Date of Award:

Summer 2017

Document Type:

Dissertation

Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department:

Ecology

Department name when degree awarded

Ecology

Advisor/Chair:

Mark W. Brunson

Co-Advisor/Chair:

Eugene W. Schupp

Third Advisor:

Janis L. Boettinger

Abstract

Following a wildfire, land management agencies act quickly to protect ecosystem services. We don't currently understand how post-wildfire managers make trade-off decisions in these tight timelines, or if these decisions reflect current science. Using Brunson’s (2014) social-ecological systems multi-scalar model, surveys assessed manager opinions about post-wildfire projects, perceptions of stakeholder opinions, and ability or willingness to consider new science results. Public surveys asked local citizens their opinions about post-wildfire projects. Manager perceptions were measured through semi-structured phone interviews (n = 8) and a structured online survey (n = 256). Public surveys were mailed to 1,000 (971 deliverable, n = 152 usable) residents in rural and urban Great Basin and Mojave Desert ZIP codes. We found coarse- and fine-scale social and political opinions were associated with all post-wildfire management decisions, often creating perceived barriers to project implementation. Conversely, local citizens were more supportive of projects than managers perceived them to be. While the majority of managers and citizens supported the concept of incorporating experimental research, managers were less able to consider more specific research incorporation into actual projects. Ecologically, biological soil crusts (BSC) are emerging as an important fine-scale component of semi-arid restorations. However, even when BSCs are assessed prior to a restoration plan, it is unclear how or if this knowledge has any impact. BSCs were evaluated both socially and ecologically: all manager surveys contained questions specifically related to BSC, and a pilot greenhouse study assessed a) if seed drilling simulations on different stages of BSC may affect restoration plant establishment and b) if BSC excluded the invasive species Bromus tectorum. Similar to other new science results, managers were unlikely to be able/willing to consider BSC status in post-wildfire projects. However, our results suggest the possibility that, even when lightly burned, seeding strategy may influence native plant establishment. In ideal greenhouse conditions, B. tectorum was able to establish readily on both burned and unburned BSC.

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