Research Assistant Projects for Ucross 2020-2021
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Below are projects descriptions directly from western partners that students can work on during Sep/Oct-May by applying to be a Research Assistant or Speaker Coordinator with Ucross High Plains Stewardship Initiative. Applications are due anytime before September 9 at 11:59 PM and more info about the pogram and instructions for applying are on our website here. If you have questions, please contact michelle.downey@yale.edu. Application requires a cover letter addressing career aspirations (1 page max), resume (3 page max), answers to application questions (available on website) in one PDF file. All work will be done remotely and wage rate is $15.00/hour. Incoming students taking a gap year are not eligble to apply .(Note for some team projects it may be that you have one of the required skills, but not all. In that case, I would try to select a student team member with the other skill set).
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General Topic by KeywordsUHPSI SeekingIDOrganizationProject TitleBrief DescriptionStudent Skillset and Level Desired (Note for some team projects it may be that you have one of the required skills, but not all. In that case, I would try to find you a student team member with the other skill set)Overall Project DescriptionGeographical area of ImpactProject ObjectivesDeliverables DesiredDeliverable Due DateNotes
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Recreation, Conservation Planning, Open Standards, Collaboration2-3 Research Assistants AThe Nature Conservancy - ColoradoFishers Peak State ParkBlending human powered outdoor recreation and conservation values at the scientific assessment level of planning a new state park.
• Recreation planning (intermediate)
• Conservation biology science (intermediate)
The Trust for Public Land (TPL) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) acquired the 30-square-mile Crazy French Ranch containing the 9,633-foot Fisher’s Peak, in partnership with the City of Trinidad, Colorado Parks & Wildlife, and Great Outdoors Colorado. The 19,200 acres encompassed by the ranch are rich in both biodiversity and recreation potential – so much so that The National Park Service considered the property for a National Monument designation. While a Monument designation is no longer a consideration, the iconic property has been designated as Colorado’s first new State Park in over a quarter century. The property is being used as a test-case for building a new planning process, built on the Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation, to intentionally marry recreation and conservation planning as the scientific base of the State Park design. This project would provide help build and extend that base of science.The City of Trinidad, Las Animas County and the State of Colorado1) Identify, compile and synthesize the best scientific data on the interaction of outdoor recreation and wildlife to inform a shared scientific consensus in building the new state park.
2) Interfacing with ecological science team to help inform decisions about site-specific recreational uses.
3) Working with project partners to identify how the recreational infrastructure can best be leveraged to benefit the cultural, educational, and economic future of the City of Trinidad, Las Animas County, and the State of Colorado.
4) Developing key performance indicators (KPI), and a framework for measuring these KPIs, so project partners can monitor the progress towards the project pillars.
1) A literature review and summary of scientific published papers on the interaction of recreation and wildlife
2) Participation in planning meetings
3) Development of a framework and methodology for collecting data on outdoor recreation usage at FPSP and its impact(s) over time on culture, education and economy of Trinidad, CO and Las Animas County. This work will parallel similar tracking over time on ecological impacts from outdoor recreation at FPSP, permitting better adaptive management to achieve effective ecological conservation together with benefits to local cumminities.
5/1/21
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Monitoring, Collaboration, Rangelands, Communications (part 1), Range Research (part 2), Landowners (part 1), Indicators (part 2)2-3 Research AssistantsB1 and B2 (Note: there are two parts to this project, please indidcate if you want to be involved in both or only B1 or B2)Range Monitoring Group, MontanaRange Monitoring Group's Collaborative Monitoring Pilot ProjectThe Range Monitoring Group (RMG) has built a coalition of ranchers, landowners, agency managers, scientists, NGO partners and academic researchers who wish to collaboratively monitor/data share ecosystem health at the landscape scale in central and eastern Montana to document the impacts of range management practices and to improve opportunities for participation in conservation and public lands grazing programs, future ecosystem services marketplaces, and consumer markets for sustainably produced products. This project has a part 1 (developing communications pieces around rancher's experiences) and a part 2 (explaining range indicators).Part 1 (B1)
• To conduct personal interviews with ranchers, student(s) should be skilled listeners with the ability to build trust while using remote means such as Zoom, Skype, or other electronic programs.
• Soliciting information from members of rural communities is a delicate process, and interviewees must be treated with utmost respect and courtesy.
• Written communication skills are also a must.

