1. Amanda Bentley Brymer
  2. http://www.igert.org/profiles/5305
  3. Graduate Student
  4. Presenter’s IGERT
  5. University of Idaho
  1. Joe Holbrook
  2. http://www.igert.org/profiles/5325
  3. Graduate Student
  4. Presenter’s IGERT
  5. University of Idaho
  1. Ryan Niemeyer
  2. http://www.igert.org/profiles/5375
  3. Graduate Student
  4. Presenter’s IGERT
  5. University of Idaho
  1. Alex Suazo
  2. http://www.igert.org/profiles/5451
  3. Graduate Student
  4. Presenter’s IGERT
  5. University of Idaho

Judges’ Queries and Presenter’s Replies

  • May 20, 2013 | 01:23 p.m.

    Hello – enjoyed your music choices for the video! Can you please explain why the Juniper are encroaching from high to low elevations and how the snow/ rain movement associated with juniper trees impacts the social characteristics of the sagebrush-steppe? Thank-you.

  • Icon for: Ryan Niemeyer

    Ryan Niemeyer

    May 21, 2013 | 02:43 p.m.

    (Note: I replied earlier to Dr. Culligan’s comments with a direct email, so this will be a truncated response)

    Dr. Culligan,

    Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I will answer your two questions in two parts. First, the primary reason Juniper are encroaching from higher to lower elevations is that from tree pollen and other historical records, scientists have shown that most juniper existed on rocky ridge tops. Juniper are not fires resistant and fire cannot spread as well in rocky areas. Historically, Juniper would move down slope, encroaching into sagebrush, and but fire would sweep through a burn most of the juniper, leaving the sagebrush, which is more fires resistant. Since Euro-American settlement of the western U.S. 150 years ago, fire suppression has occurred and the Juniper have spread unabated. Many studies, especially by those headed by Richard Miller out of Oregon State, have shown that many of the Juniper stands in the northern Great Basin are on average only 50 years old – and therefore only recently encroached, especially into valleys (lower elevations) where they had not existed in recent history.

    And to the question of how rain/snow transition associated with Juniper impact the social characteristics of the sagebrush steppe. Water is vital to the people of the sagebrush steppe. Stream flow provides water for domestic use, irrigation, and water for livestock. Additionally, the sagebrush steppe is primarily a water limited system, so the ecosystem services of forage and wildlife habitat are in large part determined by water availability in the soil. The hydrologic aspect of our work will elucidate A) how Juniper encroachment could alter stream flow and water availability in soil, and B) how these effects could change with a transition of more precipitation falling as rain than as snow. If Juniper suck (transpire) more water out of the soil than sagebrush and native grasses, more precipitation falling as rain could potentially result in a higher proportion of water lost from the system.

    That’s a bit long winded, but we are dealing with complex processes in the sagebrush steppe system.


  • May 21, 2013 | 02:53 p.m.

    Hello Patricia, I’m glad you like the music!

    Thank you for your question about juniper encroachment and connections to the social characteristics. I have learned (and will continue to learn) a lot about the ecological and biophysical characteristics of the sagebrush-steppe from my teammates. As the environmental social scientist on our team, I appreciate the opportunity to respond to questions like these.

    I see that Ryan Niemeyer, our team’s ecohydrologist, has taken the first opportunity to answer your question. He has explained juniper to me as a huge straw: high uptake rates and high transpiration rates. In other words, they can suck the water right out of the ground, and some studies have shown that the presence of juniper can reduce streamflow.

    Also, given that their canopy is more substantial than that of sagebrush or other vegetation found in lower elevations, juniper can reduce throughfall, or the amount of rain that reaches the ground and runs-off or infiltrates the soil. In a system that is characterized as low-precipitation, high-arid desert, wildlife and human communities need all the water they can get.

    The provisioning of water is important for wildlife, people and livestock; if water availability decreases, the sustainability of livelihoods and well-being becomes much more uncertain. This is the balance our team aims to investigate: the relationships within the social-ecological system, and the consequences or opportunities fostered by a range of management actions.

    Thank you for your interest in our work!

