• Utilizing National Agriculture Imagery Program Data to Estimate Tree Cover and Biomass of Piñon and Juniper Woodlands

      Hulet, A.; Roundy, B. A.; Petersen, S. L.; Bunting, S. C.; Jensen, R. R.; Roundy, D. B. (Society for Range Management, 2014-09)
      With the encroachment of piñon (Pinus ssp.) and juniper (Juniperus ssp.) woodlands onto sagebrush steppe rangelands, there is an increasing interest in rapid, accurate, and inexpensive quantification methods to estimate tree canopy cover and aboveground biomass. The objectives of this study were 1) to evaluate the relationship and agreement of piñon and juniper (P-J) canopy cover estimates, using object-based image analysis (OBIA) techniques and National Agriculture Imagery Program (NAIP, 1-m pixel resolution) imagery with ground measurements, and 2) to investigate the relationship between remotely-sensed P-J canopy cover and ground-measured aboveground biomass. For the OBIA, we used eCognition® Developer 8.8 software to extract tree canopy cover from NAIP imagery across 12 P-J woodlands within the Sagebrush Steppe Treatment Evaluation Project (SageSTEP) network. The P-J woodlands were categorized based on the dominant tree species found at the individual sites for the analysis (western juniper, Utah juniper, and mixed P-J community). Following tree canopy cover extractions, relationships were assessed between remotely-sensed canopy cover and ground-measured aboveground biomass. Our OBIA estimates for P-J canopy cover were highly correlated with ground-measured tree canopy cover (averaged across all regions r=0.92). However, differences between methods occurred for western and Utah juniper sites (P<0.05), and were more prominent where tree canopy cover was >40%. There were high degrees of correlation between predicted aboveground biomass estimates with the use of remotely-sensed tree canopy cover and ground-measured aboveground biomass (averaged across all regions r=0.89). Our results suggest that OBIA methods combined with NAIP imagery can provide land managers with quantitative data that can be used to evaluate P-J woodland cover and aboveground biomass rapidly, on broad scales. Although some accuracy and precision may be lost when utilizing aerial imagery to identify P-J canopy cover and aboveground biomass, it is a reasonable alternative to ground monitoring and inventory practices. © 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.
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    • Soil Resources Influence Vegetation and Response to Fire and Fire-Surrogate Treatments in Sagebrush-Steppe Ecosystems

      Rau, B. M.; Chambers, J. C.; Pyke, D. A.; Roundy, B. A.; Schupp, E. W.; Doescher, P.; Caldwell, T. G. (Society for Range Management, 2014-09)
      Current paradigm suggests that spatial and temporal competition for resources limit an exotic invader, cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum L.), which once established, alters fire regimes and can result in annual grass dominance in sagebrush steppe. Prescribed fire and fire surrogate treatments (mowing, tebuthiuron, and imazapic) are used to reduce woody fuels and increase resistance to exotic annuals, but may alter resource availability and inadvertently favor invasive species. We used four study sites within the Sagebrush Steppe Treatment Evaluation Project (SageSTEP) to evaluate 1) how vegetation and soil resources were affected by treatment, and 2) how soil resources influenced native herbaceous perennial and exotic annual grass cover before and following treatment. Treatments increased resin exchangeable NH4+, NO3-, H2PO4-, and K+, with the largest increases caused by prescribed fire and prolonged by application of imazapic. Burning with imazapic application also increased the number of wet growing degree days. Tebuthiuron and imazapic reduced exotic annual grass cover, but imazapic also reduced herbaceous perennial cover when used with prescribed fire. Native perennial herbaceous species cover was higher where mean annual precipitation and soil water resources were relatively high. Exotic annual grass cover was higher where resin exchangeable H2PO4- was high and gaps between perennial plants were large. Prescribed fire, mowing, and tebuthiuron were successful at increasing perennial herbaceous cover, but the results were often ephemeral and inconsistent among sites. Locations with sandy soil, low mean annual precipitation, or low soil water holding capacity were more likely to experience increased exotic annual grass cover after treatment, and treatments that result in slow release of resources are needed on these sites. This is one of few studies that correlate abiotic variables to native and exotic species cover across a broad geographic setting, and that demonstrates how soil resources potentially influence the outcome of management treatments. © 2014 The Society for Range Management.
    • Short-Term Effects of Tree Removal on Infiltration, Runoff, and Erosion in Woodland-Encroached Sagebrush Steppe