Part 2 (B2)
• Should have at least intermediate knowledge of range monitoring processes and how those relate to the assessment of Northern Great Plains ecological health.
The Range Monitoring Group (RMG) has been working for four years to build a coalition of ranchers and landowners, agency managers and scientists, non-profit partners and academic researchers interested in collaborative monitoring of ecosystem health at the landscape scale in central and eastern Montana. The goal of the RMG is to document the impacts of range management practices that improve ecosystem health and function, in order to improve opportunities to participate in conservation and public lands grazing programs, future ecosystem services marketplaces, and consumer markets for sustainably produced products. Common monitoring and data analysis across the landscape will allow for learning and coordination among neighbors and community members and will provide the information needed to make the case to both agencies and the public that range management practices contribute to improved ecological, economic and social function of grassland ecosystems in the northern Great Plains.

To achieve these objectives, the RMG pilot project for the 2020 and 2021 calendar years will begin in late summer 2020 with 3 ranches which already have multiple years of monitoring experience. A small team with expertise in social and natural science data analysis, remote sensing, and common data base assemblage will assemble and analyze the field and remote sensing data and work with the ranchers and RMG group on how it can lead towards improving health of rangeland ecosystems at both pasture and landscape levels. Participating ranchers have agreed to share their data and their experience.
The RMG pilot project will encompass the Musselshell Plains region of central Montana, east of the Continental Divide. If successful, the techniques used will be expanded to other areas of Montana.Part I: The participating ranchers (landowners) bring a wealth of experience which may not be obvious in the monitoring data. The student(s) will support ranchers in documenting the stories of each ranch and how monitoring has influenced decision-making. Possible topics could include: lessons learned through application of sustainable grazing practices, changes in attitudes and thought over time through the monitoring process by learning about ranch history and decision making, how ranchers feel about monitoring, and what they have gained by both the process of monitoring (where collaborative is necessary) and by the actual results.

Create and document a feedback forum (meeting in person and/or virtually) for sharing the results between the participating ranchers, and possibly including relevant researchers and other stakeholders. Both individually and as a group examine and discuss the situation for each ranch, and keep a list of lessons learned and recommendations for the next phase of this project. Explore the potential for developing and defining a shared ‘sense of place’, approach to stewardship, and sense of community evolving from the sharing process.

Part II: The RMG pilot project will use numerous indicators of ecological health and social well-being. Many of the ecological indicators for soil characteristics, plant community composition, and migratory bird density and distribution are components of a comprehensive list of sustainable grazing indicators compiled by the World Wildlife Fund Northern Great Plains Program and The Nature Conservancy, with the intention to expand monitoring of a common set of indicators across the Great Plains. The successful RMG pilot will help to serve as an example of how collective monitoring and storytelling can be accomplished. To add interpretive value to the data that RMG participants will be collecting, there is a need to explain the origin of the indicator. For example, what method(s) are used for collection and why, what measures are derived, and what kinds of meanings can be interpreted from the indicators
Outcomes, Part I: Decision makers and stakeholders (ranchers, scientists, agency officials, community members) may experience an evolution of their attitudes through expanded awareness of how the monitoring and sharing process can function and build community. The student(s) will engage with landowners by 1) virtually (phone calls, Zoom, etc.) meeting with the landowners and building a relationship based on trust and mutual understanding, and 2) documenting relevant parts of the communication that can be used for educational purposes. The desired format for how the story will be told (article, video, etc.) will be determined based on the landowner’s preference and student’s ability.

Outcomes, Part II: This aspect of the project will involve extensive interaction with the data collectors and interpreters along with a literature review. RMG will be able to provide guidance for background material and data collectors in the region, but the student will be expected to expand on these references to compile additional data. Stories about the field collection of data can add value to the relevance while providing guidelines for which methods are most effective. A clear understanding of how each indicator is integral for measuring and conveying the role range management has in contributing to the ecological function of grassland ecosystems will demonstrate the value to landowners and throughout the supply chain including for consumers that may otherwise be disconnected from the landscape.

