• Piñon-Juniper Reduction Increases Soil Water Availability of the Resource Growth Pool

      Roundy, B. A.; Young, K.; Cline, N.; Hulet, A.; Miller, R. F.; Tausch, R. J.; Chambers, J. C.; Rau, B. (Society for Range Management, 2014-09)
      Managers reduce piñon (Pinus spp.) and juniper (Juniperus spp.) trees that are encroaching on sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) communities to lower fuel loads and increase cover of desirable understory species. All plant species in these communities depend on soil water held at >-1.5 MPa matric potential in the upper 0.3 m of soil for nutrient diffusion to roots and major growth in spring (resource growth pool). We measured soil water matric potentials and temperatures using gypsum blocks and thermocouples buried at 0.01-0.3 m on tree, shrub, and interspace microsites to characterize the seasonal soil climate of 13 tree-encroached sites across the Great Basin. We also tested the effects of initial tree infilling phase and tree control treatments of prescribed fire, tree cutting, and tree shredding on time of available water and soil temperature of the resource growth pool on nine sites. Both prescribed fire and mechanical tree reduction similarly increased the time that soil water was available (matric potential >-1.5 MPa) in spring, but this increase was greatest (up to 26 d) when treatments were applied at high tree dominance. As plant cover increased with time since treatment, the additional time of available water decreased. However, even in the fourth year after treatment, available water was 8.6 d and 18 d longer on treatments applied at mid and high tree dominance compared to untreated plots, indicating ongoing water availability to support continued increases in residual plants or annual invaders in the future. To increase resistance to invasive annual grasses managers should either treat at lower or mid tree dominance when there is still high cover of desirable residual vegetation or seed desirable species to use increased resources from tree reduction. This strategy is especially critical on warmer sites, which have high climate suitability to invasive species such as cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum L.). © 2014 The Society for Range Management.
    • Resilience and Resistance of Sagebrush Ecosystems: Implications for State and Transition Models and Management Treatments

      Chambers, J. C.; Miller, R. F.; Board, D. I.; Pyke, D. A.; Roundy, B. A.; Grace, J. B.; Schupp, E. W.; Tausch, R. J. (Society for Range Management, 2014-09)
      In sagebrush ecosystems invasion of annual exotics and expansion of piñon (Pinus monophylla Torr. and Frem.) and juniper (Juniperus occidentalis Hook., J. osteosperma [Torr.] Little) are altering fire regimes and resulting in large-scale ecosystem transformations. Management treatments aim to increase resilience to disturbance and enhance resistance to invasive species by reducing woody fuels and increasing native perennial herbaceous species. We used Sagebrush Steppe Treatment Evaluation Project data to test predictions on effects of fire vs. mechanical treatments on resilience and resistance for three site types exhibiting cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum L.) invasion and/or piñon and juniper expansion: 1) warm and dry Wyoming big sagebrush (WY shrub); 2) warm and moist Wyoming big sagebrush (WY PJ); and 3) cool and moist mountain big sagebrush (Mtn PJ). Warm and dry (mesic/aridic) WY shrub sites had lower resilience to fire (less shrub recruitment and native perennial herbaceous response) than cooler and moister (frigid/xeric) WY PJ and Mtn PJ sites. Warm (mesic) WY Shrub and WY PJ sites had lower resistance to annual exotics than cool (frigid to cool frigid) Mtn PJ sites. In WY shrub, fire and sagebrush mowing had similar effects on shrub cover and, thus, on perennial native herbaceous and exotic cover. In WY PJ and Mtn PJ, effects were greater for fire than cut-and-leave treatments and with high tree cover in general because most woody vegetation was removed increasing resources for other functional groups. In WY shrub, about 20% pretreatment perennial native herb cover was necessary to prevent increases in exotics after treatment. Cooler and moister WY PJ and especially Mtn PJ were more resistant to annual exotics, but perennial native herb cover was still required for site recovery. We use our results to develop state and transition models that illustrate how resilience and resistance influence vegetation dynamics and management options. © 2014 The Society for Range Management.
    • Response of Conifer-Encroached Shrublands in the Great Basin to Prescribed Fire and Mechanical Treatments

