• Prickly Pear Cactus Responses to Summer and Winter Fires

      Ansley, R. James; Castellano, Michael J. (Society for Range Management, 2007-05-01)
      Prescribed fire is used to reduce size and density of prickly pear cactus (Opuntia spp.) in many rangeland ecosystems. However, effects of dormant season fires (i.e., winter fires) are inconsistent. Thus, there is increasing interest in use of growing season (summer) fires. Our objective was to evaluate effects of fire season and fire intensity on mortality and individual plant (i.e., ‘‘motte’’) structure (area per motte, cladodes per motte, motte height) of brownspine prickly pear (O. phaeacantha Engelm.). The study had 4 treatments: no fire, low-intensity winter fire, high-intensity winter fire, and summer fire. Three sizes of prickly pear mottes were evaluated: small (0-20 cladodes per motte), medium (21-100), and large (101-500). At 3 years postfire, prickly pear mortality in the summer fire treatment was 100% in small mottes, 90% in medium mottes, and 80% in large mottes. Motte mortality increased in this treatment over time, especially in large mottes. Mortality from high-intensity winter fires was 29% and 19% in small and medium mottes, respectively, but no large mottes were killed. Motte mortality was < 10% in low-intensity winter fire and no-fire treatments. Summer fires reduced all motte structural variables to 0 in small mottes and nearly 0 in other motte size classes. High-intensity winter fires reduced some structural variables of medium and large mottes, but had no long-term negative effects on area per motte or cladodes per motte in surviving small mottes. Low-intensity winter fires had no long-term negative effects on motte structure in any size class. Rapid growth of mottes, and especially small mottes, in the no-fire treatment suggested that resistance to winter fires can occur rapidly. 
    • Recovery of Big Sagebrush Following Fire in Southwest Montana

      Lesica, Peter; Cooper, Stephen V.; Kudray, Greg (Society for Range Management, 2007-05-01)
      Fire plays a large role in structuring sagebrush ecosystems; however, we have little knowledge of how vegetation changes with time as succession proceeds from immediate postfire to mature stands. We sampled at 38 sites in southwest Montana dominated by 3 subspecies of big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata Nutt.). At each site we subjectively located 1 sample plot representing the burned area and an unburned macroplot in similar, adjacent, unburned vegetation. Canopy cover of sagebrush was estimated, and plants were counted in 10 microplots. Age and height of randomly chosen sagebrush plants in each size class were determined from 5 microplots. Average postfire time to full recovery of mountain big sagebrush (ssp. vasseyana [Rydb.] Beetle) canopy cover was 32 years, shorter for basin (ssp. tridentata) and much longer for Wyoming (ssp. wyomingensis Beetle Young) big sagebrush. Height recovered at similar rates. There was no difference in canopy cover or height recovery between prescribed fires and wildfires in stands of mountain big sagebrush. We found no relationship between mountain big sagebrush canopy cover recovery and annual precipitation, heat load, or soil texture. Nearly all unburned sagebrush macroplots were uneven-aged, indicating that recruitment was not limited to immediate postfire conditions in any of the subspecies. Average canopy cover of three-tip sagebrush (A. tripartita Rydb.) did not increase following fire, and many three-tip sagebrush plants established from seed instead of sprouting. Our results suggest that the majority of presettlement mountain big sagebrush stands would have been in early to midseral condition in southwest Montana assuming a mean fire interval of 25 years. Only long fire- return intervals will allow stands dominated by Wyoming big sagebrush to remain on the landscape in our study area. We speculate that effects of site-specific factors conducive to sagebrush recovery are small compared to stochastic effects such as fire. 
    • Runoff and Erosion After Cutting Western Juniper