  • May 20, 2013 | 04:28 p.m.

    Hello Amanda,
    Nice job creating a visually interesting poster and video!
    Could you please describe your rationale for the focus on burrowing mammals for the ecological portion of your research and how that ties back into the social component?
    Thank you,

  • May 21, 2013 | 01:36 p.m.

    Hello Catherine, thank you for your feedback and your interest in our work!

    In terms of ecosystem services, the sagebrush-steppe and rangelands of southern Idaho provision food and fiber for people and for wildlife (as well as other regulating, supporting and cultural services), though the system faces challenges like variable precipitation and temperatures, variable plant production and nutrient-poor soils (Havstad et al. 2007). Now, with the new drivers of change we mentioned in the video (increasing fire frequency, cheatgrass invasion, juniper encroachment, laws and litigation), stakeholders’ ability to cope with the variability is challenged even more.

    In terms of social components, this means that as the system changes, the availability of food and fiber for wildlife, people and livestock is uncertain. We are also uncertain about the future availability of resources for recreation and cultural heritage.

    Keeping these services in mind, Joe Holbrook, our wildlife ecologist, has designed his disciplinary research around burrowing animals and their habitat associations – particularly badgers, ground squirrels and ants. As ecosystem engineers, burrowing animals modify habitat in ways that influence community structure, nutrient or biogeochemical cycling and the availability of resources for other species, such as vegetation (shelter, food) and seeds (food).

    So, some general questions that drove Joe’s rational for focusing on this suite of species: How do their burrows act as transport vectors for water; How do they redistribute soil, nutrients and seeds; What do these interactions mean for the provisioning of food and fiber across an increasingly stressed landscape?

    As many ranchers depend on public land grazing, the availability of forbs and grasses is tied to the sustainability or resilience of their livelihood. The same can be said for recreation-users, conservationists and other stakeholders.

    Joe also wants to understand the landscape characteristics influencing burrowing animal presence, particularly burned and non-burned sites. What role to burrowing animals play in distributing the seeds of native, non-native and invasive plant species post-burn? This has implications for the restoration of sagebrush habitat, and it is an important question to ask soon, though it falls beyond the scope of our current work. First, we need to understand where burrowing animals are present on the landscape so we can begin to explain their role in modifying habitat and distributing resources.

    Finally, it is not clear how people perceive burrowers; are they perceived as a nuisance? Are they perceived as important vectors for services? Either way, there could be a mis-match between the role burrowing animals play in key elements of the landscape that define vegetation structure and dynamics and the level of attention paid to burrowing animals in land management practices and conservation or restoration plans.

  • May 23, 2013 | 09:07 a.m.

    Thank you, Amanda!

  • May 21, 2013 | 06:00 p.m.

    Hello, Interesting video, good narration, nice explanation of system dynamics! I agree with the fact that system dynamic models are very important; however, the “pie” analogy was a bit confusing and led the video off-track. Can you please identify what are you referring too? Also, why is Southern Idaho the center of all these issues surrounding land management?
    Thank you.

  • May 22, 2013 | 10:47 p.m.

    Hi Liliana, thank you for your feedback! I agree that the pie analogy needs some refining, which our team can do while thinking of ways to use this video as we engage with stakeholders in the future.

    As I say in the video, public lands are like pie, and everyone wants a piece. That is to say, public lands (in this case, Bureau of Land Management land) are designated for multiple-use. The oven is analogous to drivers of change or stressors on the system like increasing fire frequency, variable precipitation and temperatures, climate change and others. So, if we all spend a lot of time debating how we should use public lands now (or how we should eat the pie) without regard to drivers of change (forgetting that the pie is in the oven)… we could end up losing public lands (the pie) forever.

    When I speak of “turning the oven off” some day, we mean to convey that while our project can help stakeholders develop strategies to REact to future changes, this is not a panacea. We must consider PROactive strategies for social-ecological resilience, as well.

  • May 22, 2013 | 10:53 p.m.

