Landscape Assessments

  • Moon over Canyon
    Moon over Canyon

    Greater Grand Canyon Landscape Assessment

    Encompassing a national treasure and surrounding lands for a total of 5 million acres, the Greater Grand Canyon Landscape Assessment. This effort is part of the planning process for Grand Canyon National Park, addressing the development of their Natural Resource Condition Assessment and adding a collaborative stakeholder opportunity to help prioritize stewardship across this landscape. (more...)


    Integrated Spatial Models of Plant Communities, Fuels, Fire, Wildlife Habitat, and Climate Change in the Sonoran Desert

    Our new research programs encompass >30,000 square kilometers of the Sonoran Desert and seek to support the conservation and recovery of military and adjacent lands in southwestern Arizona, including areas managed by the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range, U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground, Cabeza Prieta and Kofa National Wildlife Refuges, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, and Bureau of Land Management. We are developing cutting-edge techniques to generate new models and maps of fundamental ecological processes that are needed to reduce the impact of non-native invasive plants and fire, while improving habitat for threatened, endangered, and at-risk species, in the context of global change. (more...)

Completed Assessments

Ponderosas and Humphreys 230
Ponderosas and Humpreys Peak, By Brady Smith, Coconino National Forest
Kaibab Forest Health Focus (completed 2009)

The Kaibab National Forest (KNF) comprises 2,432 square miles over three Ranger Districts, Williams, Tusayan and North Kaibab, and borders large portions of Grand Canyon National Park in northern Arizona. The Kaibab National Forest designed the Kaibab Forest Health Focus process to identify areas across the three Ranger Districts where the objectives of ecological restoration and fire threat reduction might be pursued in a socially viable and ecologically sound manner. The KNF and the Forest Ecosystem Restoration Analysis (ForestERA) Project at Northern Arizona University convened stakeholders and forest service staff in a series of 4 large group meetings and 3 break out groups January through June, 2009 to:

  • Identify high priority areas for mechanical and prescribed fire treatments;
  • Produce data and outcomes that inform the work of forest managers; and
  • Deliver project outcomes that have a high degree of public support

Importantly, results from the Kaibab Forest Health Focus have advanced planning and management efforts in a manner that links the U.S. Forest Services's national and regional objectives, while responding to the specific needs of the Kaibab National Forest and the public.

The Land and Resource Management Plan for the Kaibab National Forest is using the work of the Kaibab Forest Health Focus to guide where initial forest treatments will be implemented. 

Analysis of Small-Diameter Wood Supply in Northern Arizona, USA (completed 2008)

Forest management to restore fire-adapted ponderosa pine ecosystems is a central priority of the Southwestern Region of the USDA Forest Service. Appropriately-scaled businesses are apt to play a key role in achieving this goal by harvesting, processing and selling wood products, thereby reducing treatment costs and providing economic opportunities. The manner in which treatments occur across northern Arizona, with its multiple jurisdictions and land management areas, is of vital concern to a diversity of stakeholder groups. To identify a level of forest thinning treatments and potential wood supply from restoration by-products, a 20-member working group representing environmental non-governmental organizations (NGO’s), private forest industries, local government, the Ecological Restoration Institute at Northern Arizona University (NAU), and state and federal land and resource management agencies was assembled. A series of seven workshops supported by Forest Ecosystem Restoration Analysis (ForestERA; NAU) staff were designed to consolidate geographic data and other spatial information and to synthesize potential treatment scenarios for a 2.4 million acre analysis area south of the Grand Canyon and across the Mogollon Plateau. A total of 94% of the analysis area is on National Forest lands. ForestERA developed up-to-date remote sensing-based forest structure data layers to inform the development of treatment scenarios, and to estimate wood volume in three tree diameter classes of <5”, 5-16”, and >16” diameter at breast height (dbh, 4.5’ above base). For the purposes of this report, the group selected a 16” dbh threshold due to its common use within the analysis landscape as a break point differentiating “small” and “large” diameter tress in the ponderosa pine forest type. The focus of this study was on small-diameter trees, although wood supply estimates include some trees >16” dbh where their removal was required to meet desired post-treatment conditions. There was no concurrence within the group that trees over 16” dbh should be cut and removed from areas outside community protection management areas (CMPMAs).

Participants successfully defined desired post-treatment conditions within five landscape management areas that included; communities, municipal and aquatic species watersheds, Mexican spotted owl (MSO) restricted habitat and wildlands. Consensus was reached across two-thirds of the analysis area.  The group unanimously agreed that 26% of the 2.4 million acre analysis area should not be considered a source of wood supply from mechanical restoration treatments, due to institutional and biophysical constraints. Consensus was also reached on the appropriateness of restoration treatments involving mechanical thinning across 41% of the landscape, resulting in a total of 850 million ft3 of wood byproducts from tree boles alone (defined as the tree’s main stem, from the ground to top of tree), and an additional 8.0 million green tons from branches and other tree crown biomass. All mechanical thinning treatments were assumed to be followed by controlled burning for ecosystem restoration and maintenance of fire-adapted conditions. The volume of small-diameter logs and wood byproducts potentially available from restoration treatments exceeds current market demand. In 2006 existing wood products businesses in the analysis area removed and utilized 1.2% of the bole biomass (or 12% extrapolated over 10 years) that would potentially be generated from consensus scenario treatments.