Deliverables, Part I: A narrative, with appropriate formats (writing, pictorial, video…) to document the feedback forum process and results. This project will result in at least three well thought out and articulated narratives detailing the human dimensions of rancher participation in rangeland monitoring. Stories will be suitable for publication in print news outlets, digital audio format (such as a podcast), or video journalism. The student will draw from other rancher experiences in previously published material to leverage similarities and provide a collective voice across geographies.

Deliverables, Part II: This deliverable will take the form of a literature review with sections outlining why the indicator is valuable for documenting the interaction between grazing management on rangeland health, methods used to measure the indicators on rangelands, the units used to report on the indicators, and how the indicators are used to inform management practices. Three categories of indicators have been identified: soil characteristics, plant composition, and grassland bird population dynamics, but the student will have the flexibility to expand on this, based on personal interests.
5/1/2021Students may apply for part one or part two or both. Please indidcate this on your application however.
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Farming, Organic, Risk-sharing, Supply Chains2 Research AssistantsCVilicus Training Institute, MontanaInnovative Risk & Reward Sharing Between Organic Farmers and the Supply Chain for Certified Biodynamic and Organic Grain, Pulse and Oil SeedsResearch, review and compile a set of examples that highlight how risk and rewards are shared across non-food supply chains and propose ways to implement/adopt.• Ability to write and communicate new ideas clearly
• Good research creativity and curiosity
• Some systems thinking skills would be helpful
This project will be an addendum to an original case study on specific contracting mechanisms between one farm and one processor. It will be a compilation of other examples and case studies of how risk/rewards are shared in other supply chains(not limited to food/farming) and in natural systems. The student will explore other supply chain research and working groups to identify examples where risk is actually being shared, or other theoretical mechanisms which may aid in more equitable sharing of risk. While the core work of the larger endeavor is around farm/food supply chains, the intent of this specific project is to find examples in other situations that could have applicability and be transferred to the organic grain, pulse, oilseed farming/food supply chain.This project is part of a larger body of work around contracting mechanisms that share risk and rewards for Organic Grain, Pulse and Oil Seed farms across the Northern Great Plains. A Yale student has helped to develop an original central case study on unique contracting mechanisms used in a white wheat contact between Vilicus Farms and a Grain Processor. This project will be an addendum to this original case study and be used to support future implementation of other ways to share risk and rewards. This work, once in a more final form, will be shared across the organic industry.1. Identify a set of innovative risk/reward mechanisms that could have applicability to the Organic Grain, Pulse, Oilseed Farm/Food Supply Chain
2. Develop an initial proposal to implementing the most applicable mechanisms
1. A compilation of examples of risk/reward sharing mechanisms used in nonfood/farming supply chains.
2. A compilation of examples of risk/reward sharing mechanisms that nature/ecological systems use.
3. A synthesized short list of mechanisms/methods from 1 and 2 that would have highest applicability to the Organic Grain, Pulse, Oilseed supply chain.
4. Using the list developed in 3, develop a short proposal for how each of those mechanisms/methods could be piloted in a future contract.
4/1/2021Note the due date is start of April and not May 1.
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Speaker Planning2 Speaker CoordinatorsDUHPSI (Internal)Coordinating the Western Speakers Series Coordinating the Western Speaker Series, which entails planning one or several events with presenters that are address western issues. Due to Covid-19, these events are likely to be virtual.
• Communications skill and ability to communicate with speakers independently
• Willingness to handle logistics and facilitate presentations
Students plan for speaker(s) to speak or presenting on important western issues to YSE community. It is important for our Yale community to stay connected to the important issues and research affecting conservation and stewardship of western lands,water, and people. In order to expose students to western issues and give them an opprotunity to engage with professionals in the field, we are seeking 1-2 students to help organize a symspoium or a series of small speaking events at YSE. Students will be responsible for selecting topics, finding speakers, and coordinating logsitics. Due to Covid-19, it likley that all speaker engagments will be online and not in person. These students will also work closely with the director to coordinate UHPSI scheduled events such as summer fellow and research assistant presentations. See events organized lsat year by visiting here.YSE and Yale communitySelect topic(s) for presentation(s), locate quality speakers, arrange logistics for events. Collaborate with director to help plan and carry out UHPSI annual events for summer fellows and research assistants.Coordinate events for western speakers to share their work or thougths with students5/1/21
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Forestry, Geospatial, Mechanical Treatment1-2 Research AssistantEUSDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (Bozeman, Montana Office)Elkhorn Mountain Conifer Density SurveyEvaluation of conifer density using aerial imagery, determining areas of public and private land suitable for brush treatment to reduce wildfire risk and improve plant community diversity.· Skills with ArcGIS or similar geospatial analysis software (intermediate)

