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ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Burns, Oregon » Range and Meadow Forage Management Research » Research » Research Project #422620

Research Project: Restoring and Managing Great Basin Ecosystems

Location: Range and Meadow Forage Management Research

2013 Annual Report

1) Develop practices and strategies for restoring perennial livestock forages on degraded and fire-prone Great Basin rangelands using combinations of grazing management, soil treatments, seed coatings, and traditional restoration techniques. 2) Develop decision-support tools to enhance livestock production and other ecosystem services in different sites, climate conditions, and management systems on northwestern rangelands.

The mission of the Burns unit is to provide the science for sound land and livestock management. This five-year plan builds on a rich history of research at this location, in some cases reaching back to the 1940's. The majority of the western U.S. is occupied by rangelands and the most efficient commodity production in the rangeland environment is grazing livestock. Sustainable management of western U.S. rangelands is facing threats of unprecedented scale from annual grass invasion, encroaching conifers, and an uncertain climate future. Simultaneously, the societal demand for a diversity of ecosystem services from these resources has increased dramatically in recent years. Producers and land managers in the western U.S. are faced with information gaps regarding plant community restoration and establishment of desired species, management of grazing livestock, and vegetation responses to management actions in spatially and temporally variable environments. Filling these information gaps is critical to maintaining the security of livestock forage across the western U.S. During the next five years we will build on our prior research addressing issues critical to our understanding and management of sagebrush steppe rangeland. Our focus will be on 1) developing management practices and tools for restoring/rehabilitating sagebrush steppe following weed invasion and juniper expansion, and 2) developing management guidelines and assessment systems for conserving intact plant communities in a variable environment. Although the problem areas addressed by the Burns location stem from local and regional scale issues, our specific research questions and designs help to illuminate principles applicable to national and international issues and audiences through peer review research and synthesis publications. A focus of this research unit has been to provide tools that managers can use, including but not limited to non-technical research reports, information syntheses, field guides and decision trees. Projected benefits of successfully completing and transferring this research are: 1) improved management of existing sagebrush steppe for a variety of uses including forage production and habitat for critical wildlife species, 2) increased probability of success for restoration/revegetation projects, 3) increased ability to determine the effects of management practices within complex landscapes, and 4) a better understanding of the role of climate and site factors in influencing site productivity and restoration/revegetation success.

Progress Report
This report documents progress for the parent Project Number 5360-21630-001-00D "Restoring and Managing Great Basin Ecosystems" and continues research from Project Number 5360-11630-006-00D "Rangeland Restoration and Management." Substantial progress has been made on all objectives/sub-objectives and all current milestones fully met. The objectives covered in this report fall under Component 1 of National Program 215. For Objective 1, which focuses on the restoration of degraded plant communities, work continues to address the relationship between environmental variability and seeding success. We have published multiple manuscripts on this topic and current research is progressing as planned. Our seed coating work is steadily expanding via grant monies obtained through cooperative work with The Nature Conservancy and has already produced multiple publications. Customer interest in this technology is very high and getting stronger with increased need for effective restoration treatments following the devastating 2012 fire season (1.2 million acres burned in southeast Oregon and adjoining northern Nevada). We continue to collect data on grazing trials to determine the relationship between livestock grazing and abundance/structure of herbaceous fuels. Work to determine the role of mechanical and chemical-based control practices for invasive annual grasses is progressing as planned. Again, this work is timely and of high interest to customers given the 2012 fire season. Ongoing research to determine best management approaches for controlling expanding native conifer populations continues, along with work on post-conifer control site rehabilitation. Objective 2 is focused on conservation of largely intact plant communities with an emphasis on grazing management. We continue to monitor long-term grazing plots to assess impacts of livestock grazing management on plant community structure and composition, and sage-grouse habitat. Grazing impacts on sage-grouse habitat are of strong topical interest given the upcoming 2015 decision from US Fish and Wildlife on the listing status of sage-grouse. Grazing can also impact riparian areas which are important for wildlife habitat, water quality and as a source of livestock forage. We are currently organizing a large data set from the USDA, Forest Service to help assess the impacts of different grazing strategies on riparian ecosystems. In addition to our grazing research, we are continuing work designed to provide information on climate and environmental influences on productivity of largely intact sagebrush plant communities. This research will provide much needed context to expectations surrounding the potential of these plant communities to produce a variety of ecosystem services.

1. Crested wheatgrass is often used in vegetation restoration and rehabilitation projects because of its high rate of establishment as compared to native perennial bunchgrasses. Once established, reintroduction of native plant species into these crested wheatgrass stands has been largely unsuccessful, limiting their value for many wildlife species. ARS researchers at Burns, Oregon, conducted research that demonstrated crested wheatgrass stands could be diversified by planting sagebrush seedlings. We found that control of crested wheatgrass was not needed for successful establishment of sagebrush, but did increase the growth of sagebrush. Our research represents the first published success in re-introduction of native plant stock into crested wheatgrass communities. Reestablishment of sagebrush in crested wheatgrass communities will increase their value to sagebrush-associated wildlife species, which is particularly important given that the sage-grouse is being considered for listing as an endangered species in an eleven state area of the western US.

Review Publications
Davies, K.W., Nafus, A., Johnson, D.D. 2013. Are early summer wildfires an opportunity to revegetate exotic annual grass-invaded plant communities?. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 66(2):234-240.
Davies, K.W., Nafus, A., Madsen, M.D. 2013. Medusahead invasion along unimproved roads, animal trails, and random transects. Western North American Naturalist. 73:54-59.
Madsen, M.D., Kostka, S.J., Hulet, A., Mackey, B.E., Harrison, M.A., Mcmillan, M.F. 2013. Surfactant seed coating - A strategy to improve turfgrass establishment on water repellent soils. International Symposium on Adjuvants for Agrochemicals. p.205-210.
O'Connor, C., Miller, R., Bates, J.D. 2013. Vegetation response to western juniper slash treatments. Environmental Management. 52:553-566.
Davies, K.W., Nafus, A. 2013. Exotic annual grass alters fuel amounts, continuity and moisture content. International Journal of Wildland Fire. 22:353-358.