There is a high level of agreement, but not consensus, that an additional 33% of the analysis area might also be available as a source of wood supply from mechanically-based restoration treatments. When added to the byproducts from the consensus scenario, this would result in a total of 1,015 million ft3 from boles and 9.6 green tons from tree crowns. The difference between the two scenarios was relatively small in terms of wood volume and largely driven by preferences for varying levels of restoration treatments, such as the preference of some stakeholders for prescribed burn0only treatments, wildland fire use and non-commercial thinning (or thinning that would not add to wood supply). The analysis also revealed that where wood harvest included only trees under 16” diameter, 19% of the landscape with restoration treatments would not fully achieve desired post-treatment conditions, as identified by the working group. These thinning areas were primarily within CPMAs where objectives called for more aggressive thinning.

 The group considered incorporating future tree growth in wood supply assessments, but ultimately did not pursue this analysis, however a review of forest growth models was conducted to assist with future projections. Consequently, the numbers presented in this report represent a “snapshot” of currently available wood supply. Lack of complete data on current road access, the presence of archeological sites, and other site-scale considerations introduce some uncertainty in wood supply estimates. Potential changes to future wood supply due to climate change and disturbance such as wildfire, insect outbreaks, and drought-related mortality were also acknowledged. The results of this study will be used to assist in the development of multi-year forest stewardship contracts to attract new industrial users and to supply wood fiber to existing local wood product businesses.

North-Central New Mexico Landscape Assessment (completed 2006)

A New Approach to Forest Restoration in the American Southwest

The North-central New Mexico Landscape Assessment conducted in 2004-06 was a collaborative, landscape-scale effort that engaged stakeholders in a series of meeting and workshops to identify and prioritize areas of forest and associated lands in greatest need of management attention. The focal landscape assessment area included public, tribal and private lands within a 3.4 million-acre study region. Our 2-year process culminated in a three-day workshop in October 2006, where over 50 regional stakeholders were convened to address these issues using a spatial decision support systemdesigned by the Forest Ecosystem Restoration Analysis (ForestERA) Project at NAU. ForestERA staff, along with staff from the Bureau of Land Management, Forest Guild and the Austalian National University, provided a forum where stakeholder values, concerns,and ideas could be translated into spatially-explicit prioritizaton and management action scenarios based on the best available science. The result was a set of science-based solutions which met national policy priorities, while remaining grounded in the needs of local stakeholders.

The North-central New Mexico Landscape Assessment represented one of the first efforts in the nation to engage stakeholders in a collaborative, landscape-scale assessment of public lands using a dynamic map-based interactive and integrative science-based approach. It is also unique in that it addressed several national policy directives simultaneously. The broad concurrence in stakeholder values and perceived risks that were identified during this spaitally explict process provided an unprecedented opportunity to inform and integrate planning efforts in the region at multiple spatial scales.

Products from this effort, including the Spatial Data Atlas and final report are available from our publications page.

White Mountains Landscape Assessment, Arizona (completed 2006)

The White Mountains Landscape Assessment (WMLA), conducted in 2005-06, empoyed a collaborative, landscape-scale approach of engaging stakeholders to identify and prioritize areas of land in greatest need of management attention to restore forest ecological health. WMLA crafted alternative scenarios for accomplishing restoration goals. The focal area was approximately two million acres of land within the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests in east-central Arizona. This one-year process culminated in a three day workshop in October 2005 where 43 regional stakeholders convened to address these issues using a Spatial Decision Support System designed by the Forest Ecosystem Restoration Analysis (ForestERA) Project at Northern Arizona University (NAU). ForestERA staff along with staff from NAU's Ecological Restoration Institute, provided a forum where stakeholder values, concerns, and ideas could be translated into spatially explicit prioritization and management action scenarios based on the best available science. The process was a set of collaborative, science-based solutions which met national policy priorities while remaining grounded in the needs of local stakeholders.

Outcomes and products from the White Mountains Landscape Assessment included a variety of spatial and non-spatial information, which have proven valuable to managers, policymakers, and regional stakeholders for the purposes of planning, monitoring, research, and reporting in the region. Workshop products represent important landscape-scale guidance based on top-quality science and grounded in the value of local stakeholders.

Western Mogollon Plateau Landscape Assessment, Arizona (completed 2004)

A New Approach to Forest Restoration in the American Southwest

The Western Mogollon Plateau Adaptive Landscape Assessment (WMPALA), conducted from 2002 to 2004, generated landscape-scale forest restoration and community protection guidance for decision-makers using a collaborative, science-based approach. The assessment area encompassed approximately two million acres of ponderosa pine-dominated forests in north-central Arizona, and included large portions of the Coconino, Apache-Sitgreaves, Tonto, and Kaibab National Forests, in addition to other land ownerships. The initial workshop in the WMPALA process identified critical features across the Western Mogollon Plateau that need protection from severe wildfire or other risk factors. The workshop explored a range of scenarios for prioritizing landscape elements for forest restoration treatments designed to reduce the threat of catastrophic fire and mitigate insect and disease outbreaks.

Outcomes from the WMPALA process are the products of diverse stakeholders working together in four independent groups, each having access to comprehensive and consistent datasets, and each having the invaluable insight of experts from different specialty areas, as well as perspectives from local residents. The collaborative process employed was fairly straightforward, yet it incorporated tremendous complexity - complexity in information, values, analysis, debate and synthesis. No previous effort has drawn on so much information and produced such specificity and general agreement in such short time.