· Knowledge of forest ecology and disturbance-induced succession (some)
Many forest communities in central Montana have not received any disturbance in up to 100 years, leaving few areas without an overstory, reduced plant community diversity, and increased fire risk. Because of the perceived danger of uncontrolled fire, prescribed fire treatments are generally not feasible on private forest lands in this area. Therefore, in absence of fire disturbance, other methods of brush treatment must be undertaken in select areas to reduce the extent of conifer encroachment. Using aerial imagery and geospatial analysis, the project will determine conifer encroachment extent in the Elkhorn Mountains, Montana, and describe the conifer density by square mile. To the extent possible, plant community composition (i.e. conifer species) determinations will also be estimated. Layering land use on the conifer density determinations, areas of private land will be prioritized for future Farm Bill funding, and areas of public land (e.g. USFS) in close proximity under control of a private lessee will also be captured. Prioritization methods are flexible, and may be influenced by the student researcher depending on their interest and ability to do so. If time allows, surveying landowners in the area to determine interest in prescribed fire treatments may allow for prioritization of trial areas to implement fire as a conifer treatment method.Several hundred square miles of central Montana mountains. This will prioritize areas for future Farm Bill funding to treat conifer encroachment and improve plant community diversity in decadent forest stands.Determine conifer density in the Elkhorn Mountains
Determine plant community composition in the Elkhorn Mountains (as possible)
Prioritize areas for treatment based on conifer density, species, and land use
Survey landowners regarding interest in prescribed fire treatment (as time allows)

Student will be involved in all aspects of this project as the primary researcher, with assistance from local USDA staff as necessary.
GIS layer describing conifer densities by square mile, or similar.5/1/21
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Geospatial, Citizen Science, Watershed, Databsed Managment2-3 Research AssistantsFStillwater-Rosebud Water Quality Initiative (Montana)Stillwater-Rosebud Water Quality InitiativeThis is a citizen-driven initiative to develop a land and water resource database and mapping program which will support management and engineering solutions to non-point source water quality degradation of the Stillwater River and Rosebud Creek in the rural landscape between the Beartooth Mountain front and Yellowstone River of south-central Montana.• Training in natural-environmental resources
• Experience with GIS and database systems, and functional skills in public database acquisition
• Verification and geo-spatial mapping (intermediate to advanced level)
This project will develop a unified electronic database and integrated mapping program which uses standard geographic protocols to characterize and quantify critical land and water resource attributes of the Stillwater River and Rosebud Creek watersheds. These streams arise in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area and, in its upper reach, East Rosebud Creek was recently designated a National Wild and Scenic River. However, non-point source degradation from nutrients, sediment and invasive terrestrial and aquatic organisms has resulted in water quality non-attainment reaches in portions of the basins in rural residential development and irrigated agricultural production. Although several USGS stream gaging stations exist in the basins, little to no baseline water quality monitoring has been conducted in recent years.
There exist many public geo-spatial databases of relevant watershed attribute data which, if verified and integrated into a single system, would be a highly valuable instrument for citizen-driven monitoring and planning of mitigation measures. The primary goal of this project would be for one to three research assistants to provide the SVWC with guidance on database and mapping system setup, along with performing database acquisition, verification, integration and digital mapping. The SVWC has intimate knowledge of the natural resources of the region and good familiarity with public information sources but needs assistance in information system and mapping platforms suitable for watershed analysis.
We recognize that this is a large, many-faceted program which realistically could require years to implement. However, the initial project on which the Yale students would be assigned would focus on quantification of land use/land cover, watershed hydrologic characteristics and irrigation systems. Their work would be directed by Tom Osborne, a registered professional hydrologist (AIH) with 45 years of experience in university field research and in consulting. Mr. Osborne will ensure the student's work is meaningful, relevant and achievable.
The project area is in Carbon and Stillwater Counties, south-central Montana. This project will provide the initial watershed-wide resource characterization. It will be a building block upon which a watershed restoration plan would be developed. The primary goal of this project would be for one to three research assistants to provide the SVWC with guidance on database and mapping system setup, along with performing database acquisition, verification, integration and digital mapping. The objectives would focus on classification and mapping of land use/land cover, hydrologic and meteorologic data, and irrigation/water rights.The principal deliverable will be a Storyboard and/or slide show depicting land and water use in the basins at one historic benchmark date (circa 1960s) and what it is today. This would include basic hydrologic characteristics of the basins that would contrast stream reaches with water quality degradation and without. The presentation would be made to the SVWC, a citizen-landowner non-profit organization, www.stillwatervalleywatershed.com which will provide critique and feedback to the student or students.5/1/21
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Grazing, Geospaitial (part 1), Creativity (part 2), Inherding, Ranching2 Research AssistantG1 and G2 (Note: there are two parts to this project, please indidcate if you want to be involved in both or only G1 or G2)Boot Ranch in Wyoming and Texas A&M University - KingsvilleExploring Inherding as a Grazing Practice for Conservation and Rangeland Health in WestInvestigate the feasibility of inherding as a grazing practice by 1. conducting a spatial analysis of a 10,000-acre summer grazing pasture using remotely sensed data (elevation, slope, distance to water, NDVI) to identify areas of high grazing probability that will assist land managers to better distribute grazing in a conservation-friendly manner and 2. Synthesizing traditional knowledge of shepherding to develop best practices for inherding in the western United States.
Part 1:
• GIS/Spatial skills (preferred intermediate, although a capable, enthusiastic novice is perfectly acceptable)
Part 2:

