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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

2014 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 details progress for the parent Project Number 5360-21630-001-00D “Restoring and Managing Great Basin Ecosystems”. Objectives covered in this report fall under Component 1 of National Program 215. Substantial progress has been made on all objectives/sub-objectives and all current milestones are fully met. For Objective 1, which focuses on practices and strategies for restoring fire-prone Great Basin rangeland, we are in the final year of field data collection to evaluate success of seeded bunchgrasses. Seed coating work continues to expand with grant monies generated through a cooperative relationship with The Nature Conservancy. This work has garnered international attention and has resulted in numerous publications as well as an invited presentation to the International Grassland Congress. Interest in this technology is anticipated to increase even more with the severe 2014 wildfire season. Data collection continues on research to control annual grasses and grass fuels using grazing, chemical, and mechanical treatments and has resulted in multiple peer reviewed manuscripts. Data collection is on schedule for research evaluating effectiveness of western juniper control practices. Objective 2 relates to developing decision support tools for enhancing livestock production and ecosystem services. The initial phase of research to evaluate the effects of post-fire grazing in sagebrush plant communities has been completed and resulted in a peer reviewed manuscript. Working with our Nature Conservancy partners we recently received substantial outside funding to expand ongoing work to document existing knowledge of the effectiveness of a wide variety of management practices. This project is combining results from peer review research and expert opinions from practitioners to develop a database that can be used to query the effectiveness of management practices for increasing livestock production and meeting other ecosystem services expectations under variable environmental conditions. The database is being linked with vegetation state-and-transition models that provide a summary view of the role of management in influencing vegetation change. Data collection to link climate and site conditions to vegetation potential continues as scheduled.

1. Winter grazing reduces wildfire risk. Wildfire protection and suppression costs taxpayers more than $3.0 billion a year. During 2012, a record was set for total acres of rangeland burned by wildfire in eastern Oregon. West wide, in the last 15 years, 7 of the 11 western states have experienced their largest wildfires since European settlement. Much of the area being burned is prime habitat for sage-grouse and these fires have created severe hardships for ranchers in the region because of loss of forage. Research by ARS scientists in Burns, Oregon, demonstrated that winter grazing by livestock could be used to reduce the period of wildfire risk from three months to less than one month by altering abundance and moisture content of fuels. This information will help both private and public land managers develop strategies to reduce wildfire risk on rangelands.

