• 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.
    • 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.
    • 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.
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    • 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.
    • 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.