• Can spring cattle grazing among young bitterbrush stimulate shrub growth?

      Ganskopp, Dave; Svejcar, Tony; Taylor, Fred; Farstvedt, Jerry (Society for Range Management, 2004-03-01)
      Due to its palatability and forage quality, antelope bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata Pursh DC) is a desirable shrub across western US rangelands. Because little information is available regarding grazing management of young bitterbrush, a study was undertaken to explore stocking pressure thresholds and quantify effects of light and heavy spring cattle grazing on shrub growth. Rates of browsing and trampling and forage availability were monitored over 3 years in southeast Oregon. Across years, 29% of bitterbrush endured trampling in light-grazing treatments, and 55% experienced trampling under heavy grazing. Linear models relating time and cattle density successfully explained (r2 = 0.84-0.86) probabilities of bitterbrush being trampled. Forage utilization averaged 32% and 59% in lightly and heavily grazed units, and 14 and 62% of bitterbrush were browsed in lightly and heavily-grazed pastures, respectively. Cattle began browsing when herbaceous standing crop declined to 100-150 kg ha-1. Browsing in heavily-grazed pastures reduced diameters of bitterbrush by 4.5 to 9.5 cm in 1998 and 1999, but shrub height was unaffected. Lightly-grazed stands exhibited a 50% greater increase in bitterbrush diameter, 30% greater height increment, and 8% longer twigs than shrubs in ungrazed pastures. At the end of the 1997 and 1998 growing seasons, bitterbrush in heavily-grazed pastures were 11 cm greater in diameter than ungrazed controls and equal to shrubs in lightly-grazed pastures. To stimulate bitterbrush growth, young stands can be lightly-grazed (30 to 40% utilization of herbaceous forage) by cattle when bitterbrush is flowering and accompanying grasses are in vegetative to late-boot stages of phenology.