• Tree Age and Dominance Patterns in Great Basin Pinyon-Juniper Woodlands

      Tausch, R. J.; West, N. E.; Nabi, A. A. (Society for Range Management, 1981-07-01)
      Prior studies of pinyon-juniper woodlands at a few locations have indicated considerable historical expansion of the trees and loss of understory. Whether these changes are a widespread phenomenon and related to pervasive, rather than local, influences was the question asked by this research. An objective sampling of 18 randomly selected mountain ranges in the Great Basin was undertaken. Tree age and dominance in the pinyon-juniper woodlands showed definite geographical, elevational, and historical trends. The oldest, most tree-dominated woodlands were located in areas of intermediate topography where disturbances may have been less frequent. Populations of both tree species [Pinus monophylla (Torr.) and Juniperus osteosperma (Torr. and Frem.)] were progressively younger and less dominant in both upslope and downslope directions from the intermediate elevations. Tree densities have also historically increased within the oldest woodlands. Pinyon density has increased faster than that of juniper. Approximately 40 percent of the sampled plots had their trees establishing during the last 150 years. These changes generally coincide with introduction of heavy livestock grazing, tree utilization by the mining industry, and fire suppression that followed settlement of the region. Associated climatic trends were also investigated. The relative importance of these influences on the changes in tree age and dominance cannot be determined without further research. The loss of understory, coincident with increasing tree dominance, has reduced forage production and made the woodlands progressively less susceptible to fire. Barring some major environmental change or management action, this forage reduction and decreased frequency of burning will continue until trees dominate much more area.