      Pierson, F. B.; Williams, C. J.; Kormos, P. R.; Al-Hamdan, O. Z. (Society for Range Management, 2014-09)
      Land owners and managers across the western United States are increasingly searching for methods to evaluate and mitigate the effects of woodland encroachment on sagebrush steppe ecosystems. We used small-plot scale (0.5 m2) rainfall simulations and measures of vegetation, ground cover, and soils to investigate woodland response to tree removal (prescribed fire and mastication) at two late-succession woodlands. We also evaluated the effects of burning on soil water repellency and effectiveness of aggregate stability indices to detect changes in erosion potential. Plots were located in interspaces between tree and shrub canopies and on undercanopy tree and shrub microsites. Erosion from untreated interspaces in the two woodlands differed more than 6-fold, and erosion responses to prescribed burning differed by woodland site. High-intensity rainfall (102 mm·h-1) on the less erodible woodland generated amplified runoff and erosion from tree microsites postfire, but erosion (45-75 g·m-2) was minor relative to the 3-13-fold fire-induced increase in erosion on tree microsites at the highly erodible site (240-295 g·m-2). Burning the highly erodible woodland also generated a 7-fold increase in erosion from shrub microsites (220-230 g·m-2) and 280-350 g·m-2 erosion from interspaces. High levels of runoff (40-45 mm) and soil erosion (230-275 g·m-2) on unburned interspaces at the more erodible site were reduced 4-5-fold (10 mm and 50 g·m-2) by masticated tree material. The results demonstrate that similarly degraded conditions at woodland-encroached sites may elicit differing hydrologic and erosion responses to treatment and that treatment decisions should consider inherent site-specific erodibility when evaluating tree-removal alternatives. Strong soil water repellency was detected from 0 cm to 3 cm soil depth underneath unburned tree canopies at both woodlands and its strength was not altered by burning. However, fire removal of litter exacerbated repellency effects on infiltration, runoff generation, and erosion. The aggregate stability index method detected differences in relative soil stability between areas underneath trees and in the intercanopy at both sites, but failed to provide any indication of between-site differences in erodibility or the effects of burning on soil erosion potential. © 2014 The Society for Range Management.
    • Short-Term Butterfly Response to Sagebrush Steppe Restoration Treatments

      McIver, J.; Macke, E. (Society for Range Management, 2014-09)
      As part of the Sagebrush Steppe Treatment Evaluation Project (SageSTEP), butterflies were surveyed pretreatment and up to 4 yr posttreatment at 16 widely distributed sagebrush steppe sites in the interior West. Butterfly populations and communities were analyzed in response to treatments (prescribed fire, mechanical, herbicide) designed to restore sagebrush steppe lands encroached by piñon-juniper woodlands (Pinus, Juniperus spp.) and invaded by cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum). Butterflies exhibited distinct regional patterns of species composition, with communities showing marked variability among sites. Some variation was explained by the plant community, with Mantel's test indicating that ordinations of butterfly and plant communities were closely similar for both woodland sites and lower-elevation treeless (sage-cheat) sites. At woodland sites, responses to stand replacement prescribed fire, clear-cutting, and tree mastication treatments applied to 10-20-ha plots were subtle: 1) no changes were observed in community structure; 2) Melissa blues (Plebejus melissa) and sulfurs (Colias spp.) increased in abundance after either burning or mechanical treatments, possibly due to increase in larval and nectar food resource, respectively; and 3) the juniper hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus) declined at sites at which it was initially present, probably due to removal of its larval food source. At sage-cheat sites, after prescribed fire was applied to 25-75-ha plots, we observed 1) an increase in species richness and abundance at most sites, possibly due to increased nectar resources for adults, and 2) an increase in the abundance of skippers (Hesperiidae) and small white butterflies. Linkages between woody species removal, the release of herbaceous vegetation, and butterfly response to treatments demonstrate the importance of monitoring an array of ecosystem components in order to document the extent to which management practices cause unintended consequences.
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • Region-Wide Ecological Responses of Arid Wyoming Big Sagebrush Communities to Fuel Treatments

      Pyke, D. A.; Shaff, S. E.; Lindgren, A. I.; Schupp, E. W.; Doescher, P. S.; Chambers, J. C.; Burnham, J. S.; Huso, M. M. (Society for Range Management, 2014-09)
      If arid sagebrush ecosystems lack resilience to disturbances or resistance to annual invasives, then alternative successional states dominated by annual invasives, especially cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum L.), are likely after fuel treatments. We identified six Wyoming big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata ssp. wyomingensis Beetle & Young) locations (152-381 mm precipitation) that we believed had sufficient resilience and resistance for recovery. We examined impacts of woody fuel reduction (fire, mowing, the herbicide tebuthiuron, and untreated controls, all with and without the herbicide imazapic) on short-term dominance of plant groups and on important land health parameters with the use of analysis of variance (ANOVA). Fire and mowing reduced woody biomass at least 85% for 3 yr, but herbaceous fuels were reduced only by fire (72%) and only in the first year. Herbaceous fuels produced at least 36% more biomass with mowing than untreated areas during posttreatment years. Imazapic only reduced herbaceous biomass after fires (34%). Tebuthiuron never affected herbaceous biomass. Perennial tall grass cover was reduced by 59% relative to untreated controls in the first year after fire, but it recovered by the second year. Cover of all remaining herbaceous groups was not changed by woody fuel treatments. Only imazapic reduced significantly herbaceous cover. Cheatgrass cover was reduced at least 63% with imazapic for 3 yr. Imazapic reduced annual forb cover by at least 45%, and unexpectedly, perennial grass cover by 49% (combination of tall grasses and Sandberg bluegrass [Poa secunda J. Presl.]). Fire reduced density of Sandberg bluegrass between 40% and 58%, decreased lichen and moss cover between 69% and 80%, and consequently increased bare ground between 21% and 34% and proportion of gaps among perennial plants >2 m (at least 28% during the 3 yr). Fire, mowing, and imazapic may be effective in reducing fuels for 3 yr, but each has potentially undesirable consequences on plant communities. © 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.
    • Erratum:Contributions to Near-Surface Soil Property Dynamics in Semiarid Rangeland ( Rangeland Ecology & Management) (2014) 67:3(266-274))