    I will also add that I think metaphors are important for science communication – and they require a lot of thought and pilot testing to ensure they are effective! Joe and I attended a workshop on science communication conducted by Nancy Baron, author of “Escape from the Ivory Tower.” She provided some great advice on communicating with the public, with journalists and with policy makers … and providing a useful metaphor was one of many tactics we learned. We appreciate your feedback on that part of the video in particular – rather than shy away from the metaphor, I am certain we will work to clarify it.

  • Icon for: J Yeakley

    J Yeakley

    May 21, 2013 | 08:04 p.m.

    Hi Amanda. That’s an engaging video with great photos to set the stage for your work. I have a couple of questions. First is what would you say is the primary hypothesis you wish to test in the study (I did a “find” on your poster but did not see the word “hypothesis”)? Second is what specific ecosystem service(s) do you wish to measure? Thank you, Alan

  • May 22, 2013 | 11:55 p.m.

    Hi Alan, we are glad you found the video to be engaging! Thank you for your interest in our project. First, your question on a hypothesis is an interesting one because, as we have worked to integrate our disciplinary assumptions, theories and methods over the past two years, we have discussed the matter of hypotheses quite often. Ultimately, we believe there are angles of our project where it is appropriate to test hypotheses, while other angles will benefit from a more descriptive, ethnographic approach.

    With respect to understanding stakeholders’ preferred characteristics of rangelands and the trade-offs or opportunities they identify in various land management practices as a result of modeled output, we will synthesize a lot of qualitative data in the form of interview and workshop dialogue. The point here is to let the most salient themes and relationships emerge and to narrow the scope of our system dynamics model – since we cannot model the entire system!

    So, regarding specific ecosystem service(s) that we wish to measure – we’d like to work with what is most important to a wide range of stakeholders, and we’ll have a more firm idea about that once we have completed our interviews. Based on preliminary information and engagement with stakeholders, we can expect to hear preferences for ecosystem services like water regulation, food production, erosion control, recreation and cultural services. These will be measured through our disciplinary data collection efforts. Then we might be able to hypothesize how different variables and ecosystem services could react to future changes in terms of sensitivity analyses, however the main focus of our work is to describe stakeholder responses to potential changes.

  • Icon for: Rafael Rios

    Rafael Rios

    May 21, 2013 | 11:07 p.m.

    Very nice way of presenting the project. You propose to use a system dynamics (SD) modeling framework. Why did you select this particular approach?

  • May 23, 2013 | 09:43 p.m.

    Hi Rafael, I just realized I posted my reply as a new post last night instead of a direct reply to your question, so here it is again in case you did not see it:

    Thank you, Rafael. We selected system dynamics due to its temporal scale and the ability to incorporate multiple interacting components of the system. Past studies have found participatory system dynamics modeling to be an appropriate, trustworthy process in the view of stakeholders as they are able to engage, contribute and understand what is “under the hood” of the model as it is co-constructed with scientists. Do you have specific thoughts on the benefits or challenges of system dynamics modeling? Thank you for your feedback!

  • May 22, 2013 | 11:58 p.m.

    Thank you, Rafael. We selected system dynamics due to its temporal scale and the ability to incorporate multiple interacting components of the system. Past studies have found participatory system dynamics modeling to be an appropriate, trustworthy process in the view of stakeholders as they are able to engage, contribute and understand what is “under the hood” of the model as it is co-constructed with scientists. Do you have specific thoughts on the benefits or challenges of system dynamics modeling? Thank you for your feedback!

  • Further posting is closed as the competition has ended.

Presentation Discussion
  • Icon for: Brian Drayton

    Brian Drayton

    May 20, 2013 | 10:21 a.m.

    First, your video was pretty effective at setting the context and basic goals of the research – also fun.
    I am interested in the third research question – where the modeled scenarios provide a basis for further community debate. Two questions come to mind: 1. Are there current controversies in your area that provide a model for you (I am thinking of the ferret-prairie dog- rancher system); 2. An interesting detail in such research is the “translation” of scientific output variables into terms meaningful/credible to other stakeholders. Do you anticipate having to do some science education? (I am thinking about some of the controversies between fishermen and fisheries scientists in New England, here, in which the scientists and the fishermen have in mind very different indicators for the health of the stocks)…

  • May 21, 2013 | 04:23 p.m.

