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  1. Development of a landscape integrity model framework to support regional conservation planning

    Land managers increasingly rely upon landscape assessments to understand the status of natural resources and identify conservation priorities. Many of these landscape planning efforts rely on geospatial models that characterize the ecological integrity of the landscape. These general models utilize measures of habitat disturbance and human activity to map indices of ecological integrity. Here, we built upon these modeling frameworks by developing a Landscape Integrity Index (LII) model using geospatial datasets of the human footprint, as well as incorporation of other indicators of ecological integrity such as biodiversity and vegetation departure. Our LII model serves as a general indicator ofmore » ecological integrity in a regional context of human activity, biodiversity, and change in habitat composition. Finally, we also discuss the application of the LII framework in two related coarse-filter landscape conservation approaches to expand the size and connectedness of protected areas as regional mitigation for anticipated land-use changes.« less
  2. Examining the Potential for Agricultural Benefits from Pollinator Habitat at Solar Facilities in the United States

    Of the many roles insects serve for ecosystem function, pollination is possibly the most important service directly linked to human well-being. However, land use changes have contributed to the decline of pollinators and their habitats. In agricultural landscapes that also support renewable energy developments such as utility-scale solar energy [USSE] facilities, opportunities may exist to conserve insect pollinators and locally restore their ecosystem services through the implementation of vegetation management approaches that aim to provide and maintain pollinator habitat at USSE facilities. As a first step toward understanding the potential agricultural benefits of solar-pollinator habitat, we identified areas of overlapmore » between USSE facilities and surrounding pollinator-dependent crop types in the United States (U.S.). Using spatial data on solar energy developments and crop types across the U.S., and assuming a pollinator foraging distance of 1.5 km, we identified over 3,500 km2 of agricultural land near existing and planned USSE facilities that may benefit from increased pollination services through the creation of pollinator habitat at the USSE facilities. The following five pollinator-dependent crop types accounted for over 90% of the agriculture near USSE facilities, and these could benefit most from the creation of pollinator habitat at existing and planned USSE facilities: soybeans, alfalfa, cotton, almonds, and citrus. We discuss how our results may be used to understand potential agro-economic implications of solar-pollinator habitat. Our results show that ecosystem service restoration through the creation of pollinator habitat could improve the sustainability of large-scale renewable energy developments in agricultural landscapes.« less
  3. Examining the Potential for Agricultural Benefits from Pollinator Habitat at Solar Facilities in the United States

    Of the many roles insects serve for ecosystem function, plant pollination is possibly the most important service directly linked to human well-being. However, global land uses have contributed to the decline of pollinators and their habitats. In agricultural landscapes that also support renewable energy developments (such as utility-scale solar energy [USSE] facilities), opportunities may exist to conserve insect pollinators and locally restore their ecosystem services through the implementation of vegetation management approaches that aim to provide and maintain pollinator habitat at USSE facilities. As a first step towards understanding the potential agricultural benefits of solar-pollinator habitat, we identified areas ofmore » overlap between USSE facilities in the United States and surrounding pollinator-dependent crop types. We identified over 3,500 km2 of agricultural land near existing and planned USSE facilities that may benefit from increased pollination services through the creation of pollinator habitat at the USSE facilities. The following five pollinator-dependent crop types accounted for over 90% of the agriculture near USSE facilities, and these could benefit most from the creation of pollinator habitat at existing and planned USSE facilities: soybeans, alfalfa, cotton, almonds, and citrus. We discuss how our results may be used to understand potential agro-economic implications of solar-pollinator habitat. Our results show that ecosystem service restoration through the creation of pollinator habitat could improve the compatibility of large-scale renewable energy developments in agricultural landscapes.« less
  4. Quantifying the sensitivity of ephemeral streams to land disturbance activities in arid ecosystems at the watershed scale

    Large areas of public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management and located in arid regions of the southwestern United States are being considered for the development of utility-scale solar energy facilities. Land-disturbing activities in these desert, alluvium-filled valleys have the potential to adversely affect the hydrologic and ecologic functions of ephemeral streams. Regulation and management of ephemeral streams typically falls under a spectrum of federal, state, and local programs, but scientifically based guidelines for protecting ephemeral streams with respect to land-development activities are largely nonexistent. This study developed an assessment approach for quantifying the sensitivity to land disturbancemore » of ephemeral stream reaches located in proposed solar energy zones (SEZs). The ephemeral stream assessment approach used publicly-available geospatial data on hydrology, topography, surficial geology, and soil characteristics, as well as highresolution aerial imagery. These datasets were used to inform a professional judgment-based score index of potential land disturbance impacts on selected critical functions of ephemeral streams, including flow and sediment conveyance, ecological habitat value, and groundwater recharge. The total sensitivity scores (sum of scores for the critical stream functions of flow and sediment conveyance, ecological habitats, and groundwater recharge) were used to identify highly sensitive stream reaches to inform decisions on developable areas in SEZs. Total sensitivity scores typically reflected the scores of the individual stream functions; some exceptions pertain to groundwater recharge and ecological habitats. The primary limitations of this assessment approach were the lack of high-resolution identification of ephemeral stream channels in the existing National Hydrography Dataset, and the lack of mechanistic processes describing potential impacts on ephemeral stream functions at the watershed scale.The primary strength of this assessment approach is that it allows watershed-scale planning for low-impact development in arid ecosystems; the qualitative scoring of potential impacts can also be adjusted to accommodate new geospatial data, and to allow for expert and stakeholder input into decisions regarding the identification and potential avoidance of highly sensitive stream reaches.« less
  5. Understanding Emerging Impacts and Requirements Related to Utility-Scale Solar Development

    Utility-scale solar energy plays an important role in the nation’s strategy to address climate change threats through increased deployment of renewable energy technologies, and both the federal government and individual states have established specific goals for increased solar energy development. In order to achieve these goals, much attention is paid to making utility-scale solar energy cost-competitive with other conventional energy sources, while concurrently conducting solar development in an environmentally sound manner.

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"Hartmann, Heidi M."

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