Intermountain Insights

The IWJV strives to make its science accessible, approachable, and technically applicable for our partners both in and out of the field. Our Intermountain Insights series takes relevant peer-reviewed science produced by the IWJV and partners and distills it into a format that emphasizes implications and applications.

The Ripple Effect: Flood-Irrigated Grass Hay Benefits Watersheds from the Top Down

The study Beneficial ‘inefficiencies’ of western ranching: flood-irrigated hay production sustains wetland systems by mimicking historic hydrologic processes uses spatial data and satellite imagery to determine the footprint of flood-irrigated grass hay in the western United States. The research also identifies the wetland habitat provided by these areas throughout the year, showing that certain wetland types are threatened by the loss of agriculture and irrigation conversion across the region.

This Intermountain Insights breaks down the science, discussing where and why flood-irrigated grass hay agriculture is irreplaceable in many parts of the West. It also looks at the tools land managers, ranchers, and conservation practitioners can use to support this important practice.

 Access the app!

Summer with the Cranes: Flood-Irrigated Grass Hay Provides Breeding Crane Habitat in the West

A 2024 study, Flood-irrigated agriculture mediates climate-induced wetland scarcity for summering sandhill cranes in western North America, pinpoints key breeding habitat for sandhill cranes in the Intermountain West. The research indicates that cranes rely on riparian corridors and associated flood-irrigated grass hay meadows for breeding and colt-rearing during spring and summer months—areas that are threatened by human development and increasing water scarcity due to climate change.

Access the app!

Improving Climate Resilience of Persistent Pinyon-Juniper Woodlands

The Intermountain West Joint Venture partnered with the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a new report titled “Improving Climate Resilience of Persistent Pinyon-Juniper Woodlands.” This Intermountain Insights breaks down the report, highlighting implications for landscape and wildlife health and considerations for land managers.

Find more details in the full report.

Understanding Wetland Losses to Build Resilient Waterbird Networks

A study from the Intermountain West Joint Venture and partners, Functional wetland loss drives emerging risks to waterbird migration networks, identified trends of severe wetland drying in the Southern Oregon Northeastern California (SONEC) region and California’s Central Valley, two of the most significant sites for migratory waterbirds in the Pacific Flyway. The good news? Managers can use this information to make strategic conservation decisions that increase wetland resiliency throughout the flyway.

Source: Donnelly, J.P., Moore, J.N., Casazza, M.L., Coons, S.P. (2022) Functional Wetland Loss Drives Emerging Risks to Waterbird Migration Networks. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.

White-Faced Ibis and Water in the West: Indicating the Path to Resiliency in an Arid Region

Researchers from the University of Montana and the Intermountain West Joint Venture (IWJV) conducted the first-ever long-term monitoring of white-faced ibis breeding habitat. Using satellite imagery, they estimated seasonal flooding across this network of public and private wetland sites over a 30+ year period. In doing so, they captured a detailed picture of how flooding trends influence ibis habitat use. This information allows conservationists to pinpoint priority sites and practices that can help both this umbrella species—and other species reliant on water in the West—become more resilient in the face of long-term drought and climate change.

Source: Coons, Shea, J. Patrick Donnelly, and Victoria J. Dreitz (2021). Monitoring change across North America’s white-faced ibis (Plegadis chihi) breeding colony network; a framework for priority wetland conservation. Technical Report.

The Call of the Cranes: What Sandhill Crane Migration Can Tell Us About Water Availability in the West

Greater sandhill cranes rely on wetland habitat on private and public land throughout the West as they migrate to and from wintering and breeding grounds each fall and spring. New science from the Intermountain West Joint Venture (IWJV) identifies the landscapes and wetland sites most important to sustaining these seasonal migrations. The paper also documents how researchers identified and monitored landscape change in these wetland sites. The results paint the picture of an intricately connected network of habitat spread across the West—much of which is under threat from climate-change-associated drought and human development.

Source: Donnelly, J.P., King, S.L., Knetter, J., Gammonley, J.H., Dreitz, V.J., Grisham, B.A., Nowak, M.C., Collins, D.P. (2021). Migration efficiency sustains connectivity across agroecological networks supporting sandhill crane migration. Ecosphere.

Working Science for Working Landscapes: Valuing Private Land and Seasonal Water Availability in Wetland Conservation Efforts

The ways in which the timing of water deliveries to agricultural wetlands is critical to the value of migratory waterbird habitat provided by these lands. Migration chronologies—or when birds move between nesting and wintering grounds—vary from species to species. Some birds, like northern pintails, arrive at stopover sites earlier than other species, requiring an earlier supply of water at those locales. How scientists, land managers, and water users track and respond to these variances is vitally important for wetland habitat conservation and the conservation of migratory waterbirds.

Source: Donnelly, J.P., Naugle, D.E., Collins, D.P., Dugger, B.D., Allred, B.W., Tack, J.D., Dreitz, V.J. (2019). Synchronizing conservation to seasonal wetland hydrology and waterbird migration in semi-arid landscapes. Ecosphere.

Maintaining Resiliency of Continental Waterbird Flyways

In order to monitor changes in the resiliency of wetland networks, IWJV scientist Patrick Donnelly partnered with scientists from the University of Montana, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Migratory Bird Program to look at surface water changes over 35 years in 26 key waterbird landscapes in the Intermountain West. The resulting science produced maps that will allow biologists and land managers to determine if individual wetlands are becoming drier, wetter, or have remained unchanged.

Source: Donnelly, J.P., King, S.L., Silverman, N.L., Collins, D.P., Carrera-Gonzalez, E.M., Lafón‐Terrazas, A., Moore, J.N. (2020). Climate and human water use diminish wetland networks supporting continental waterbird migration. Global Change Biology.

Digging Deeper into Flood Irrigation

In the Intermountain West, where nearly 70 percent of emergent wet meadow resources occur on private lands, conservation of wildlife associated with those wet meadows on private lands and agriculture are inextricably linked. While past research has explored the hydrology and ecology of flood irrigation, and biological objectives have been established for waterfowl that rely on these working wet meadows, social science has lagged behind. Little has been known about rancher thoughts and experiences regarding flood irrigation and the factors influencing whether they will continue to flood irrigate. Through a social science research project, the IWJV and its partners sought to gain a deeper understanding of the human dimensions of this issue and how it can aid professionals in creating and adapting conservation solutions.

Source: Sketch, M., Dayer, A.A., & Metcalf, A.L. (2020). Western ranchers’ perspectives on enablers and constraints to flood irrigation. Rangeland Ecology and Management.

A Case Study of Bi-State People and Sage Grouse

Research led by the IWJV examines how a successful conservation effort known as the Bi-State Collaborative used the social-ecological systems (SES) approach to prevent an ESA listing of this specific sage grouse population. While no single case study can provide an exact formula for conservation success, this is a practical example of how the SES approach can help groups navigate tradeoffs between ecological and societal needs.

Source: Duvall, A.L., A. Metcalf, and P. Coates. (2017). Conserving the Greater Sage-Grouse: A Social Ecological Systems Case Study from the California-Nevada Region. Rangeland Ecology & Management 70:129-140

What’s Happening In Your State?

The IWJV builds and strengthens partnerships, which are the lifeblood of conservation in the Intermountain West.

Click on a state to learn about State Conservation Partnerships.