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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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Frameworks for conservation action in the Great Plains and sagebrush biomes

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Working Lands for Wildlife – the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s premier approach for conserving America’s working lands to benefit people, wildlife and rural communities – is excited to share information on two, action-based frameworks for conservation. The frameworks are the result of a multi-state planning effort and lay the foundation for the first biome-scale approach to wildlife conservation on working rangelands in grassland and sagebrush biomes. These efforts build on past achievements of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken and Sage Grouse Initiatives that together have partnered with more than 3,200 ranchers and conserved 10.3 million acres of working rangelands. The framework approach is designed to increase conservation and restoration of rangelands by addressing major threats to rangeland health and through the implementation of conservation measures that limit soil disturbance, support sustainable grazing management, promote the strategic use of prescribed fire and support native grassland species. Together, the frameworks leverage the power of voluntary, win-win conservation solutions to benefit people and wildlife from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean.

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Breaking down the Sagebrush Conservation Strategy, part 1

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In coordination with the Western Assoc of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, BLM, USFWS, and USGS, we are hosting a webinar that will introduce the content of the first part of the Sagebrush Conservation Strategy. The strategy highlights continuing pressures from unprecedented wildfires fueled by invasive annual grasses, as well as cropland conversion and disturbance associated with the development of other resources. These changes impact not just wildlife but also diverse human communities that depend on healthy sagebrush for their wellbeing.

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Sagebrush Conservation Strategy—Challenges to Sagebrush Conservation

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The sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) biome, its wildlife, and the services and benefits it provides people and local communities are at risk. Development in the sagebrush biome, for many purposes, has resulted in multiple and often cumulative negative impacts. These impacts, ranging from simple habitat loss to complex, interactive changes in ecosystem function, continue to accelerate even as the need grows for the resources provided by this biome. This “Sagebrush Conservation Strategy—Challenges to Sagebrush Conservation,” is an overview and assessment of the challenges facing land managers and landowners in conserving sagebrush ecosystems. This strategy is intended to provide guidance so that the unparalleled collaborative efforts to conserve the iconic greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) by State and Federal agencies, Tribes, academia, nongovernmental organizations, and stakeholders can be expanded to the entire sagebrush biome to benefit the people and wildlife that depend on this ecosystem. This report is organized into 3 parts.

“Part I. Importance of the Sagebrush Biome to People and Wildlife” introduces the biome and a subset of the more than 350 species of plants and animals associated with sagebrush for which there is some level of conservation concern. These include several sagebrush obligates that have been petitioned for listing under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), including greater sage-grouse, Gunnison sage-grouse (C. minimus; listed as threatened), and pygmy rabbit (Brachylagus idahoensis). Other sagebrush-dependent species, such as pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) and mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus), have experienced significant population declines.

“Part II. Change Agents in the Sagebrush Biome—Extent, Impacts, and Effort to Address Them” is an overview of the variety of change agents that are causing the continued loss and degradation of sagebrush. Topics covered include altered fire regimes, invasive plant species, conifer expansion, overabundant free-roaming equids, and human land uses, including energy development, cropland conversion, infrastructure, and improper livestock grazing. Climate changes, including warmer temperatures and altered amounts and timing of precipitation, have and will likely increasingly compound negative effects to sagebrush ecosystems from all these threats.

“Part III. Current Conservation Paradigm and Other Conservation Needs for Sagebrush” begins with an overview of how sage-grouse conservation, and the associated efforts and collaborations, may be able to address threats to and restoring degraded sagebrush and habitat for other sagebrush-dependent and -associated species. Meeting conservation goals for sage-grouse, mule deer, pygmy rabbits, and other sagebrush-associated wildlife will require extensive restoration of sagebrush communities already converted or degraded by the change agents outlined in Part II of this report. Concepts, considerations, techniques for restoration, and adaptive management and monitoring are discussed to help set the stage for potential strategies to improve conditions throughout the sagebrush biome. Communication, outreach, and engagement can enhance grassroots conservation efforts and build the next generation of managers, practitioners, scientists, and communicators who will care for the sagebrush ecosystem and stimulate or sustain public participation in sagebrush conservation issues.

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Sagebrush steppe short film: This land is part of us

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A short film produced by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Conservation Northwest.

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Plant functional groups and species contribute to ecological resilience 10 yrs after woodland expansion treatments

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The Sagebrush Treatment Evaluation Project (SageSTEP) evaluated the ecological effects of prescribed fire and cut‐and‐leave treatments in sagebrush communities experiencing tree expansion in North American cold desert shrublands. We used 10 yr of data from the SageSTEP network to test how treatments interacted with pre‐treatment tree dominance, soil climate, and time since treatment to affect plant functional groups and dominant species. Non‐sprouting shrub (Artemisia spp.), sprouting shrub, perennial graminoid, and annual grass responses depended on tree dominance and soil climate, and responses were related to the dominant species’ life‐history traits. Sites with warm and dry soils showed increased perennial graminoid but reduced Artemisia shrub cover across the tree dominance gradient after prescribed burning, while sites with cool and moist soils showed favorable post‐burn responses for both functional types, particularly at low to moderate tree dominance. Cut‐and‐leave treatments sustained or increased native perennial plant functional groups and experienced smaller increases in exotic annual plants in both soil climates across the tree dominance gradient. Both treatments reduced biocrust cover. Selecting appropriate tree‐reduction treatments to achieve desired long‐term outcomes requires consideration of dominant species, site environmental conditions, and the degree of woodland expansion. Careful selection of management treatments will reduce the likelihood of undesirable consequences to the ecosystem.

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Local adaptation to precipitation in Elymus elymoides: Growth and drought resistance trade-offs

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We used a common garden study to quantify variation in growth and drought resistance traits in 99 populations of Elymus elymoides from a broad geographic and climatic range in the western United States. Ecotypes from drier sites produced less biomass and smaller seeds, and had traits associated with greater drought resistance: small leaves with low osmotic potential and high integrated water use efficiency (δ13C). Seasonality also influenced plant traits. Plants from regions with relatively warm, wet summers had large seeds, large leaves, and low δ13C. Irrespective of climate, we also observed trade‐offs between biomass production and drought resistance traits. Together, these results suggest that much of the phenotypic variation among E. elymoides ecotypes represents local adaptation to differences in the amount and timing of water availability. In addition, ecotypes that grow rapidly may be less able to persist under dry conditions. Land managers may be able to use this variation to improve restoration success by seeding ecotypes with multiple drought resistance traits in areas with lower precipitation. The future success of this common rangeland species will likely depend on the use of tools such as seed transfer zones to match local variation in growth and drought resistance to predicted climatic conditions.

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