SALT LAKE CITY — A sprawling cattle ranch in the dramatic canyonlands of southern Utah could play a key role in understanding the effects of climate change around the West.
The Nature Conservancy hopes to break ground next year on the Canyonlands Research Center, located just east of Canyonlands National Park.
The center is intended to serve as a hub for scientists studying climate change and management of public lands on the Colorado Plateau.
The station is ideally located in Utah, which is expected to warm more dramatically than many other states, according to climate predictions, said Barry Baker, a Moab-based climate scientist for the conservancy.
"It's obvious we're seeing changes," he said. "What we want to do there is investigate how we can help land management adapt."
The Nature Conservancy paid $4.6 million for the 5,200-acre Dugout Ranch in 1997. The ranch, which borders vast tracts of public land, sits among steep sandstone cliffs, talus slopes and scatterings of ancient rock art that lead to a Canyonlands area known as The Needles.
The ranch is well-situated to establish a research station to mark changes due to warming climate and determine if land-use policies that govern grazing, recreation and other activities need to be altered, supporters said.
Scientists have said that under warming conditions, the area could face increasing drought, faster snowmelt, more dust, less water availability in the Colorado River and a rise in some invasive species.
"The Canyonlands Research Center has the potential to generate some of the world's most important science on the interactions of climate change and land use," Joel Tuhy, director of science for the conservancy's Utah chapter, said in a statement.
The center would be a partnership between the conservancy, Utah State University, four federal agencies, the state of Utah and Indian Creek Cattle Co.
Jeff Troutman, chief of Resources at Canyonlands National Park, said scientists in the area have been talking for more than a decade about a joint station where researches could gather, work and provide information.
"The fact that we're at a higher altitude gives us some early indications of what might happen around us," Troutman said.
The Nature Conservancy is also planning an assessment of plants and animals in Utah deemed the most vulnerable to climate change.