Case Studies

Nevada Land Trust – Supporting on-the-ground research for a more resilient future

Value of the land and habitat

Formerly Nevada Land Conservancy, Nevada Land Trust (NLT) was established in 1998 to protect and preserve the state’s “open spaces and special places for future generations.” Since its inception NLT has successfully facilitated the public purchase of high-value land and water properties for conservation. While much of this work has been focused in Northern Nevada, project areas span across the state thanks to ongoing support from ranchers, farmers, hunters, urban dwellers, and recreationists alike.

Conservation concerns

Changing climate systems mean shifting ecological conditions which may challenge conservation-focused management objectives. In Nevada, hydrological and climatic systems could become even more unpredictable, putting stress on wetland ecosystems. The rivers and streams in Nevada are mostly spring-fed or resulting from runoff from its numerous mountain ranges. A warmer climate would increase evaporation and shorten the snow season in the mountains (hence: shorter ski season!) resulting in earlier spring runoff and reduced summer stream flow. These threats could reduce the number and quality of wetland habitats, which are already stressed. Hotter weather also means drier soil and that could increase the frequency of wildfires. More research is needed, and NLT is excited about the opportunity to participate in these important studies.

Current status and management efforts

Nevada Land Trust is committed to conservation excellence; its dedicated staff and Board of Trustees assess potential conservation projects based on factors that include:

  • Wildlife habitat and affected species
  • Recreation opportunities
  • Cultural or archaeological significance
  • Preserving Nevada’s history
  • Streams, springs, or other water source
  • Proximity to other protected lands
  • Landowner’s needs and expectations
  • Restoration opportunities
  • Organizational capacity
  • Total project costs and available funding

Climate change is impacting the land, and thus, the organization’s mission in numerous ways. In the past five years, effects have become an increasing consideration in acquisition planning, with project selection checklist criteria including impact considerations, especially as they pertain to fuel loading. Avoidance of catastrophic fire is a major management priority; however, fuel load reduction is also an expensive and ongoing need which conservation decisions must take into account. Other less certain outcomes of climate shifts are being studied in real time, with live data collection that will help inform local resource managers about regional trends and intervention opportunities. NLT has committed to supporting climate science data collection in order to enable long-term, climate responsive planning efforts.

Process of achieving resilience to climate change

Measuring the potential impacts of climate change on fragile desert ecosystems is a relatively new area of study, and  NLT is on the cutting edge of this research with an innovative partnership. In cooperation with the University of Nevada/Desert Research Institute, NLT has a climate change station located on one conservation property close to the Great Basin National Park and adjacent to BLM administered land.  Nevada Land Trust entered into a license agreement with the Board of Regents of the Nevada System of Higher Education on behalf of the Desert Research Institute (DRI) to allow construction of a weather monitoring station and environmental sensors on a small plot of land within the David Moore Bird and Wildlife Sanctuary near Baker, Nevada.  The wildlife sanctuary, encompassing approximately 432 acres is owned by NLT and is located in close proximity to Great Basin National Park (GBNP).

The weather monitoring site was jointly located by DRI and NLT to meet research objectives while protecting the sensitive resource values on the wildlife sanctuary.  The purpose of the station is to study the effects of regional climate change on ecological and water resources, as well as on human populations.  Other similar sites are being evaluated by DRI within the Basin and Range complex inside and outside GBNP.  Construction of the station on NLT land was completed in 2012. On a larger scale, the climate change monitoring project covers a broad geographic area in the Great Basin (Nevada).  Climate Change Stations are also located in the Park, and on BLM administered and private lands throughout the study area. These stations are helping to build important regional data, which is made available to other institutions and to the public at no cost. These sensors, which monitor precipitation, air temperature, wind speed and direction, incoming solar radiation, net radiation, relative humidity, barometric pressure, soil moisture and temperature at several depths, precipitation runoff and plant phenology, transpiration and growth, help researchers assess plant phenology, snow depth, and snow melt timing. These insights can help scientists understand the past, present, and future of the Great Basin and Mojave Deserts, and enhance understanding of climate variability and its impacts in this region.

Plans for the future

By better understanding how systems are changing, conservation groups can make more informed long-term management decisions. Monitoring is intended to be long-term to gather decadal information. The station on NLT’s property has been in place since  2012 and is licensed through 2019, but there is interest in continuing this agreement as long as is needed and fruitful for the research – and land management – community. The land trust doesn’t charge for the placement of the station on their managed property, as the scientific value it and its sister stations directly benefit long-term stewardship planning efforts; this kind of data-gathering fits right in with what the land trust and the Park Service is doing in terms of adaptively managing connected resources for change. Moreover, this information is shared broadly; DRI convenes annual climate change conference to share information regarding latest trends and conduct networking sessions. Real time effects of climate change are already being observed. By collecting locally downscaled data, land managers in the Great Basin will be better equipped to handle fires and drought in the years to come.

The NLT has incorporated some initial observations into recently completed management plans, which increasingly focus on fuel management and risk profiles of specific habitat types. As understanding of climate risks and impacts grows, managers will continue to adapt plans to address risks. This is a long-term process. While collecting data takes time, there is immense value in monitoring and assessing trends in changing climatic conditions. Furthermore, this research partnership has enhanced coordination and management discussions with other land managers in the region including the Bureau of Land Management, the Park Service, the Desert Research Institute, and local universities.

Key Partners

The Nevada Climate-ecohydrological Assessment Network, NevCAN is the result of a collaborative partnership between University of Nevada Las Vegas, University of Nevada Reno, and Desert Research Institute with support from the National Science Foundation’s Exploratory Program to Stimulate Competitive Research grant.

Twelve sites measure climate fluctuation over time, collecting short term, seasonal, and decadal information. The data being collected is real-time data that can be extracted and watched. Currently outreach is being conducted by the educational institutions – the challenge is how to extract and use the data.

Lessons learned

  •  We don’t know all of the answers but we know climate change is a challenge. Working with partners to get some answers regarding how climate change will impact the lands we love can help land trusts and other managers and institutions maximize resources to plan for change. Information gathering and adaptive management are critical.
  • Connectivity is important. NLT is working with partners – a total of 12 sites in the area, covering a wide range of habitat – to gather connected data. The connectivity of lands themselves is also an important conservation consideration which is included when assessing new potential acquisitions and leveraged when possible to maximize efforts to reduce risks of fire and allow species to migrate and adapt to changing conditions.
  • It is critical to plan for risks and uncertainty. Catastrophic fires and droughts are causing major impacts.  Information gathering and iterative management interventions are key to addressing uncertain future conditions as well as current observed changes.