Research Priorities

Research priorities for Capitol Reef Field Station and Capitol Reef National Park (CARE). Proposals are not limited to these research topics.

Grazing and Rangeland Health

Livestock grazing has occurred at Capitol Reef National Park (CARE) for over a century. While some allotments in the Park have been retired, others continue to be grazed by cattle. How has this affected the health of our rangeland ecosystems and native plant and animal communities? To what extent have retired grazing allotments recovered after decades of rest? How will management implemented under the park’s Livestock Grazing and Trailing Management Plan, to be completed in spring 2018, affect rangeland health? Additionally, the Hartnett grazing allotment in the northern region of CARE was retired in 2018, while the adjacent Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Hartnett grazing allotment is still active. This presents a unique opportunity to collect baseline data in order to assess changes in rangeland condition overtime.


Orchard Management

Pioneer families planted fruit trees as a cash crop and for subsistence in Fruita over 100 years ago, and the Park continues to maintain these historic orchards. Efforts to manage these orchards require continued research. The aging trees are under increased pressure from changing climate and rising visitation rates. What is the relationship between genetic varieties of tree species and fruit production under ongoing climate change? What native and non-native pollinators are visiting fruit trees, and are these pollinators undergoing changes in distribution or abundance? What are the most effective methods to control soil replant disease in apples and stone fruits without the use of chemicals?


Climate Change

Climate change is impacting plant and animal species worldwide. Has climate at the Park changed from baseline conditions? What are the projections for temperature (winter vs. summer warming) and precipitation, and do they vary between the north and south regions of the park? Are climate projections for CARE similar to the surrounding Colorado Plateau area? What are the consequences of climate change for species of concern, such as threatened and endangered species, in the Park?


Threatened & Endangered Species

Long-term monitoring of two unique cacti (Sclerocactus wrightiaeand Pediocactus winkleri) has occurred in the Park due to their status as Federally listed species. These species are threatened by climate change, insect and small mammal predators, large ungulates such as cattle, and illegal collecting. While continued monitoring provides the Park with information about their population status, many questions remain. Do the individual or aggregate effects of the threats have population level consequences? How do individuals respond to different levels of disturbance? What pollinators are visiting these species and what are their habitat needs and life history characteristics? What contributes to variation in reproductive effort? How are seeds dispersed, and what conditions result in successful germination?  What is the seedbank for these species? Additionally, the Mexican Spotted Owl (MSO; Strix occidentalis lucida) is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and the majority of CARE is designated as MSO critical habitat. Additional research on how MSO may be affected by factors such as grazing and climate change is needed to inform MSO management decisions.


Invasive Species

Non-native species present at CARE include cheatgrass, Russian thistle, halogeton, African mustard, tamarisk, Russian olive, and many others. The presence of non-native species can impair ecosystem function, and are often expensive and difficult to control. What is the extent and rate of spread of non-native species in the Park? Why have they impacted some areas more strongly than others? What reasonable control measures can be used to manage these species and restore native plants to the landscape? Are invasive species competing with or displacing any Park sensitive species? 


Pinyon-Juniper Ecosystems

Pinyon-juniper woodlands are the largest plant community in CARE but little research has been conducted on their condition and dynamics. What is the condition and drought susceptibility of these communities? What role does fire play in maintaining this community? What are potential climate futures for this community, the effects on dependent flora and fauna, and potential mitigation strategies? What type of connectivity and interactions are there between the pinyon-juniper woodlands of CARE and those adjacent to the park, and how important are they to the functioning of the ecosystem? 



Capitol Reef was created to protect and preserve the Waterpocket Fold, a nearly 100 mile long monocline exposing almost 200 million years of geologic history. This unique feature exposes nineteen different geologic formations in the Park. Capitol Reef is interested in research that will advance understanding of geologic processes in the Park. 


Water Resources

Research into Capitol Reef's water resources, particularly groundwater, is very limited and most work is decades old and somewhat cursory. The Park wants to improve its understanding of basic hydrologic processes such as the relationship between ground and surface water, and the presence, distribution and potential interaction of local and regional aquifers. Additionally, hydraulic characteristics of the major formations in the park are unknown. Such research would improve the Park’s understanding and management of stresses such as water use outside the park and climate change impacts on water resources and the dependent ecosystems. 


Social Science

Visitation to Capitol Reef has increased dramatically in recent years, reaching over 1 million visitors for the first time in 2016, and again in 2017. This trend is likely to continue, which presents many challenges for managing natural and cultural resources while still providing a meaningful visitor experience. What groups do these new visitors represent and how is the park impacting them? How is increased visitation affecting the Park and local communities? How can the Park effectively fulfill its mission as visitation continues to increase?