce a Fisher Conservation Assessment that will guide fisher management in forest ecosystems across California. The work of Dr. Sweitzer and his cooperators with the USDA Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station on the biology of fishers has been valuable and timely. This because on October 7, 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) proposed to list the west coast population of fisher as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Sage-Grouse. With the impending US Fish & Wildlife Service decision whether to list the greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act, GBI Research Associates have supported informed studies to help agencies better manage the species. GBI RAs have participated in population monitoring, trapping, radio telemetry and habitat assessments across northern Nevada, in Idaho and in California. See also Landscape Health Assessments,
Flying Squirrel. In 2010, GBI Research Associates, in partnership with Nevada Department of Wildlife and Nevada State Parks, led a team of researchers that conducted population surveys of northern flying squirrels (Glaucomys sabrinus) in the Carson Range along Lake Tahoe’s east shore. Using traps and radio-telemetry collars, the researchers provided data about population make-up, density and habitat requirements about this little-known nocturnal species. The study resulted in a Habitat Suitability Model that will inform land management decisions in the Tahoe Basin moving forward.
California Condor. In 2014, GBI signed a cooperative agreement with the US Fish & Wildlife Service to support monitoring and management of the California Condor Recovery program in California’s Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge. GBI Research Associates will help manage the refuge and coordinate volunteer and public outreach efforts in order to bring greater public understanding of, and appreciation for, this noble endangered species.
Habitat Restoration. When the plants aren’t growing and the birds aren’t moving in the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area, GBI RAs help implement streambed stabilization, native tree planting and oversee NCC crews to eradicate illegal off-highway vehicle roads that fragment and scar the native ecosystem. To improve the success of restoration, RAs collect, clean, preserve and plant native and rare plant species seeds as part of the BLM’s “Seeds of Success” program.
Arid Lands Restoration. The growth of the Las Vegas Valley has led to increased recreational use of off-highway vehicle (OHV) traffic, which has resulted in an increase in the number of illegal routes and degraded natural environments. Illegal vehicle use destroys habitat for many special status species including the Las Vegas bearpoppy (Arctomecon californica) and threatened desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii). Research Associates work with BLM officials to identify and assess trouble spots, then coordinate efforts to restore habitat, monitoring and coordination the treatment of invasive plants, and coordinate the collection of native seeds for use in restoration activities.
Moapa National Wildlife Refuge. Located northeast of Las Vegas, the 12-acre Moapa Valley National Wildlife Refuge (MVNWR) was the first refuge created to protect an endangered fish, the Moapa dace (Moapa coriacea). GBI Research Associates have coordinated restoration efforts on the refuge, by removing old buildings, concrete channels, swimming pools, hundreds of non-native palm trees; monitoring and removing weeds and non-native fish, then restoring natural water flows in springs and water channels.
Cultural Resource Surveys. Since August 2008, GBI RAs have worked collaboratively with Lake Mead National Recreational Area staff to conduct archaeological field surveys and site documentation, and laboratory analysis and processing. Field work included pedestrian surveys, site recording and site condition assessments on the Shivwits Plateau in preparation for prescribed burns in 2009. Site condition assessments are also being conducted at previously recorded archeological sites in the Lake Mead area to monitor disturbances that impact the integrity of these cultural resources and identify threats that impact them in the foreseeable future.
Abandoned Mineral Lands. During the early years of mining, little thought was given to what would happen to a mine after its productivity ended. As the years progressed and more people started living in and exploring Nevada, abandoned mines have become a major safety hazard to hikers, off-highway vehicle users, pets and curious individuals. GBI’s Research Associate Program, in partnership with the BLM, conducts cultural resource assessment for the Abandoned Mineral Lands (AML) Program. The goal of the AML archaeology program is to assist the BLM and the Nevada Division of Minerals in assessing the impacts to cultural resources that may occur during the closure of abandoned historic mine hazards. The goal of this program is to keep people and pets safe, while preserving the history of mining in Nevada.
