COS 40-9 - Assessing the future of the Colorado Plateau: Interactions among changing land-use practices and increasing aridity in a sensitive dryland

Wednesday, August 10, 2016: 10:30 AM
Grand Floridian Blrm A, Ft Lauderdale Convention Center
Stella M. Copeland, Southwest Biological Science Center, US Geological Survey, Flagstaff, AZ, John B. Bradford, Southwest Biological Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey, Flagstaff, AZ, Michael C. Duniway, Southwest Biological Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey, Moab, UT and Rudy M Schuster, Fort Collins Science Center, US Geological Survey, Fort Collins, CO

Climate and land-use interactions are likely to affect future environmental and socioeconomic conditions in drylands, which tend to be limited by water resources and prone to land degradation. We characterized the potential for interactions among drivers of change, land-use and climate change, likely to affect landscape attributes, ecosystem services, and socioeconomic factors in a model dryland system, the Colorado Plateau. The region has a long history of climatic variability and land-use change, a high proportion of tribal and federal lands, and a high density of major natural and historical sites. We analyzed the spatial and temporal trends, and available future projections for aridification, cultivated agriculture, grazing, population, recreation on federal lands, oil and gas development, renewable energy, and mining at the county and 10 km2grid scales using several datasets. We also analyzed spatial overlap in high intensity areas between land-use types, and between land-use and aridification rate, to describe areas with potential for significant interactive effects on environmental and social attributes. We repeated this overlap analysis for areas with low intensity for multiple drivers of change to assess where  interactions are less likely.


Our results show that oil and gas development and recreation are increasing rapidly, relative to other drivers of change, and have the potential to interact due to overlapping areas of high intensity (8 % of the Plateau area) and may conflict due to effects of oil and gas development on recreation. Projections also suggest that areas with high population density and high recreation use of federal lands are likely to co-occur over 6 % of the Plateau. A fairly large area of the Colorado Plateau was also identified as low-intensity for oil and gas development potential and recreation (19 %) and low-intensity for oil and gas development potential and agriculture (8 %). None of the area was identified as low intensity for agriculture, population, and recreation. Aridification is projected to occur across the region with the highest rates at higher elevations across major vegetation types. Several of the land-use types we analyzed are expected to increase strain on water resources and reduce native species habitat, effects which are likely to be amplified by aridification trends. Our results suggest that the spatial patterns of land-use may differ from those of historical land-use intensity, presenting a challenge to policy-makers and managers.