• Fuels Reduction in a Western Coniferous Forest: Effects on Quantity and Quality of Forage for Elk

      Long, Ryan A.; Rachlow, Janet L.; Kie, John G.; Vavra, Martin (Society for Range Management, 2008-05-01)
      Use of mechanical thinning and prescribed fire to reduce fuels in dry forest ecosystems has become increasingly common in western North America. Nevertheless, few studies have quantified effects of fuels reduction treatments on wildlife. We evaluated effects of fuels reduction on quantity and quality of forage available to elk (Cervus elaphus) in northeastern Oregon. From 2001 to 2003, 26 stands of true fir (Abies spp.) and Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii [Mirbel] Franco) were thinned and burned, whereas 27 similar stands were left untreated to serve as experimental controls. We estimated percentage of cover, percentage of in vitro dry-matter digestibility (digestibility), and percentage of nitrogen (%N) of 16 important forage species and genera in treatment and control stands during spring (May-June) and summer (July-August) of 2005 and 2006. Quantity and quality of forage were lower in summer than spring in both stand types. In contrast, total cover of forage was higher in treatment than in control stands during spring, whereas the opposite was true during summer. For graminoids, %N was higher in control than in treatment stands whereas digestibility did not differ between stand types. For forbs, neither index of forage quality differed between stand types. When treatment stands were separated by years since burning, %N and digestibility of forbs and %N of graminoids increased from 2 to 5 yr following treatment, and by the fifth year after burning had exceeded maximum values observed in control stands in both seasons. As a result of the interacting effects of fuels reduction and season on forage characteristics, treated stands provided better foraging opportunities for elk during spring, whereas control stands provided better foraging opportunities during summer. Consequently, maintaining a mosaic of burned and unburned (late successional) habitat may be of greater benefit to elk than burning a large proportion of a landscape. 
    • Managing High-Elevation Sagebrush Steppe: Do Conifer Encroachment and Prescribed Fire Affect Habitat for Pygmy Rabbits?

      Woods, Bonnie A.; Rachlow, Janet L.; Bunting, Stephen C.; Johnson, Timothy R.; Bocking, Kelly (Society for Range Management, 2013-07-01)
      Both fire and conifer encroachment can markedly alter big sagebrush communities and thus habitat quality and quantity for wildlife. We investigated how conifer encroachment and spring prescribed burning affected forage and cover resources for a sagebrush specialist, the pygmy rabbit. We studied these dynamics at spring prescribed burns in southwestern Montana and eastern Idaho during the summer of 2011. Within each spring prescribed burn, we established plots that described the habitat conditions for pygmy rabbits (forage plant biomass and habitat components that influence predation risk) in areas that were burned, adjacent areas of conifer encroachment, and areas that were neither burned nor encroached. We analyzed the data for significant differences in habitat conditions between the paired reference and encroachment plots and modeled when the burned areas would approximate the conditions on the paired reference plots. Biomass of forage plants and habitat components that reduce predation risk differed between undisturbed reference plots and areas that were either burned or encroached with >30% conifer canopy. Our models estimated that 13-27 yr were required for a spring prescribed burn to provide levels of cover and forage resources similar to sagebrush steppe reference plots. We documented that vegetation composition was associated with the plot designations (burn, reference, or conifer encroachment), but not with other abiotic factors, such as soil texture, aspect, or study site; this suggested that the documented differences in habitat were related to the treatments, rather than being site-specific characteristics. The information from this study can contribute to habitat management plans for high-elevation mountain big sagebrush sites where conifer encroachment is altering habitat for sagebrush-dependent wildlife species.