    Hello Brian, we appreciate your feedback about the video. I’m glad to know it was fun to watch!

    We find that participatory system dynamics modeling is a tool that will enable stakeholders to deliberate both parameters of the model itself and potential management options based on the performance of the model and generated output. Indeed, it will provide a basis for further community debate, as you say – and I also think it is an opportunity to identify the epistemologies (diverse or not) that are present and contributing to a conservation planning process. (This gets at epistemic pluralism of collaborative natural resource management, which is not exactly what you asked about, but related, I think.)

    I would not say that we will do science education, if you mean defining terms and explaining how we think the system functions. What kind of science education was needed in New England?

    Based on our early engagement with stakeholders of the sagebrush-steppe, many are already quite knowledgeable of system dynamics and technical terms. Even so, we intend to incorporate stakeholder preferences early-on by identifying the most salient social-ecological conditions required for individual well-being as reported to us by a diverse range of stakeholders.

    With these goals in mind, and understanding that extremely diverse stakeholders benefit in multiple ways from rangelands and sagebrush-steppe, we have decided to co-construct a probabilistic model rather than a deterministic model. We will incorporate a range of values – as reported by both scientist and non-scientist stakeholders – for each component of the model to account for different perceptions and knowledge. This will be an iterative process, as we want stakeholders (workshop participants) to react to the model and co-construct it. We will incorporate suggestions and learn how to accommodate diverse perceptions of the sagebrush-steppe – or at least where we were and were not successful in doing so. I think lessons we learn from that part of the process will inform the way we integrate knowledge for all kinds of problem-solving.

    The most urgent controversy in our system that comes to mind involves livestock livelihoods, threatened species and public lands. Ranchers depend on public lands to sustain their operation and livelihoods (mainly Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for cattle, US Forest Service for sheep). We have heard from these stakeholders that the forage on their own private lands is not sufficient for raising livestock economically or ecologically. Ranchers need to rotate their cattle onto other pastures, so they often lease permits from BLM to put their livestock on a certain parcel of public land.

    This has been regulated, however now there is a new challenge: the Greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) – a ground-dwelling bird that depends on sagebrush habitat year-round – recently became a candidate species for federal listing as endangered. Upon news of this potential listing (the decision will be made in 2015), agencies and land managers at all levels began to revisit their land use strategies in efforts to preclude listing. This includes grazing permits.

    As the regulations of permits are re-evaluated, federal agencies must follow the rules of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA 1970) to solicit public opinion for a major change that could take place on public land. Environmental and social impact assessments are conducted, and this is prime time for stakeholders to respond to the way the land has been managed and suggest changes for future management.

    There are many stakeholders of the sagebrush-steppe and rangelands who believe the ecosystem never should have been grazed in the first place and find that grazing is detrimental to sage-grouse survival. Others see it the other way: grazing can reduce fuel loads and fire frequency, which they view as the primary threat to sage-grouse.

    This is a wicked problem – one that is vicious, complex, and possibly irreconcilable. Still, we find that collaborative planning efforts for sagebrush habitat conservation provide an opportunity for us to explore knowledge integration through system dynamics modeling.

    So, we aim to participate with scientists, conservationists, ranchers, recreation-users, tribe members and others to identify coping strategies for a range of future scenarios. The model will not predict which way the system will change, but the results of our social learning process will provide more information for sage-grouse habitat conservation plans that are currently being written at local and national scales.

    Ultimately, I doubt stakeholders will reconcile their diverse range of preferred social and ecological characteristics. However, if they are able to identify common ground – let’s say, we all want to continue benefiting from water availability, forage and open spaces provided by rangelands and sagebrush-steppe – then we can focus on understanding the response of those characteristics to new challenges as the big goal of our modeling, deliberation and social learning.
    Thank you for your question! I appreciate the opportunity to respond, and I continue searching for ways to explain our research more succinctly!