GBI’s expert archaeologists address how to make hazards, such as shafts and adits, safer by assessing their archaeology and historical integrity. All assessments are completed in accordance with BLM and State Historic Preservation Office standards. Archival research, historical photographs, literature, and the artifacts surrounding the hazards and their current state of preservation are all taken into account.
Since the beginning of the AML program in 1987, more than 17,000 hazards have been identified. Of those, more than 13,000 have been closed. GBI has been involved since 2010 and is currently the BLM’s only partner in Nevada conducting AML assessments.
Soldier Meadows Archaeological Survey. In 2013, in partnership with the BLM, Black Rock Field Office, a GBI Research Associate archaeologist conducted a cultural resource inventory of the Soldier Meadows Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) within the Black Rock Desert-High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area (NCA).
The survey provided useful data concerning the nature and extent of prehistoric cultures that lived in the area for thousands of years before the modern era, as well as a better understanding of Pioneer use along a two-mile section of the Applegate Lassen Emigrant Trail.
Preserve America Cultural Resource Inventory. In the Spring Mountains NRA in southern Nevada, RAs have helped to implement an inter-agency proposal in support of the Preserve America program in the following ways: (a) identify and evaluate cultural resources, (b) create and implement heritage resource education, outreach and interpretation, c) consult with and involve pertinent Tribes in the Heritage resource program, and d) implement data management, mitigation, and conservation measures for cultural resources.
In order to accomplish these goals, RAs worked with Forest Service resource specialists to conduct cultural surveys (Section 110) of prehistoric rock art, 19th Century mining towns, and Euro-American emigrant trails and roads. The RAs then entered survey data into a site database, which will inform the planning and development of new projects on the SMNRA.
WILDERNESS AND RECREATION
Recreation and Wilderness Monitoring. Nevada is home to 3.4 million acres of Congressionally designated wilderness. To help federal land management agencies maintain the natural character and primitive-and-unconfined-recreational opportunities of the wilderness areas, Research Associates gather baseline data on wilderness characteristics and visitor use, protecting important natural resources by mitigating problems and educating wilderness users and the general public.
The BLM’s Battle Mountain District does not have designated wilderness. Instead, it has numerous Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs), which the BLM must manage in order to protect the areas’ wilderness qualities. RAs used GPS units, digital cameras and specific inventory guidelines to collect spatial data and photo points on 351,219 acres within seven WSAs – Morey Peak, South Reveille, Rawhide Mountain, Fandango, Kawich, Palisade Mesa, and The Wall. Data gathered assesses routes, route type, route suitability, route points, range improvements, mining disturbance, signs, campsites, or any other form of disturbance.
*RAs also conducted other recreation inventories, including motorized and non-motorized trail inventories, campsite inventories, and post-race/event monitoring.
*In anticipation of expansion of the Hickison Recreation Site, RAs flagged 18 miles of hiking and horse trails and collected data on campground roads, features and equipment.
*RAs flagged 32 miles of proposed OHV trails in the Shoshone Range.
*Following the “Vegas to Reno” race, RAs performed a post-race assessment by traveling along the route, identifying major incursions off the race route, deep ruts in road, as well as trash, vehicle parts, and signage left behind.
In the BLM’s Winnemucca District, RAs employed standardized monitoring methodologies to complete wilderness monitoring throughout the Black Rock Desert-High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trail NCA and its 10 associated wilderness areas. Specific projects included campsite and road inventories, as well as rehabilitation activities, including sign/post installation and road decommissioning. Rehabilitation projects coincided with public outreach/volunteers events to engage and inform public lands users around Tread Lightly, Leave-No-Trace principles, as well as the Wilderness Act of 1964.
Trails. Quality hiking, biking, equestrian or motorized trail can be deceptive; although easy to travel, they require skill in planning and construction to withstand people, elements and the test of time. GBI Research Associates support agency planning and implementation of diverse recreation, wilderness and trails projects, from initial public scoping, project design and alignment, and NEPA clearance. RAs also provide leadership to our NCC crews to construct tread, retaining walls (dry stone masonry), drainages, bridges, French dams, ADA-compliant features and general maintenance. RAs have contributed to the design, construction and maintenance of trails in the Mt. Charleston Wilderness, Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, the Ruby Mountains, Great Basin National Park, and Lake Tahoe (the Flume Trail and the Tahoe Rim Trail).