      Liebig, M. A.; Kronberg, S. L.; Hendrickson, J. R.; Gross, J. R. (Society for Range Management, 2014-09)
    • Ecological Scale of Bird Community Response to Piñon-Juniper Removal

      Knick, S. T.; Hanser, S. E.; Leu, M. (Society for Range Management, 2014-09)
      Piñon (Pinus spp.) and juniper (Juniperus spp.) removal is a common management approach to restore sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) vegetation in areas experiencing woodland expansion. Because many management treatments are conducted to benefit sagebrush-obligate birds, we surveyed bird communities to assess treatment effectiveness in establishing sagebrush bird communities at study sites in Utah, Nevada, Idaho, and Oregon. Our analyses included data from 1 or 2 yr prior to prescribed fire or mechanical treatment and 3 to 5 yr posttreatment. We used detrended correspondence analysis to 1) identify primary patterns of bird communities surveyed from 2006 to 2011 at point transects, 2) estimate ecological scale of change needed to achieve treatment objectives from the relative dissimilarity of survey points to the ordination region delineating sagebrush bird communities, and 3) measure changes in pre- and posttreatment bird communities. Birds associated with sagebrush, woodlands, and ecotones were detected on our surveys; increased dissimilarity of survey points to the sagebrush bird community was characterized by a gradient of increased juniper and decreased sagebrush cover. Prescribed fires burned between 30% and 97% of our bird survey points. However, from 6% to 24% cover of piñon-juniper still remained posttreatment on the four treatment plots. We measured only slight changes in bird communities, which responded primarily to current vegetation rather than relative amount of change from pretreatment vegetation structure. Bird communities at survey points located at greater ecological scales from the sagebrush bird community changed least and will require more significant impact to achieve changes. Sagebrush bird communities were established at only two survey points, which were adjacent to a larger sagebrush landscape and following almost complete juniper removal by mechanical treatment. Our results indicate that management treatments that leave residual woodland cover and are not adjacent to extensive sagebrush stands are unlikely to establish sagebrush birds. © 2014 The Society for Range Management.
    • Acceptance, Acceptability, and Trust for Sagebrush Restoration Options in the Great Basin: A Longitudinal Perspective

      Gordon, R.; Brunson, M. W.; Shindler, B. (Society for Range Management, 2014-09)
      In surveys of residents in three urban and three rural locations in the Great Basin we examined the social acceptability of six management practices showing promise for restoring sagebrush-dominated rangelands. Unlike most studies of range management perceptions that have relied on single measurements, we used longitudinal data from a questionnaire mailed in 2006 to residents that were resurveyed in 2010. Overall, 698 respondents comprised the panel. Respondents' self-reported levels of knowledge about the health and management of Great Basin rangelands decreased from 2006 to 2010. In both years, mean acceptance was greater for the use of prescribed fire, grazing, felling, and mowing, but relatively low for chaining and herbicide use. Overall, acceptability ratings were similar in 2006 and 2010 but individually about half of the acceptance responses differed between years. Practices were more acceptable to respondents who expressed greater concern about threats posed by inaction, except that the threat of wildfire was negatively associated with acceptance for prescribed burning. Acceptance was not significantly related to concern about overall health of Great Basin rangelands, or to self-reported knowledge level. Rural/urban residence and general attitudes toward environmental protection were sometimes influential, but more so in 2006 than in 2010. By far the best predictor of acceptance was trust in agencies' ability to implement the practice. In both years respondents were more likely to judge a practice acceptable than to trust agencies to use the practice. Positive or negative change in trust level was the most significant predictor of change in acceptability judgment from 2006 to 2010. Results suggest that efforts to increase acceptance of practices among Great Basin stakeholders should focus on activities designed to build trust rather than simply providing more or better information. © 2014 The Society for Range Management.
    • 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.