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Research Project: The USDA ARS Climate Hubs – Increasing Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability by Impactful Development and Communication of Climate Smart Agricultural Research and Practices – Las Cruces, NM

Location: Range Management Research

2022 Annual Report

Objective 1: Enable climate-smart decision-making by developing science-based, region-specific information, tools and technologies for agricultural and natural resource managers, and provide assistance where possible to enhance adoption and implementation of the same. The work will be conducted as the Southwest USDA Climate Change Hub and will be coordinated with NRCS, FS, and other USDA and non-USDA organizations in accordance with guidance found in the USDA Climate Change Hubs Charter, and Terms of Reference. Objective 2: Expand and enhance each Hub’s research and communication capacity and ensure integration of ARS research outcomes from across the region into Hub outreach assets.

The climate hubs relate directly to the Sustainable Agricultural Systems Research National Program (NP216) Action Plan (2018-2022), Component 3. Achieving Agroecosystem Potential and these problem statements: Problem Statement 3a. Sustaining Intensified Production; Problem Statement 3b. Enhancing ecosystem services; and Problem Statement 3c. Enabling decision support for sustainability.

Progress Report
Drought is a persistent condition in the southwest leading to water scarcity and curtailment for agriculture and other uses. Therefore, USDA Economic Research Service and Office of the Chief Economist funded the development of an Atlas of water scarcity solutions in the Southwest region. This is a new program established in 2022 and objectives will be developed and reviewed. In fiscal year (FY) 2022, ARS in Las Cruces, New Mexico, launched our water scarcity solutions program. The Atlas is envisioned as an accessible geospatial tool exploring the conditions which lead to successful water adaptation. Forest managers disagree about the availability and accessibility of climate adaptation resources in the Southwest but agree that resources are difficult to locate and utilize. In FY 2022, ARS launched an inventory of forestry tools and resources to be organized and shared via an on-line repository. Our team is compiling literature, resources, common garden studies and seed stock sources to make forest resources discoverable and accessible. ARS expanded our team of climate adaptation and mitigation specialists skilled in leading partners through a climate adaptation process (based on the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science (NIACS) adaptation process). In FY 2022, we hosted adaptation workshops, planned FY 2023 adaptation workshops and began co-development of a Southwest tribal adaptation menu. Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) conservation planning staff need to integrate climate into decision-making, but often are limited by a lack of local climate information. In response Climate Quick Reference Guides for every county in the U.S. are being developed and distributed to NRCS staff. The guides consolidate agriculture-related climate information to display what has changed for the county and what is projected for the future. The guides (one for each county and each State) will be housed on both Climate Hub and NRCS sites. As the coordinating lead author and the author team of the Southwest Chapter of the 5th National Climate Assessment (NCA5), ARS is synthesizing and sharing the most important climate impacts and solutions in the most authoritative assessment of climate change in the region and for the Nation. Along with the South Central and Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center (DOI) ARS is organizing and hosting the 2022 biennial Southwest Adaptation Forum (October 10-12, 2022).

1. Synthesizing climate risks and solutions improves Southwest climate resilience. Farmers, ranchers, foresters, and communities in the Southwest are coping with increased climate risk, intensifying drought, severe wildfires and expanding extreme weather events. Adaptation to climate change is essential if we are to maintain ecosystem integrity, food security and resilient communities. There is a growing demand for synthesized climate risk and adaptation knowledge in this diverse region. Therefore, ARS scientists in Las Cruces, New Mexico, continue to produce, synthesize and share climate research and adaptation findings via diverse pathways. In fiscal year 2022, ARS climate scientists are leading the Southwest Chapter of the 5th National Climate Assessment. Scientists also co-led the development, publication and distribution of the USDA Water Research Vision. By leading national assessments, visioning efforts, scientific symposia, podcasts and peer-reviewed journal articles, ARS has built a deep knowledge of scientifically grounded current and expected climate impacts and knowledge gaps. Encouraging continued inquiry into knowledge gaps related to climate change and agriculture is a fundamental value of the Climate Hub network, which operates as the interface of science and management. Partners rely upon ARS scientists to share the most authoritative scientific information to advance adaptation and mitigation.

2. Enhancing drought resilience via collaboration and partnership. Water scarcity has long been the paramount challenge in the Southwestern U.S. and drought intensity and duration are expected to increase in the region. Recent exceptional drought (the highest classification in the U.S. drought monitor) impacted wildfire potential, agricultural production, water management, the economy, and human well-being. Until recently, the region lacked a way to succinctly document and communicate the novel drought experiences and responses among service providers, federal and state officials, scientists, and stakeholders. In response, scientists from ARS in Las Cruces, New Mexico, the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC) initiated the Southwest Drought Learning Network (DLN) to convene and learn from people studying and experiencing drought. In fiscal year 2022, the more than 115 members of the DLN organized into five teams. We broadened our reach through partnership and collaboration, leading to expanded monitoring and impact reporting, nine drought briefings (reaching at least 2,700 listeners), and articles to document drought response and efficacy. The indigenous collaboration team of the DLN co-hosted an in-person tribal drought summit. Natural resource managers from more than 15 pueblos attended and expanded precipitation monitoring on tribal lands via installment of more than 50 myRAINge and CoCoRaHS gauges. The DLN is one of our most impactful efforts because it provides framework for collaboration – linking scientists with managers to develop solutions for one of the most challenging weather and climate impacts in the region.