Red Rock Canyon and Mt. Charleston Climbing Inventory. Red Rock Canyon and Mt. Charleston are home to some of the premier rock climbing areas in the world, which also happen to be in three designated wilderness areas. In cooperation with the BLM and USFS, three RAs assisted with efforts to update the Wilderness Recreation Management Plans for these areas. The three-person climbing crew mapped and cataloged known and developed climbing routes using climbing guidebooks and the local climbing community as references, creating the first complete climbing inventory for Red Rocks and Mt. Charleston. Each route was inventoried, capturing spatial data regarding the location of climbing routes and approaches. The RAs digitized these data using GIS software, which has helped the BLM and U.S. Forest Service evaluate climbing specific impacts on the desert and mountain environments.
ENVIRONMENTAL OUTREACH AND EDUCATION
As the population of Southern Nevada and surrounding areas continues to expand, public outreach and education can to help people from all cultures understand, appreciate and respect the fragile Mojave Desert. Four Research Associates have helped federal agencies provide outreach and education programs:
*Curriculum-based field trip and in classroom programs for school students in the Clark County School District, especially schools with a high percentage of English Language Learners;
*Interpretive hikes, short talks, campground programs, library programs, and outreach at special events and community events, and
*Informal roving interpretation to the public at a variety of locations on foot, in vehicles, boats, and on bicycles.
Tahoe Rim Trail. The Tahoe Rim Trail Association (TRTA) was established in 1981 with the goal of completing a 165-mile loop trail around the ridge tops of Lake Tahoe. With this goal completed, the main focus of TRTA has become trail improvements and outreach. Working closely with Nevada Conservation Corps crews to meet these goals, TRTA has also taken an active role in environmental education and interpretation. As part of this effort, a GBI RA coordinated and implemented interpretive programs, including “Leave No Trace” and others related to the Tahoe Rim Trail and Lake Tahoe basin. In addition, the RA presented environmental education programs, prepared a teacher’s guidebook for local schools, planned and publicized special events for visitors, and researched and developed outreach materials related to the Tahoe Rim Trail and Lake Tahoe basin.
Post-fire Monitoring and Rehabilitation. Following wildfires at Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge over the last decade, RAs have mapped invasive weeds in the area and worked with U.S. Fish & Wildlife, National Park Service and U.S. Geological Survey staff to set up monitoring sites, and test experimental weed-treatment and native-planting methods. These projects have helped refuge managers establish effective fire-response strategies and provide proper funding levels for subsequent stages of the Ash Fire rehabilitation process.
Aquatic Invasive Species Eradication and Monitoring. Ash Meadows NWR is home to three federally-listed endangered endemic fish species as well as several endemic aquatic invertebrate species, which are threatened by the presence of at least 10 known exotic aquatic species. RAs at Ash Meadows support efforts to eradicate black bullheads (Ameiurus melas), largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) and green sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus), red swamp crayfish (Procambarus clarki) and mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis) in order to help endangered and endemic aquatic species reclaim their native habitat.
Weeds. In partnership with the US Forest Service, GBI RAs help implement Nevada’s statewide weed management program. Noxious weeds and invasive species more broadly continue to be one of the biggest environmental dangers facing the state. RAs work throughout the state to inventory, map and treat noxious weed populations on both wilderness and non-wilderness lands. The GIS map databases created and maintained by RAs serve as the guiding management tool to direct and monitoring weed-eradication efforts now and into the future.
Road Monitoring, Rehabilitation and Designation. The growing population and popularity of Mesquite, NV, and northeast Clark County in general, have greatly increased attention to the Gold Butte area and, with it, an increase in illegal road usage and natural habitat disturbance. The largest source of damage to the area is the inappropriate use of OHVs and careless campers that set up camp outside of pre-existing camp areas, thus expanding human impact. As part of the BLM’s Travel Management Plan for the region, Research Associates in the Roads Designation Program inventory both designated routes and inappropriate vehicle use in the region’s 500,000 acres of Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACECs), then coordinate NCC crews to decommission illegal user-created impacts and sign designated routes.
