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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


Location: Watershed Management Research

2013 Annual Report

1a. Objectives (from AD-416):
The overall objective of this research project is to improve scientific understanding to transfer technology related to assessing and mitigating the impacts of ecological disturbances by invasion-weeds,fire and predation on rangeland water, vegetation and animal resources within sagebrush ecosystems of the Intermountain West. The aim is to provide sound science-base information and management tools in support of private and public land management activities. Specific research objectives inclued: 1) Develop strategic management tools and guidelines for use in fire impact assessment and rehabilitation planning of sagebrush ecosystems of the Intermountain West to aid land managers in determining the location, severity and persistence of fire impacts on post-fire runoff/erosion. 2) Improve guidelines and methods for monitoring and assessing impacts of juniper encroachment and management on plant, soil and water resources in sagebrush-steppe ecosystems to enhance efficiency and success in action agency planning and implementation of juniper-control treatments throughout the Intermountain West: 3) Develop methodology for classifying seedbed microclimate and identify microclimatic thresholds for successful germination and early establishment of seeded grass species in sagebrush-steppe ecosystems to improve success of rangeland restoration efforts across the Intermountain West: 4)Evaluate the effects of landscape-scale disturbance such as fire, invasive plants, and predation on livestock productivity and livestock use of stream systems and other critical resouces of sagebrush-steppe ecosystems throughout the Intermountain West so producers and land managers can employ adaptive management and better plan for changes in animal resources use and productivity.

1b. Approach (from AD-416):
A suite of hydrology, vegetation, remote sensing and animal behavior experiments will be conducted from point to landscape scales to improve scientific understanding and produce technology for managing impacts of ecological disturbances by fire,invasive-weed and predation within sagebrush ecosystems of the Intermountain West. This research project will deliver products to aid land managers in conducting fire impact risk assessments, inventory and assessing the impacts of juniper encroachment, planning and implementing juniper-control treatments, determining seedbed-microclimatic requirements for establishment of native and introduced rangeland-grass species appropriate plant species and optimal planting time for post-fire rangeland rehabilitation and restoration treatments, evaluating livestock behavioral response and resource use following disturbance and establish appropriate post-fire livestock grazing strategies. Outcomes of this project help to assesss and quantify environmental benefits of conservation practices and improve action agency land use planning and management activities. Resultant benefits include potential savings of millions of dollars in wildfire mitigation,improve water quality by reducing sediment delivery to streams, reduced loss of forage for livestock and wildlife from juniper and cheatgrass invaion, improved species diversity and wildlife habitat, and greater livestock productivity from rangeland systems.

3. Progress Report:
This is the final report for the project 5362-13610-009-00D terminated in February 2013, which was replaced by project 5362-13610-011-00D. There was a period between the beginning of FY2013 and the termination date for the project occurring in fall and winter. All planned field experiments were completed prior to the start of FY2013. Substantial accomplishments were realized over the 5 years of this project that help to improve the understanding and ability to mitigate impacts of rangeland disturbances such as fire and invasive species (juniper and annual grasses). Data from across the Great Basin were used to improve the predictive understanding of the impacts of fire and juniper encroachment on runoff and erosion processes, and enhance the management applications of the Rangeland Hydrology and Erosion Model and the Erosion Risk Management Tool to disturbed rangeland conditions. Northwest Watershed Research Center (NWRC) scientists demonstrated the utility of emerging LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) technology for estimation of shrub height, crown area and volume; characterization of juniper expansion; vegetation and slope effects on LiDAR-derived digital elevation models; and for juniper carbon/biomass estimation. This work makes LiDAR a potentially valuable and flexible tool for land managers. Project scientists characterized hydrothermal and thermal germination responses for many common native grasses, sagebrush and cheatgrass seeds from across the Intermountain West. A microclimatic classification scheme was then developed to quantify environmental variability in seedbed temperature and moisture relative to potential establishment response of each species. Recommendations for using weather and climate information for rangeland restoration planning were incorporated into the Ecologically Based Invasive Plant Management Program. Custom Global Positioning System (GPS) animal tracking technologies developed by NWRC scientists are now fully tested and ready for broad application by varied customers throughout the world. Use of GPS collars to examine animal behavior following prescribed-burning of juniper showed a significant reduction in riparian use by cattle following fire. Resource managers now have a firm scientific foundation for using prescribed fire as a tool to reduce adverse riparian impact by cattle on sagebrush rangelands. Using GPS collar technology, the NWRC initiated long-term studies to examine the livestock-gray wolf conflict issue in the western United States and its potential impacts on livestock resource selection, animal productivity, and ranch-level economics. NWRC scientists investigated water quality impacts associated with herd stream crossings by domestic sheep and found only short-lived and localized effects on surface water quality. These findings helped reduce conflicting resource concerns between domestic sheep grazing and management of associated endangered species. The overall impact of these project accomplishments is that land managers now have better science-based information and tools to make decisions concerning production systems that maximize profits while mitigating environmental impacts.

4. Accomplishments

Review Publications
Beck, S., Clark, P., Howery, L., Johnson, D., Kluever, B., Smallidge, S., Cibils, A.F. 2012. A perspective on livestock-wolf interactions on western rangelands. Rangelands. 34(5):6-11.

Hardegree, S.P., Schneider, J.M., Moffet, C.A. 2012. Weather variability and adaptive management for rangeland restoration. Rangelands. 34(6):53-56.

Last Modified: 06/27/2017
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