  • Icon for: Brian Drayton

    Brian Drayton

    May 23, 2013 | 03:04 p.m.

    Amanda, I appreciate the very full reply! On the one point of “science education,” what I was thinking is this: sometimes, “stakeholders” (including policy makers) don’t understand how the science is done, and especially how a model is used. So then they may be confused by what the scientist is bringing, or how models are related to actual data.

  • Icon for: Joni Falk

    Joni Falk

    May 20, 2013 | 04:51 p.m.

    Very much enjoyed this engaging video. Your narration was great and the visuals also helped. Seems like you are drawing on skills of communication and arbitration as you negotiate solutions based on science. Would be interested to hear if sharing scientific data helps to bring adversaries together. Thanks for this.

  • May 21, 2013 | 04:51 p.m.

    Thank you very much, Joni. As my teammates and I learn how to integrate our social and ecological perspectives, assumptions, epistemologies and methods, I am also interested in learning how diverse stakeholders do the same in a collaborative natural resource management setting. While integrating scientific data and local knowledge can lead to consensus, it can also create more polarization between conflicting interests. Our team is interested in identifying the pieces of our process that lead positive or negative outcomes. Either way, what we learn from our project will contribute to scholarship on knowledge integration, public participation, social learning and collaborative natural resource management. Thank you!

  • May 21, 2013 | 12:35 a.m.

    Really enjoyed the video!

  • May 21, 2013 | 04:51 p.m.

    Thank you so much, Laurel! We appreciate your feedback and support.

  • Icon for: Andrew Tyre

    Andrew Tyre

    May 21, 2013 | 03:20 p.m.

    This looks like it will be a very interesting project bringing together alot of different ideas. I understand how the stakeholders values might affect both what you model and how its presented, but have you thought about representing, e.g. risk of litigation in the SD model? or other social processes?

  • May 21, 2013 | 04:45 p.m.

    Hi Andrew, that’s a great question – yes, absolutely, I am very interested in translating social phenomena like litigation into a quantitative format like system dynamics modeling.

    My teammate Ryan and I took a course together last summer at New Mexico State – an EPSCOR supported class on Interdisciplinary Modeling. We used STELLA to integrate stakeholders’ perceptions of the conditions that needed to be met for them to feel like they were able to maintain adaptive capacity. This was illustrated as a non-dimensional stock in the model, and we tied different factors like land ownership and water management training to adaptive capacity. The trickiest part was determining the parameters for these components and justifying them while maintaining a list of our assumptions…do you have any experience in integrating social information into SD models? Particularly qualitative data into quantitative format?

    In the context of the sagebrush-steppe, one anecdote illustrates this idea of integrating social process in the SD model quite well: some stakeholders are choosing not to clear juniper due to fear of litigation – based on some perceptions that clearing juniper opens land and forage for grazing. Given the relationship between juniper and rain throughfall/infiltration/uptake/transpiration, this management choice has implications and ramifications for water availability for wildlife, people and livestock.

    I have kept this example somewhat vague, but suffice it to say that we aim to illustrate the influence of litigation on land management practices and choices, and how those choices could influence ecological components and, eventually, ecosystem services.

    Another example is the potential listing of the Greater sage-grouse as endangered. We can make this an on/off button in the model, and define the relationships between that listing and subsequent management practices and choices, which then tie to the ecological components and ecosystem services.

    The idea is not to predict what will happen, but to help identify trends, opportunities and consequences of all these things in light of major drivers of change. Thank you for your feedback, and I look forward to discussing this more over the next day if you have more thoughts.

  • May 22, 2013 | 03:26 p.m.

    The video was great. I think this kind of approach is going to be critical for managing ecosystems (natural, agricultural, etc.) now and in the future. I imagine it is very time intensive to pull together all the pieces. Great work and good luck.

  • May 22, 2013 | 11:59 p.m.

    Thank you, Tabitha! Yes, we are two years in and ready to begin collecting our interdisciplinary data this summer.

  • May 23, 2013 | 12:17 a.m.

    Great research… a case of governing the commons!

  • Further posting is closed as the competition has ended.