      Miller, R. F.; Ratchford, J.; Roundy, B. A.; Tausch, R. J.; Hulet, A.; Chambers, J. (Society for Range Management, 2014-09)
      In response to the recent expansion of piñon and juniper woodlands into sagebrush-steppe communities in the northern Great Basin region, numerous conifer-removal projects have been implemented, primarily to release understory vegetation at sites having a wide range of environmental conditions. Responses to these treatments have varied from successful restoration of native plant communities to complete conversion to nonnative invasive species. To evaluate the general response of understory vegetation to tree canopy removal in conifer-encroached shrublands, we set up a region-wide study that measured treatment-induced changes in understory cover and density. Eleven study sites located across four states in the Great Basin were established as statistical replicate blocks, each containing fire, mechanical, and control treatments. Different cover groups were measured prior to and during the first 3 yr following treatment. There was a general pattern of response across the wide range of site conditions. There was an immediate increase in bare ground and decrease in tall perennial grasses following the fire treatment, but both recovered by the second or third growing season after treatment. Tall perennial grass cover increased in the mechanical treatment in the second and third year, and in the fire treatment cover was higher than the control by year 3. Nonnative grass and forb cover did not increase in the fire and mechanical treatments in the first year but increased in the second and third years. Perennial forb cover increased in both the fire and mechanical treatments. The recovery of herbaceous cover groups was from increased growth of residual vegetation, not density. Sagebrush declined in the fire treatment, but seedling density increased in both treatments. Biological soil crust declined in the fire treatment, with no indications of recovery. Differences in plant response that occurred between mechanical and fire treatments should be considered when selecting management options. © 2014 The Society for Range Management.
    • Understory Cover Responses to Piñon-Juniper Treatments Across Tree Dominance Gradients in the Great Basin

      Roundy, B. A.; Miller, R. F.; Tausch, R. J.; Young, K.; Hulet, A.; Rau, B.; Jessop, B.; Chambers, J. C.; Eggett, D. (Society for Range Management, 2014-09)
      Piñon (Pinus spp.) and juniper (Juniperus spp.) trees are reduced to restore native vegetation and avoid severe fires where they have expanded into sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata Nutt.) communities. However, what phase of tree infilling should treatments target to retain desirable understory cover and avoid weed dominance? Prescribed fire and tree felling were applied to 8-20-ha treatment plots at 11 sites across the Great Basin with a tree-shredding treatment also applied to four Utah sites. Treatments were applied across a tree infilling gradient as quantified by a covariate tree dominance index (TDI=tree cover/tree+shrub+tall perennial grass cover). Mixed model analysis of covariance indicated that treatment×covariate interactions were significant (P<0.05) for most vegetation functional groups 3 yr after treatment. Shrub cover was most reduced with fire at any TDI or by mechanical treatment after infilling resulted in over 50% shrub cover loss (TDI>0.4). Fire increased cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum L.) cover by an average of 4.2% for all values of TDI. Cutting or shredding trees generally produced similar responses and increased total perennial herbaceous and cheatgrass cover by an average of 10.2% and 3.8%, at TDIs ≥0.35 and ≥0.45. Cheatgrass cover estimated across the region was <6% after treatment, but two warmer sites had high cheatgrass cover before (19.2% and 27.2%) and after tree reduction (26.6% and 50.4%). Fuel control treatments are viable management options for increasing understory cover across a range of sites and tree cover gradients, but should be accompanied by revegetation on warmer sites with depleted understories where cheatgrass is highly adapted. Shrub and perennial herbaceous cover can be maintained by mechanically treating at lower TDI. Perennial herbaceous cover is key for avoiding biotic and abiotic thresholds in this system through resisting weed dominance and erosion. © 2014 The Society for Range Management.