      Pierson, Fredrick B.; Bates, Jon D.; Svejcar, Tony C.; Hardegree, Stuart P. (Society for Range Management, 2007-05-01)
      Western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis spp. occidentalis Hook.) has encroached on and now dominates millions of acres of sagebrush/bunchgrass rangeland in the Great Basin and interior Pacific Northwest. On many sites western juniper has significantly increased exposure of the soil surface by reducing density of understory species and surface litter. We used rainfall and rill simulation techniques to evaluate infiltration, runoff, and erosion on cut and uncut field treatments 10 years after juniper removal. Juniper-dominated hillslopes had significantly lower surface soil cover of herbaceous plants and litter and produced rapid runoff from low-intensity rainfall events of the type that would be expected to occur every 2 years. Direct exposure of the soil to rainfall impacts resulted in high levels of sheet erosion (295 kg ha-1) in juniper-dominated plots. Large interconnected patches of bare ground concentrated runoff into rills with much higher flow velocity and erosive force resulting in rill erosion rates that were over 15 times higher on juniper-dominated plots. Cutting juniper stimulated herbaceous plant recovery, improved infiltration capacity, and protected the soil surface from even large thunderstorms. Juniper-free plots could only be induced to produce runoff from high-intensity events that would be expected to occur once every 50 years. Runoff events from these higher-intensity simulations produced negligible levels of both sheet and rill erosion. While specific inferences drawn from the current study are limited to juniper-affected sites in the Intermountain sagebrush steppe, the scope of ecosystem impacts are consistent with woody-plant invasion in other ecosystems around the world. 
    • Standardized Ecological Classification for Mesoscale Mapping in the Southwestern United States

      Comer, Patrick J.; Schulz, Keith A. (Society for Range Management, 2007-05-01)
      Standardized ecological classification units form the foundation for effective data collection, assessment, and reporting on ecosystems. Attempts at regional land cover mapping often falter on this point or struggle along inefficiently. Over the past decade, NatureServe has worked with the Gap Analysis Program and others to map existing vegetation using the US National Vegetation Classification (US-NVC). US-NVC is a system of hierarchical structure and rules that are designed to provide a national classification of existing vegetation. Experience has demonstrated the need to develop map units at conceptual scales intermediate between the narrowly specific alliance (floristic) and the broadly generalized formation (physiognomic) levels of the US-NVC. NatureServe defined over 630 ‘‘mesoscale’’ vegetation-based units that are described across the lower 48 United States. These mesoscale classification units, which we term ‘‘terrestrial ecological systems,’’ are described using multiple plant communities that tend to co-occur based on recurrent similarities in environmental setting and ecological dynamics. By integrating environmental setting and ecological processes with vegetation into the concept of each unit, this classification system lends itself to biophysical modeling and robust characterization of wildlife habitat. These units apply well to land cover mapping and may be augmented with modifiers for specific variants in composition and structure resulting in robust, standardized maps. Regional-scale mapping of ‘‘near-natural’’ land cover was completed by the Southwest Regional Gap Analysis Project using 109 ecological system units, currently the most detailed regional land cover map of its kind. Terrestrial ecological system units provide a direct, systematic link to the US National Vegetation Classification and may also provide a useful framework for integration with ecological site concepts and descriptions. 
    • Wildlife Responses to Vegetation Height Management in Cool-Season Grasslands

      Washurn, Brian E.; Seamans, Thomas W. (Society for Range Management, 2007-05-01)
      Herbaceous vegetation comprises the main habitat type in cool-seasons grasslands and can be managed by various methods. We compared changes in plant communities and bird and mammal use of grasslands that were not managed, managed by mechanical methods (mowing), or managed by chemical methods (plant growth regulator). This 1-year study was conducted from May through October 2003 in Erie County, Ohio. Twelve circular 1.5 ha plots were established: 4 were not managed, 4 were mowed to maintain vegetation height between 9-15 cm, and 4 were sprayed with a plant growth regulator and mowed when vegetation exceeded 15 cm. We monitored vegetation growth, measured plant community composition, and observed all plots for wildlife activity each week. Vegetation in unmanaged plots was taller and denser (P < 0.001) than vegetation in mowed and growth regulator plots. Plant community characteristics differed among study plots (P < 0.001); managed plots had higher grass cover and lower woody cover than unmanaged plots. We observed more (P < 0.001) total birds per 5-minute survey in unmanaged than mowed or growth regulator plots. We observed more (P < 0.001) white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in mowed plots than either control or growth regulator plots. We captured 13 small mammals in unmanaged plots and no small mammals in managed plots. Applying the plant growth regulator was not a cost-effective alternative to mowing for managing vegetation height in our study. Vegetation height management practices altered plant communities and animal use of grassland areas and thus might be useful for accomplishing species-specific habitat management objectives.