Sagebrush

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2022 Society for Range Management (SRM)’s 75th Annual Meeting

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Join us in the heart of New Mexico for the 75th Annual SRM Meeting. The beautiful high desert rangelands, diverse cultures, authentic art, and painted skies of Albuquerque will make for a great meeting.

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Resilience to fire and resistance to annual grass invasion in sagebrush ecosystems of US National Parks

Approximately 70 park units include at least some sagebrush shrublands or steppe, but we identified 40 parks with substantial amounts (>20% of park area) that can be included in an agency-wide conservation strategy. Second, we examined detailed patterns of resilience and resistance, fire history and fire risk, cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) invasion, and sagebrush shrub (Artemisia spp.) persistence in five national park units in Columbia Basin and Snake River Plain sagebrush steppe, contextualized by the broader summary. In these five parks, fire frequency and size increased in recent decades. Cheatgrass invasion and sagebrush persistence correlated strongly with resilience, burn frequency (0–3 fires since ~1940), and burn probability, but with important variation, in part mediated by local-scale topography. Third, we used these insights to assemble strategic sagebrush ecosystem fire protection mapping scenarios in two additional parks – Lava Beds National Monument and Great Basin National Park. Readily available and periodically updated geospatial data including soil surveys, fire histories, vegetation inventories, and long-term monitoring support resiliency-based adaptive management through tactical planning of pre-fire protection, post-fire restoration, and triage. Our assessment establishes the precarious importance of the US national park system to sagebrush ecosystem conservation and an operational strategy for place-based and science-supported conservation.

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Understanding the future of big sagebrush regeneration: Challenges of projecting complex ecological processes

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Here, we used two complementary models to explore spatial and temporal relationships in the potential of big sagebrush regeneration representing (1) range-wide big sagebrush regeneration responses in natural vegetation (process-based model) and (2) big sagebrush restoration seeding outcomes following fire in the Great Basin and the Snake River Plains (regression-based model). The process-based model suggested substantial geographic variation in long-term regeneration trajectories with central and northern areas of the big sagebrush region remaining climatically suitable, whereas marginal and southern areas are becoming less suitable. The regression-based model suggested, however, that restoration seeding may become increasingly more difficult, illustrating the particularly difficult challenge of promoting sagebrush establishment after wildfire in invaded landscapes. These results suggest that sustaining big sagebrush on the landscape throughout the 21st century may climatically be feasible for many areas and that uncertainty about the long-term sustainability of big sagebrush may be driven more by dynamics of biological invasions and wildfire than by uncertainty in climate change projections. Divergent projections of the two models under 21st century climate conditions encourage further study to evaluate potential benefits of re-creating conditions of uninvaded, unburned natural big sagebrush vegetation for post-fire restoration seeding, such as seeding in multiple years and, for at least much of the northern Great Basin and Snake River Plains, the control of the fire-invasive annual grass cycle.

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Prioritizing restoration areas to conserve multiple sagebrush-associated wildlife species

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We identified restoration priority areas with greater precision than existing spatial prioritizations and incorporated range differences among species. We noted tradeoffs, including that restoring for habitat connectivity may require restoration actions in areas with lower probability of success. Future applications of Prioritizing Restoration of Sagebrush Ecosystems Tool will draw from emerging datasets, including spatially-varying economic costs of restoration, animal movement data, and additional species, to further improve our ability to target effective sagebrush restoration.

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Dynamics of insect pollinator communities in sagebrush associated with weather and vegetation

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Pollinator familial richness, diversity, abundance, and timing of emergence were most strongly positively associated with spatiotemporal variation in minimum daily temperatures at the ground surface during the active season. Emergence timing was positively correlated with growing degree days and percent humidity, regardless of elevation. All pollinator groups varied in abundance throughout their active season, peaking in early July (bees), late July (flies), or early August (butterflies and moths). Our findings suggest that changes in nighttime temperatures, which have been steadily increasing over the last several decades as a result of climate change, may have strong effects on sagebrush steppe pollinator communities. Also, non-bee pollinators may provide particularly important pollination in this vast ecosystem during the warmest time of the year.

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Sagebrush biome – A framework for conservation action

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This framework for 2021-2025 reflects collaborative, multi-state planning efforts to update SGI 2.0, and continues to build from a decade of success conserving the sagebrush biome. This framework also serves as NRCS’ ongoing contribution to the Sagebrush Conservation Strategy administered by Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. Sharing common cross-boundary threats, NRCS staff across eleven western states collaborated to create this shared vision for conservation action.

Sagebrush and aspen landscape

Prioritizing restoration areas to conserve multiple sagebrush-associated wildlife species

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To address the challenge of spatial conservation prioritization, we developed the Prioritizing Restoration of Sagebrush Ecosystems Tool (PReSET). This decision support tool utilizes the prioritizr package in program R and an integer linear programming algorithm to select parcels representing both high biodiversity value and high probability of restoration success. We tested PReSET on a sagebrush steppe system within southwestern Wyoming using distributional data for six species with diverse life histories and a spatial layer of predicted sagebrush recovery times to identify restoration targets at both broad and local scales. While the broad-scale portion of our tool outputs can inform policy, the local-scale results can be applied directly to on-the-ground restoration. We identified restoration priority areas with greater precision than existing spatial prioritizations and incorporated range differences among species. We noted tradeoffs, including that restoring for habitat connectivity may require restoration actions in areas with lower probability of success. Future applications of PReSET will draw from emerging datasets, including spatially-varying economic costs of restoration, animal movement data, and additional species, to further improve our ability to target effective sagebrush restoration.

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Embracing complexity and humility in rangeland science

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We need to spend less time searching for general rules and more time embracing the complexity and context-dependence within rangeland science. Rather than writing off findings that do not fit our current worldview, we should challenge ourselves to broaden our views in ways that reconcile multiple findings or multiple truths. It is possible we are all partly or mostly right, and we just need to figure out why, how, and in what contexts. There is value in doing research in a way that focuses on really listening to and respecting multiple perspectives so that the results we produce not only qualify as facts, but also as truths that many people can buy into and get behind.

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Nevada Society for Range Management Suggested Reading – Spring 2021

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These abstracts of recent papers on rangeland management in the West were prepared by Charlie Clements, Rangeland Scientist, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Reno, NV.

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Emerging research in the sagebrush steppe-GB SER Virtual Conference

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The Great Basin Chapter of the Society for Ecological Restoration is hosting a virtual conference with a diverse range of speakers–early career scientists studying a range of restoration-related topics. If you are interested in learning about hot topics on the horizon for restoration in our region, this is the meeting for you!

 

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