Interactions among species can strongly affect how plant communities reassemble after disturbances, and variability among native and invasive species across environmental gradients must be known in order to manage plant-community recovery. The stress-gradient hypothesis (SGH) predicts species interactions will be more positive in abiotically stressful conditions and conversely, more negative in benign conditions, and the resistance-resilience concept (RRC) may predict where and when invasions will complicate ecosystem recovery. We evaluated how abiotic stress and biotic interactions determine native bunchgrass abundances across environmental gradients using additive models of cover data from over 500 plots re-measured annually for 5 years as they recovered naturally (untreated) after a megafire (>100,000 ha) in sagebrush steppe threated by the invasive-grass and fire cycle.
Thus, to understand the effects of removing contemporary grazing, we compared contemporary grazed areas to long-term (+10 yrs.) grazing exclusion areas in three common Wyoming big sagebrush community types: intact, degraded, and exotic annual grass-dominated types. Plant community characteristics (cover, density, diversity, richness, dissimilarity) were measured in 2020 and 2021 in five grazed and grazing excluded areas within each community type. Most plant community characteristics were not influenced by grazing exclusion, suggesting that the removal of contemporary grazing has little effect on Wyoming big sagebrush plant communities. The effect of grazing exclusion on Sandberg bluegrass abundance and litter cover varied among community types, suggesting that grazing exclusion effects slightly varied among community types. In contrast, most plant community characteristics varied among community types and between years, suggesting that grazing management plans need to account for the spatial and temporal variability among Wyoming big sagebrush communities. Furthermore, our results suggest that contemporary grazing exclusion has negligible effects compared to contemporary grazing on plant communities, and that exclusion of contemporary grazing (passive restoration) does not promote the recovery of degraded and annual grass invaded plant communities.
Here, we investigated the effects of seasonal weather and plant associations, related to abiotic characteristics, on herbaceous production dynamics across 44 intact, representative sagebrush steppe sites across eastern Oregon from 2003 to 2012. We tested for the effects of sampling year, lagged precipitation, and potential evapotranspiration predictors, as well as prior year biomass and plant association on production of major herbaceous functional groups. We also tested for synchrony across functional groups and plant associations. We found that spring precipitation was the most consistent predictor of production. However, several other variables including prior year weather significantly affected production. Production sensitivity to weather was combined with high synchrony across functional groups and associations, suggesting low potential for production stability associated with these factors in sagebrush steppe in the northern Great Basin.
In this forum paper we briefly review current knowledge of common fuel treatment approaches, their intended benefits, potential risks, and limitations. We additionally discuss challenges for fuel treatment strategies in the context of changes in climate, invasive species, wildlife habitat, and human population, and we explore how advances in geospatial technologies, monitoring, and fire behavior modeling, as well as accounting for social context, can improve the efficacy of fuels management in sagebrush ecosystems. Finally, given continued potential for ecosystem transformation, we describe approaches to future fuels management by considering the applicability of the Resist-Accept-Direct (RAD) framework. The intent of the paper is to provide scientists and land managers with key information and a forward-thinking framework for fuels science and adaptive management that can respond to both expected and unexpected changes in sagebrush rangelands.
The Bureau of Land Management and the Great Basin Fire Science Exchange have partnered to offer the following Restoration of Sagebrush Ecosystems Class, see course flyer.
*Registration is now full, check back in 2024 for next year’s course details.
What: Restoration of Sagebrush Ecosystems Class
Why: Learn about landscape and site planning, treatment options, monitoring, and more
Who can/should attend: DOI and Non-DOI Land Management Professionals
When: 10-13 April 2023
Where: Courtyard Marriott, Boise/West Meridian, ID
How: DOI link Course: Restoration of Sagebrush Ecosystems (doi.gov), non-DOI registration instructions
This study found that wildfires burned more area of non-forest lands than forest lands at the scale of the conterminous and western U.S. and the Department of Interior (DOI). In an agency comparison, 74% of DOI burned area occurred on non-forest lands and 78% of U.S. Forest Service burned area occurred on forested lands. Landscape metrics revealed key differences between forest and non-forest fire patterns and trends in total burned area, burned patch size, distribution, and aggregation over time across the western U.S. Opposite fire patterns emerged between non-forest and forest burns when analyzed at the scale of federal agency jurisdictions. In addition, a fire regime departure analysis comparing current large fire probability with historic fire trends identified certain vegetation types and locations experiencing more fire than historically. These patterns were especially pronounced for cold desert shrublands, such as sagebrush where increases in annual area burned, and fire frequency, size, and juxtaposition have resulted in substantial losses over a twenty-year period.
