A New Approach For Turning Science Into Action
December 13, 2016
Photo: At a recent SGI-sponsored workshop in Utah, scientists, ranchers, and resource managers gathered together to discuss the best way to restore vital wet habitat in the West.
Partners help shape sage grouse science so it informs on-the-ground conservation
The Sage Grouse Initiative, led by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, believes in “actionable science.” That means the research we fund informs the actions we take to conserve the sagebrush ecosystem. Actionable science entails working with a wide swath of partners — from ranchers and policy makers to resource managers and scientists — who help shape the questions our science team tries to answer. We talk through ways to ensure our science-based targeting tools and outcome-based assessments are helpful for implementing and adapting conservation practices on the ground.
Take our Science to Solutions series, like this recent article on water availability in sagebrush-dominated landscapes. Ranchers and resource managers wondered how removing expanding conifers affects water retention on rangelands. So USDA Agricultural Research Service in Boise, Idaho researched the answer, finding that sagebrush-dominated systems keep water an average of nine days longer during the summer compared to juniper-dominated systems, benefiting both ranchers and wildlife.
Another great example of actionable science is SGI’s Interactive Web App, an online mapping tool that makes sagebrush-related science results available to practitioners. It includes easy-to-use layers on tree canopy cover, ecosystem resilience, fence collision risk, and crop cultivation risk. We’re constantly expanding the tool to add more information, working with partners and local field staff to determine what data they need to plan conservation practices that benefit sagebrush range and rural ways of life.
And our parnters are all-in on collaborating on actionable science, too. The Bureau of Land Management signed a $5 million agreement with the Intermountain West Joint Venture this year, which includes funding research on sagebrush ecosystems. Take this long-term sage grouse monitoring study on public BLM land and private ranchlands in Oregon’s Warner Mountains: thanks to BLM support, scientists are uncovering all sorts of useful information on the bird’s habitat preferences, like the fact that hens avoid conifers when choosing nest sites and that hens and their chicks seek out wet areas during the summer in search of food.
We’re not the only ones who think collaborative science is the best path forward. SGI’s vision for coproduced science is catching like wildfire. For instance, Dr. Paul Beier, a professor at Northern Arizona University, just authored a new paper in the journal Conservation Letters called A How-to Guide for Coproduction of Actionable Science.
The article describes how actionable science produced in partnership with stakeholders offers a more reliable route for addressing complex, landscape-scale challenges — such as conserving an ecosystem like the sagebrush-steppe, which is bigger than the state of Texas.
Beier points out how this new approach contrasts the old way of doing business, where scientists work alone, producing studies and findings that may never be used by the people working on the ground.
Our scientists and partners at the Sage Grouse Initiative have long embraced this collaborative process and the resulting outcomes over stand-alone products developed in a vacuum. But coproduction of actionable science isn’t always easy — it means a lot of phone calls, coffee chats, field tours, and honest conversations with all sorts of people who are interested in solving a problem.
It means collaborating from start to finish. That’s what we do every day at the Sage Grouse Initiative. And what we’ll keep doing for years to come so that we can improve sagebrush range for all of the people and wildlife who use it.
The Sage Grouse Initiative, led by the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, is a partnership-based, science-driven effort that uses voluntary incentives to proactively conserve America's western rangelands, wildlife, and rural way of life.