Review Publications
Davies, K.W., Bates, J.D., Madsen, M.D., Nafus, A.M. 2014. Restoration of mountain big sagebrush steppe following prescibed burning to control western juniper. Environmental Management. 53:1015-1022. DOI: 10.1007/s00267-014-0255-5
Madsen, M.D., Davies, K.W., Mummey, D.L., Svejcar, A.J. 2014. Improving restoration of exotic annual grass-invaded rangelands through activated carbon seed enhancement technologies. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 67(1):61-67.
Svejcar, A.J., Boyd, C.S., Davies, K.W., Madsen, M.D., Bates, J.D., Sheley, R.L., Marlow, C., Bohnert, D., Borman, M., Mata-Gonzalez, R., Buckhouse, J., Stringham, T., Perryman, B., Swanson, S., Tate, K., George, M., Ruyle, G., Roundy, B., Call, C., Jensen, K.B., Launchbaugh, K., Gearhart, A., Vermeire, L.T., Tanaka, J., Derner, J.D., Frasier, G.W., Havstad, K.M. 2014. Western land managers will need all available tools for adapting to climate change, including grazing: A critique of Beschta et al. Environmental Management. 53:1035-1038. DOI: 10.1007/s00267-013-0218-2.
Davies, K.W., Bates, J.D., Boyd, C.S., Nafus, A.M. 2014. Is fire exclusion in mountain big sagebrush communities prudent? Soil nutrient, plant diversity, and arthropod response to burning. International Journal of Wildland Fire. 23:417-424. DOI: 10.1071/WF13167.
Davies, K.W., Vavra, M., Schultz, B.W., Rimbey, N. 2014. Implications of longer term rest from grazing in the sagebrush steppe. Journal of Rangeland Applications. 1:14-34.
Bates, J.D., Sharp, R.N., Davies, K.W. 2013. Sagebrush steppe recovery after fire varies by development phase of Juniperus occidentalis woodland. International Journal of Wildland Fire. 23:117-130.
Boyd, C.S., Obradovich, M. 2014. Is pile seeding Wyoming big sagebrush(Artemisia tridentata subsp. wyomingensis) an effective alternative to broadcast seeding?. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 67(3):292-297. DOI: 10.2111/REM-D-13-00107.1.
Davies, K.W., Boyd, C.S., Nafus, A.M. 2013. Restoring the sagebrush component in crested wheatgrass dominated communities. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 66(4):472-478.
Madsen, M.D., Davies, K.W., Boyd, C.S., Kerby, J.D., Carter, D.L., Svejcar, A.J. 2013. Restoring North America's sagebrush steppe ecosystem using seed enhancement technologies. Proceedings of the 22nd International Grasslands Congress. p. 393-401.
Davies, K.W., Johnson, D.D., Nafus, A.M. 2014. Restoration of exotic annual grass-invaded rangelands: importance of seed mix composition. Invasive Plant Science and Management. 7(2):247-256. DOI: 10.1614/IPSM-D-12-00093.1.
Nafus, A.M., Davies, K.W. 2014. Medusahead ecology and management: California annual grasslands to the intermountain west. Invasive Plant Science and Management. 7(2):210-221. DOI: 10.1614/IPSM-D-13-00077.1.
Hulet, A., Roundy, B.A., Petersen, S.L., Jensen, R.R., Bunting, S.C. 2014. An object-based image analysis of pinyon and juniper woodlands treated to reduce fuels. Environmental Management. 53:660-671.
Hulet, A., Roundy, B.A., Petersen, S.L., Jensen, R.R., Bunting, S.C. 2014. Cover estimations using object-based image analysis rule sets developed across multiple scales in pinyon-juniper woodlands. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 67(3):318-327. DOI: 10.2111/REM-D-12-00154.1.
Madsen, M.D., Coronel, E.G., Hopkins, B.G. 2013. Soil surfactant products for improving hydrologic function in post-fire water repellent soil. Soil Science Society of America Journal. 77:1825-1830.
Archer, S.R., Davies, K.W., Fulbright, T.E., Mcdaniel, K.C., Wilcox, B.P., Predick, K.I. 2011. Brush management as a rangeland conservation strategy: A critical evaluation. In: Briske,D.D., editor. Conservation benefits of rangeland practices: Assessment, recommendations, and knowledge gaps. Washington, DC:USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. p. 105-170.
Madsen, M.D., Zvirzdin, D.L., Roundy, B.A., Kostka, S.J. 2014. Improving reseeding success after catastrophic wildfire with surfactant seed coating technology. American Society for Testing and Materials. 33:44-55. DOI: 10.1520/STP156920120181.
George, M.R., Jackson, R.D., Boyd, C.S., Tate, K.W. 2011. A scientific assessment of the effectiveness of riparian management practices. In: Briske, D.D., editor. Conservation Benefits of Rangeland Practices. United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service. p. 213-252.
Havstad, K.M., Peters, D.C., Allen-Diaz, B., Bartolome, J., Bestelmeyer, B.T., Briske, D., Brown, J., Brunson, M., Herrick, J.E., Huntsinger, L., Johnson, P., Joyce, L., Pieper, R., Svejcar, A.J., Yao, J. 2009. The western United States rangeland, a major resource. In: Wedin, W.F, Fales, S.L. editors. Grassland quietness and strength for a new American agriculture. Madison, WI:American Society of Agronomy, Inc., Crop Science Society of America, Inc., Soil Science Society of America, Inc. p.75-93.
Boyd, C.S., Johnson, D.D., Kerby, J.D., Svejcar, A.J., Davies, K.W. 2014. Of grouse and golden eggs: Can ecosystems be managed within a species-based regulatory framework?. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 67:358-368. DOI: 10.2111/REM-D-13-00096.1.
Bates, J.D., Davies, K.W. 2014. Cattle grazing and vegetation succession on burned sagebrush steppe. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 67:412-422. DOI: 10.2111/REM-D-14-00011.1.