• A Synopsis of Short-Term Response to Alternative Restoration Treatments in Sagebrush-Steppe: The SageSTEP Project

      McIver, J.; Brunson, M.; Bunting, S.; Chambers, J.; Doescher, P.; Grace, J.; Hulet, A.; Johnson, D.; Knick, S.; Miller, R.; et al. (Society for Range Management, 2014-09)
      The Sagebrush Steppe Treatment Evaluation Project (SageSTEP) is an integrated long-term study that evaluates ecological effects of alternative treatments designed to reduce woody fuels and to stimulate the herbaceous understory of sagebrush steppe communities of the Intermountain West. This synopsis summarizes results through 3 yr posttreatment. Woody vegetation reduction by prescribed fire, mechanical treatments, or herbicides initiated a cascade of effects, beginning with increased availability of nitrogen and soil water, followed by increased growth of herbaceous vegetation. Response of butterflies and magnitudes of runoff and erosion closely followed herbaceous vegetation recovery. Effects on shrubs, biological soil crust, tree cover, surface woody fuel loads, and sagebrush-obligate bird communities will take longer to be fully expressed. In the short term, cool wet sites were more resilient than warm dry sites, and resistance was mostly dependent on pretreatment herbaceous cover. At least 10 yr of posttreatment time will likely be necessary to determine outcomes for most sites. Mechanical treatments did not serve as surrogates for prescribed fire in how each influenced the fuel bed, the soil, erosion, and sage-obligate bird communities. Woody vegetation reduction by any means resulted in increased availability of soil water, higher herbaceous cover, and greater butterfly numbers. We identified several trade-offs (desirable outcomes for some variables, undesirable for others), involving most components of the study system. Trade-offs are inevitable when managing complex natural systems, and they underline the importance of asking questions about the whole system when developing management objectives. Substantial spatial and temporal heterogeneity in sagebrush steppe ecosystems emphasizes the point that there will rarely be a "recipe" for choosing management actions on any specific area. Use of a consistent evaluation process linked to monitoring may be the best chance managers have for arresting woodland expansion and cheatgrass invasion that may accelerate in a future warming climate. © 2014 The Society for Range Management.
    • 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.
    • 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.