We modeled seasonal habitat use by female greater sage-grouse in the Trout Creek Mountains of Oregon and Nevada, USA, to identify landscape characteristics that influenced sage-grouse habitat selection and to create predictive surfaces of seasonal use 1 and 7 years postfire. We developed three resource selection function models using GPS location data from 2013 to 2019 for three biologically distinct seasons (breeding, n = 149 individuals: 8 March–12 June; summer, n = 140 individuals: 13 June–20 October; and winter, n = 94 individuals: 21 October–7 March). For all seasons, by the fourth or fifth year postfire, sage-grouse selected for unburned patches more than all other burn severity patches and the use of unburned areas in comparison with burned areas increased through time. During the breeding season, sage-grouse selected for low-sagebrush -dominated ecosystems and areas with low biomass (normalized difference vegetation index). During summer, sage-grouse selected for areas with higher annual and perennial grasses and forb cover, and areas that had higher biomass. During winter, sage-grouse selected for areas of intact sagebrush on less rugged terrain. For the winter and breeding season, there was a positive linear relationship between annual grasses and forb cover through time. Seven years postfire (2019), the area predicted to have a high probability of use in each seasonal range decreased (breeding: 16.4%; summer: 12.2%; and winter: 4.2%), while the area predicted to have low or low-medium probability of use increased (breeding: 14.5%; summer: 22.5%; and winter: 22.8%) when compared to the first year following the wildfire (2013). Our results demonstrated a 4- to 5-year time lag before female sage-grouse adapted to a disturbed landscape began avoiding burned areas more than intact, unburned habitats. This mismatch in ecological response may imply declines in habitat availability for sage-grouse and may destabilize population vital rates. Spatially explicit models can aid in identifying priority areas for restoration efforts and conservation actions to mitigate the impacts of future disturbances.
Relationship of greater sage-grouse to natural and assisted recovery of key vegetation types following wildfire
We measured the presence of greater sage-grouse (GRSG) scat and modeled the probability of GRSG presence (PrGRSG-scat) in relation to variation in plot-level and landscape-level predictors, and land treatments, in an intensive, repeat sampling from 2017 to 2020 of 113,000 ha area burned in 2015 in the Soda Megafire (Oregon and Idaho, U.S.A.). GRSG scat was present in less than 200 of more than 8,000 observations, as would be expected for a philopatric species (i.e. high fidelity to home site) returning to degraded habitat. PrGRSG-scat was positively associated with sagebrush presence at the plot level and was positively related to elevation, lower-angle slopes, and proximity to sagebrush seedling outplant islands. The statistical significance of relationships of PrGRSG-scat to restoration treatments was marginal at best, with the largest effect being a positive response of PrGRSG-scat to pre-emergent herbicide sprayed to reduce exotic annual grasses. More time may be required for restored sagebrush steppe to meet GRSG needs or for GRSG to “adopt” the restored vegetation. Moreover, whereas scat is a convenient and non-invasive method to monitor GRSG, its post-fire scarcity weakens the strength of statistical inference on GRSG recovery patterns and response to restoration.
Field data from 460 sagebrush populations sampled across the Great Basin revealed several patterns. Sagebrush seedlings were uncommon in the first 1–2 years after fire, with none detected in 69% of plots, largely because most fires occurred in areas of low resistance to invasive species and resilience to disturbance (hereafter, R&R). Post-fire aerial seeding of sagebrush dramatically increased seedling occupancy, especially in low R&R areas, which exhibited a 3.4-fold increase in occupancy over similar unseeded locations. However, occupancy models and repeat surveys suggested exceptionally high mortality, as occupancy rates declined by as much as 50% between the first and second years after fire. We found the prevalence of “fertile island” microsites (patches beneath fire-consumed sagebrush) to be the best predictor of seedling occupancy, followed by aerial seeding status, native perennial grass cover, and years since fire. In populations where no sagebrush seeding occurred, seedlings were most likely to occur in locations with a combination of high fertile island microsite cover and close proximity to a remnant sagebrush plant. These important attributes were only present in 13% of post-fire locations, making them rare across the Great Basin.