• A general interest in cultures, rangelands, and grazing
Diverse rangelands provide an important link among livestock, environment, and human health. Diverse plant communities allow livestock to forage a plant-diverse diet that results in phytochemically rich meat and dairy that is thought to enhance human health. Such grazing strategy depends on plant diversity and therefore conservation of the environment is central to the practice. Recently, a grazing practice known as inherding is being used to provide livestock with a diverse diet by strategically moving herds to specific areas based on plant phenology and conservation goals. Although inherding is a recent practice in the West, the concept itself is not a new: many cultures have been using shepherding to enhance animal, land, and environmental health for millenia. Production systems today often are intensive and confine livestock to small paddocks, monoculture pastures, and grain-fed feedlots; thus, inherding has been suggested as a way to not only enhance the nutritional content of meat and dairy by allowing livestock to forage a more plant-diverse diet but also as a practice to help restore riparian areas, conserve biodiversity, and minimize predator conflicts. However, use of inherding requires intimate knowledge of the landscape and plant phenology to plan herd movement, a knowledge that requires years to develop. We would like Yale students to research inherding feasibility on western rangelands in two parts:

Part 1 (G1):
Conducted a geospatial analysis of a 10,000-acre summer grazing pasture in Wyoming using remotely sensed data (e.g., topography, distance from water, elevation etc.) and knowledge of grazing behavior to develop a probability of use map that can guide landowners in the development of an inherding strategy. Map should depict areas of high grazing probability during summer.
Part 2 (G2):
Develop a synthesis of traditional knowledge contained in shepherding cultures around the world that could help identify general principles and best practices for inherding on western rangelands. Synthesis can be developed as a creative piece that can incorporate components such as storyboards, spatial figures, word clouds, etc. to help synthesize traditional knowledge.
Part 1 will impact 10,000 acres in Central Wyoming directly and part 2 will be used to as guiding principles for consideration when implementing inherding through the West.Part 1:
A geospatial analysis of a 10,000-acre summer grazing pasture in Wyoming using remotely sensed data (e.g., topography, distance from water, elevation etc.) and knowledge of grazing behavior to develop a probability of use map that can guide landowners in the development of an inherding strategy. Map should depict areas of high grazing probability during summer.

Part 2:
Develop a creative synthesis of traditional knowledge contained in shepherding cultures around the world that could help develop general principles and best practices for inherding on western rangelands. Synthesis can be developed as a creative piece that can incorporate components such as storyboards, spatial figures, word clouds, etc. to help synthesize traditional knowledge. Student has creative freedom to develop this as they like.

See column to left4/15/21Note: Students may apply for part one or part two or both. Please indidcate this on your application however in application questions.Due date is mid-April.
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