3. Climate Conversations strengthen climate awareness within Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). NRCS personnel are being encouraged to include future climate risks in their activities, planning and programs. At the same time, we are witnessing unprecedented extreme events such as drought, fire, and flooding. The science points to a future where these extreme events are the norm, and their severity and frequency will surpass what we are experiencing today. With this in mind, the ARS in Las Cruces, New Mexico, facilitated “Climate Conservations” with NRCS state offices and employees. This conversational approach has been invaluable in highlighting individual state needs and priorities. In fiscal year 2022, more than 862 NRCS staff from 8 States participated. Effectiveness of the Climate Conversations was high, with 97% of participants responding that the Climate Conversation increased their understanding of climate resiliency.

4. Adaptation planning and practices efforts lead to mindful climate action. In early fiscal year 2022, Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRSC) employees in Hawaii were struggling to incorporate climate risk information into projects. Following the Hawaii Climate Conversation NRCS leadership in Hawaii requested additional adaptation training through an ARS-led (ARS, Las Cruces, New Mexico) adaptation planning and practices (APP) workshop. More than 40 participants, representing Federal and State government agencies, nongovernmental organizations, academia, and private landholders participated in the training to consider climate change information and identify adaptation actions. One participant shared that "The Hawaii APP Training helped to foster ideas, build confidence, and improve capacity of the many organizations and individuals dedicated to building resilience and addressing the threat of future changes to the climate, and the associated impacts to natural resources." ARS scientists also hosted an APP course for irrigators in the Upper Rio Grande, foresters on the Coronado National Forest, climate coordinators of Region 4 of the United States Forest Service, and the Taylor Park District of the Gunnison National Forest. Participants leave the APP courses with a prioritized list of climate adaptation options designed to reach management goals despite a changing climate.

5. Broadening climate literacy within and outside USDA via sustained communications. Doomsday narratives common in the public media can lead to inaction and despair. Thus, ARS scientists in Las Cruces, New Mexico, share relevant science and practical solutions intended to promote self-efficacy. Between October 2021 and August 2022 ARS reached at least 9,600 people via presentations, workshops, briefings, podcasts and webinars. Broadening climate literacy within and outside USDA requires sustained communications delivered through a variety of media. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic ARS staff became expert in hosting and presenting via virtual media. ARS continues to deliver virtual webinars, host in-person workshops, distribute quarterly bulletins, and offer invited presentations. In fiscal year 2022, ARS scientists delivered invited presentations on the impacts of climate change to groups such as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Science Integration Team; United States Forest Service (USFS) R4 Sustainability Team, Intertribal Agricultural Council, and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region 8. Since October 1st, 2021, the Come Rain or Shine podcast aired 11 full-length episodes on topics ranging from drought and water desalination to climate-change driven ecosystem transformation. One listener stated, ""I was so taken not only by the topic but by the superb communication tool you made of mere audio (which I thought impossible) that I binge-listened to all 4 forestry climate adaptation episodes late into the night."" Continued solution-oriented communications expand climate resilience in the Southwest.

6. Decision-support delivery to internal and external advisors builds resilience to climate risks. Weather-related challenges in U.S. southwestern communities and ecosystems include crop loss, extreme drought, variability in rangeland production, and wildfire. ARS researchers in Las Cruces, New Mexico, updated, maintained and shared a cadre of decision-support tools including the AgRisk Viewer, the dust mitigation handbook, and the AfterFire toolkit. We also shares the Grass-Cast forage production forecasting tool and continue research with partners to understand biophysical relationships underpinning Grass-Cast. We curated and distributed a toolshed of decision support tools for beef cattle production and management called Tools for the Beef Industry (TOBI). These activities are assisting farmers, ranchers, foresters, and other land managers in developing and implementing strategies to adapt to the impacts of extreme weather.

Review Publications
Dinan, M., Adler, P., Bradford, J., Brunson, M., Elias, E.H., Felton, A., Greene, C., James, J., Suding, K., Thacker, E. 2021. Making research relevant: Sharing climate change research with rangeland advisors to transform results into drought resilience. Rangelands. 43(5):185-193.
Nyamuryekung'e, S., Cibils, A.F., Estell, R.E., McIintosh, M., VanLeeuwen, D., Steele, C., Gonzalez, A.L., Spiegal, S.A., Reyes, L., Almeida, F.G., Anderson, M.C. 2021. Foraging behavior and body temperature of heritage vs. commercial beef cows in relation desert ambient heat. Journal of Arid Environments. 193.Article 104565.
Nyamuryekung'e, S., Cibils, A., Estell, R.E., Vanleeuwen, D., Spiegal, S.A., Steele, C., Gonzalez, A.L., McIntosh, M.M., Gong, Q., Cao, H. 2022. Movement, activity, and landscape use patterns of heritage and commercial beef cows grazing Chihuahuan Desert rangeland. Journal of Arid Environments. 199:Article 104704.