BLM Battle Mountain, Winnemucca and Elko districts. In order to support the BLM’s mandate to “provide a broad spectrum of resource-dependent recreation opportunities to meet the needs and demands of Public Land visitors,” GBI Research Associates have supported travel management planning throughout Nevada by completing and digitizing route inventories throughout the state. Armed with ATVs, 4WD trucks and Trimble GPS units, RAs collected data on location, condition and management needs for BLM databases.
U.S. Forest Service, Ely and Elko Ranger Districts. Travel Management is a U.S. Forest Service process designed to control and mitigate the widespread growth of user-created roads. As with the BLM, GBI Research Associates conducted surveys and assessments of unpaved forest routes across northern Nevada. The data collected by the RAs helped USFS resource specialists (including Range, Fuels, Recreation, Minerals, Fire, and Archeology) assess the impact of visitation and use on their particular resource. This worked led to the creation of a standardized Travel Management database used by the FS to document routes, identify sensitive resources, measure impacts to these resources, and inform mitigation, restoration, repair, law enforcement actions and road closures.
As a result of Travel Management planning, the USFS Ely Ranger District added more than 220 miles of existing user-created roads to their official road system. GBI RAs conducted a complete road inventory of these routes to measure the impact of increased visitation on archeological resources. Over six months, the RAs added 48 unknown archeological sites to the Ely Ranger District’s records, monitored more than 15 known sites, recorded 63 isolated finds, and presented a talk at the Nevada Archeological Association on Aurum, Nevada – a previously undiscovered mining operation north of Ely, NV.
Statewide Recreational Trail Inventory. The overall goals of the Statewide Recreational Trail Inventory were to (a) develop a comprehensive listing of recreational trails within the State of Nevada and (b) create and maintain a website of this information for public use. With support from the Nevada Recreational Trails Program (RTP), two GBI RAs partnered with the Bureau of Land Management, US Forest Service, National Park Service, Nevada Division of State Parks, and numerous county and city recreation planners throughout the state to mine existing data. They followed up with site visits during field season, collecting and documenting directions, conditions, facilities and regulations, and capturing GPS data and photographs at trailheads and other significant locations.
GBI launched NVTrailMaps.com in 2008. The site provides a clearinghouse of information for all the recreational trails within the State of Nevada, motorized and non-motorized, while helping to disperse recreational trail use, encourage proper use of trails and public lands, increase tourism, and provide an effective management tool.
Desert Clean-Up. Las Vegas has substantial illegal dumping and graffiti problems, as do most towns within Clark and southern Nye counties. In 2007, the BLM responded by creating the Desert Clean Up program as part of the larger Don’t Trash Nevada (donttrashnevada.org) effort. Supported by the federal land management agencies, the Southern Nevada Health District, and city and county offices, Research Associates organize concerned citizens to complete community clean-ups. Empowering people to improve their own communities fosters a sense of empowerment and responsibility that helps curb dumping at its source.
At Lake Mead National Recreation Area, GBI Research Associates have worked with the NPS botanist and other resource specialists to decommission illegal OHV routes, plant native species and harvest seeds; conduct trail inventories. RAs have also evaluated the impacts of fencing on rare and endemic plant species—such as Sticky Buckwheat (Eriogonum viscidulum)—recreation opportunities and other natural resources. Fences throughout Lake Mead restrict cattle, burro, and vehicular traffic movement around sensitive areas. RAs also developed a method for assessing the impact of cattle and burro populations, established fencing and grazing exclosures, and completed an experiment to measure the effect of grazing exclosures on sensitive plants like Sticky Buckwheat.
Native Plant Nursery. At Lake Mead NRA, a GBI RA was responsible for the day-to-day management of the Lake Mead Native Plant Nursery. The nursery grows plants and stores seeds from barrel cactus (Ferocactus cylindraceus), Goodings willow (Salix gooddingii), and cottonwood (Populus fremontii) among others. All plants produced support restoration efforts throughout southern Nevada.
