I've always encouraged them to compare used areas with unused areas, for example. Most parks have areas that are much more used—by the public—than other areas and so they can compare those areas. We are lucky at Canyonlands and Arches because we have areas, actually, that have never been grazed by livestock and are almost never visited by humans, so we have a pretty good idea of what is just regional change versus what is direct-visitation change. We have been measuring vegetation for 20 years, so we can also use that to say, "Wow, we are losing grasses," for instance—which we are—and say, "Okay, parks, you know, you are losing grasses, and you're losing grasses in areas that have never been grazed and are not visited by people, and you're losing that lichen, Collema, in an area that has never been grazed and has never been visited by people. So if you see it happening in areas where there's a lot of people it's not a result of management.” It also makes the parks incredibly valuable as a comparison for more utilized landscapes, like the Bureau of Land Management lands, because we can now distinguish between what's climate change and what's land use. A Let me give one example: I always assumed that the reason that they were losing their lichens and grasses was because of grazing and, you know, frankly, I was wrong. I think they've hastened it but they haven't created it, per se.
Finally, a vitally important question: Why do desert flowers bloom after rains?
When you do have a wet year then you have large flushes of annual plants, so, yes, moisture is important, but it's not just moisture. It's also crust. When you have a long time between wet years, you have a lot of nutrient buildup in the soils, and that nutrient buildup is due these organisms. They are activated by tiny, tiny rain events, like one millimeter will turn 'em on and they'll fix nitrogen and they'll fix carbon. So when it rains there's a huge flush of nutrients.