Potential for post‐fire recovery of greater sage‐grouse habitat

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We used long‐term data from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Range Trend Project to assess short‐term (1–4 yr post‐treatment) and long‐term (6–10 yr post‐treatment) effects of fire on vegetation cover at 16 sites relative to sage‐grouse habitat vegetation guidelines. Sagebrush cover remained low post‐fire at sites considered historically unsuitable for sage‐grouse (<10% initial sagebrush cover). In contrast, at sites that had higher (>10%) pre‐fire sagebrush cover, sagebrush cover decreased to <10% in the short‐term post‐fire, but by 6–10 yr after fire, most of these sites exhibited a recovering trajectory and two sites had recovered to >10% cover. Post‐fire sagebrush cover was positively related to elevation. Across all sites, perennial grasses and forbs increased in cover to approximately meet the habitat vegetation guidelines for sage‐grouse. Cheatgrass cover did not change in response to fire, and increased perennial grass cover appears to have played an important role in suppressing cheatgrass. Our results indicate that, while fire poses a potential risk for sage‐grouse habitat loss and degradation, burned sites do not necessarily need to be considered permanently altered, especially if they are located at higher elevation, have high sagebrush cover pre‐fire, and are reseeded with perennial grasses and forbs post‐fire. However, our results confirm that fire at more degraded sites, for example, those with <10% sagebrush cover, can result in cheatgrass‐dominated landscapes and sagebrush loss at these sites should be avoided.

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