Visitor Use Surveys. In addition to being a major tourist destination, the Las Vegas metropolitan area has been one of the fastest growing urban areas in the nation for decades. As a result, increasing numbers of residents and tourists are looking to adjacent federal lands for outdoor recreation opportunities.
In response, GBI collaborated with the BLM, National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to implement a first-of-its-kind National Visitor Use Monitoring (NVUM) survey. Standardized survey protocols and questionnaires were used to gain a better understanding of visitor and non-visitor preferences and to examine recreational needs and trends in southern Nevada.
After RAs conducted more than 750 surveys, the results helped land managers better protect natural resources, while providing high-quality visitor experiences.
In cooperation with Nevada Division of State Parks, GBI RAs implemented a year-long visitor use survey project for the Nevada Division of State Parks. Two GBI Research Associates traversed the state to survey visitors at all 23 Nevada State Parks. In addition to basic demographic data, the Division was particularly interested in learning and understanding what users liked about each facility and what improvements should be made. These data were analyzed by State Park staff to make better-informed management decisions about their parks.
Eastern Nevada Wilderness. GBI Research Associates have supported the monitoring and management of designated wilderness areas in Ely BLM district since the designation of wilderness areas in Lincoln County in 2004. GBI has supported the writing of wilderness plans and NEPA clearances for wilderness projects, installing and maintaining signs, monitoring wilderness boundaries, visitor use, vehicle trespass, outfitter and guide activities, while providing outreach and education to wilderness users. Both Dave Jacobsen and Emily Harris performed their duties so well as RAs, the BLM hired them into permanent positions managing wilderness and other non-renewable resources for the BLM.
FUELS AND FORESTRY
In the Lake Tahoe Basin, GBI Research Associates help the US Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit manage the Urban Lot Management department, including timber stand improvement, vegetation management, and parcel condition monitoring (PCM). Funded in part through the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act (SNPLMA), the Urban Lots Management program has become increasingly important as population in the basin continues to grow and the threat of wildfire increases.
A seasonal PCM crew is responsible for collecting data on a vast array of impacts to the urban-forest interface. In addition to lending support in the event of a wildfire, seasonal PCM crews conduct vegetation/forest health monitoring, hazard fuels assessments, watershed/soil erosion analyses, and invasive weed presence/absence inventories. These data, along with GPS data and photopoints, are entered into an oracle database, which is utilized by LTBMU managers to develop appropriate management strategies and actions.
GBI RAs have also been key members of Timber Stand Improvement (TSI), Forests Stand Prep, and Vegetation Management crews. Working collaboratively with Forest Service seasonals, TSI crews are generally responsible for creating defensible spaces that help to reduce forest fire destruction, as well as the mastication of hazard fuels. The vegetation management and forest stand prep crews’ duties include timber marking/tallying for strike teams, timber cruising, stand exam data collection, tree measurement, sale area layout work and GPS-ing slash piles for mastication. Faced with increasing fire danger, these jobs continue to be critical in protecting human safety and forest ecosystem health.
The Research Associate program provides opportunities for recent college graduates, graduate students, or experienced professionals looking to begin or enhance a career in environmental management, conservation, and other related fields.VIEW EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES
The Great Basin Institute has cooperative agreements in place with all major federal and state resource management agencies, including the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Forest Service, the State of Nevada Divisions of Forestry, Wildlife, Parks and Lands. These agreements allow agencies and non-profits to outsource resource management tasks without a bid process as our programs, with their unique educational, training, and funding components, are considered “sole source”. With substantial educational scholarships, in-kind training, and educational opportunities, our programs provide significant cash match and in-kind contributions which often fulfill the fiscal requirements of cooperative grants and agreements.
Establishing a partnership with the Great Basin Institute and is a simple process involving cooperation between three major parties: an agency contracting officer, a GBI contract representative, and the project manager. To initiate an agreement, please contact Jerry Keir at 775.846.9310 for assistance with budgeting and project scheduling. Once a budget is articulated and a funding source identified, the scope of work and budget information is forwarded to your agency contracting officer to establish a task agreement. Finally, both parties sign an original copy of the ask agreement to be kept on file by both agencies. This process can typically be completed within 90 days.