Identifying key climate and environmental factors affecting rates of post-fire big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) recovery in the northern Columbia Basin, USA

This study explored recovery of Wyoming big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata ssp.wyomingensis) and basin big sagebrush (A. tridentata ssp. tridentata) communities following fire in the northern Columbia Basin (Washington, USA). Plots across 16 fires in big sagebrush communities from 5 to 28 years ago and unburned locations were sampled. Density of large–mature big sagebrush plants and percentage cover of big sagebrush were higher with time since fire and in plots with more precipitation during the winter immediately following fire, but were lower when precipitation the next winter was higher than average, especially on soils with higher available water supply, and with greater post-fire mortality of mature big sagebrush plants. Bunchgrass cover 5 to 28 years after fire was predicted to be lower with higher cover of both shrubs and non-native herbaceous species, and only slightly higher with time. Post-fire recovery of big sagebrush in the northern Columbia Basin is a slow process that may require several decades on average, but faster recovery rates may occur under specific site and climate conditions.