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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available September 15, 2023
  2. Despite decades of policy that strives to reduce nutrient and sediment export from agricultural fields, surface water quality in intensively managed agricultural landscapes remains highly degraded. Recent analyses show that current conservation efforts are not sufficient to reverse widespread water degradation in Midwestern agricultural systems. Intensifying row crop agriculture and increasing climate pressure require a more integrated approach to water quality management that addresses diverse sources of nutrients and sediment and off-field mitigation actions. We used multiobjective optimization analysis and integrated three biophysical models to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of alternative portfolios of watershed management practices at achieving nitrate and suspended sediment reduction goals in an agricultural basin of the Upper Midwestern United States. Integrating watershed-scale models enabled the inclusion of near-channel management alongside more typical field management and thus directly the comparison of cost-effectiveness across portfolios. The optimization analysis revealed that fluvial wetlands (i.e., wide, slow-flowing, vegetated water bodies within the riverine corridor) are the single-most cost-effective management action to reduce both nitrate and sediment loads and will be essential for meeting moderate to aggressive water quality targets. Although highly cost-effective, wetland construction was costly compared to other practices, and it was not selected in portfolios at low investment levels.more »Wetland performance was sensitive to placement, emphasizing the importance of watershed scale planning to realize potential benefits of wetland restorations. We conclude that extensive interagency cooperation and coordination at a watershed scale is required to achieve substantial, economically viable improvements in water quality under intensive row crop agricultural production.

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  3. Widespread development and shifts from rural to urban areas within the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) has increased fire risks to local populations, as well as introduced complex and long-term costs and benefits to communities. We use an interdisciplinary approach to investigate how trends in fire characteristics influence adaptive management and economies in the Intermountain Western US (IMW). Specifically, we analyze area burned and fire frequency in the IMW over time, how fires in urban or rural settings influence local economies and whether fire trends and economic impacts influence managers’ perspectives and adaptive decision-making. Our analyses showed some increasing fire trends at multiple levels. Using a non-parametric event study model, we evaluated the effects of fire events in rural and urban areas on county-level private industry employment, finding short- and long-term positive effects of fire on employment at several scales and some short-term negative effects for specific sectors. Through interviewing 20 fire managers, we found that most recognize increasing fire trends and that there are both positive and negative economic effects of fire. We also established that many of the participants are implementing adaptive fire management strategies and we identified key challenges to mitigating increasing fire risk in the IMW.