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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

2015 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 2070-21630-001-00D “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, data collection to determine success of seeded bunchgrasses has been completed and we are analyzing data in preparation for developing peer review manuscripts and outreach materials. Seed coating research and development has continued at a rapid pace. Working cooperatively with The Nature Conservancy, ARS completed initial field evaluation of numerous seed enhancement technologies and is analyzing data in preparation for publication development. This work has received strong local, regional, and international recognition and has branched into research and development agreements with Industry. Seed enhancement work will be featured on an upcoming episode of the Oregon Public Broadcasting television show, Oregon Field Guide, and has been reported on National Public Radio. Data collection continues on evaluating moderate livestock grazing effects on fuels in native sagebrush steppe and exotic annual grass invaded-communities and has resulted in two scientific journal articles in the past year. We have secured various grant funds and are in the process of hiring two post-docs to broaden fire/grazing research. Data collection for field research comparing mechanical and herbicide control of annual grasses prior to seeding has been completed and data are being analyzed in preparation for publication submission. Data collection continues on evaluating use of various seed mixes after annual grass control treatments and has resulted in several publications in the past year. This work has expanded with grant funds from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. For Objective 2, we are in the final stages of writing management guidelines for sagebrush steppe plant communities. This effort represents a cooperative partnership between ARS Burns, The Nature Conservancy, and Oregon State University. We have received substantial interest from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service for using these guidelines to plan management activities for greater sage-grouse in Oregon. Additionally, the framework for our "management effects" database is complete and has been Beta tested with favorable reviews from a variety of management entities. We are continuing work to populate the database with all relevant peer review journal articles pertaining to the northern Great Basin ecoregion. ARS scientists from Burns, Oregon, served as invited authors for four management “Factsheets” published through a collaborative effort between the Joint Fire Science Program, the Great Basin Fire Science Exchange, The Great Basin Research and Management Partnership, and the Great Basin Landscape Conservation Cooperative.

1. Overcoming perennial bunchgrass seedling mortality. Invasion of sagebrush habitat by non-native annual grass species impacts about 60 million acres of western U.S. rangeland. These species increase wildfire frequency, which dramatically reduces livestock forage resources, eliminates habitat for sagebrush obligate wildlife species such as sage-grouse, and costs taxpayers an estimated $3.0 billion a year in fire suppression activities. Replanting of burned areas with desired perennial bunchgrasses is the most promising management action, however, seeding success is extremely low. ARS scientists from Burns, Oregon, determined that 1) seeded perennial grasses typically germinate in fall, and 2) fall-germinated seedlings generally experience very high (up to 100%) freeze-associated overwinter mortality. To address this problem, we worked with private industry and The Nature Conservancy to develop a hydrophobic seed coating that delays germination of seeds until spring, dramatically decreasing seedling mortality. Initial field results indicated dramatic improvement over un-coated seeds and large scale field testing is scheduled for this fall.

Review Publications
Johnson, D.D., Davies, K.W. 2015. Effects of integrating mowing and imazapyr application on African rue (Peganum harmala) and native perennial grasses. Invasive Plant Science and Management. 7(4):617-623. doi: 10.1614/IPSM-D-13-00019.1.
Davies, K.W., Madsen, M.D., Nafus, A.M., Boyd, C.S., Johnson, D.D. 2014. Can imazapic and seeding be applied simultaneously to rehabilitate medusahead-invaded rangeland? Single vs. multiple entry. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 67(6):650-656. doi: 10.2111/REM-D-14-00019.1.
Davies, K.W., Collins, G., Boyd, C.S. 2014. Effects of feral free-roaming horses on semi-arid rangeland ecosystems: an example from the sagebrush steppe. Ecosphere. 5(10):127. doi: 10.1890/ES14-00171.1.
Bates, J.D., O'Connor, R., Davies, K.W. 2014. Vegetation recovery and fuel reduction after seasonal burning of western juniper. Fire Ecology. 10(3):27-48. doi: 10.4996/fireecology.1003027.
Nafus, A.M., Svejcar, A.J., Ganskopp, D.C., Davies, K.W. 2015. Abundances of coplanted native bunchgrasses and crested wheatgrass after 13 years. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 68(2):211-214. doi: 10.1016/j.rama.2015.01.011.
Davies, K.W., Boyd, C.S., Johnson, D.D., Nafus, A.M., Madsen, M.D. 2015. Success of seeding native compared with introduced perennial vegetation for revegetating medusahead-invaded sagebrush rangeland. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 68:224-230. doi: 10.1016/j.rama.2015.03.004.
Madsen, M.D., Zvirzdin, D.L., Petersen, S.L., Hopkins, B.G., Roundy, B.A. 2015. Anchor chaining’s influence on soil hydrology and seeding success in burned piñon-juniper woodlands. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 68(3):231-240. doi: 10.1016/j.rama.2015.03.010.
Gornish, E.S., Aanderud, Z.T., Sheley, R.L., Rinella, M.J., Svejcar, A.J., Englund, S.D., James, J.J. 2015. Altered snowfall and soil disturbance influence the early life stage transitions and recruitment of a native and invasive grass in a cold desert. Oecologia. 177:595-606. doi: 10.1007/s00442-014-3180-7.
Svejcar, A.J., James, J.J., Hardegree, S.P., Sheley, R.L. 2014. Incorporating plant mortality and recruitment into rangeland management and assessment. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 67:603-613. doi: 10.2111/REM-D-13-00102.1.
Svejcar, A.J. 2015. The northern Great Basin: a region of continual change. Rangelands. 37(3):114-118. doi: 10.1016/j.rala.2015.03.002.
Rodhouse, T.J., Irvine, K.M., Sheley, R.L., Smith, B.S., Hoh, S., Esposito, D., Mata-Gonzalez, R. 2014. Predicting foundation bunchgrass species abundances: model-assisted decision-making in protected-area sagebrush steppe. Ecosphere. 5(9):1-16.
Davies, K.W., Bates, J.D. 2014. Attempting to restore herbaceous understories in Wyoming big sagebrush communities with mowing and seeding. Restoration Ecology. 22:608-615.
Johnson, D.D., Davies, K.W. 2012. An introduction to using ecological site descriptions as a management tool. CL598. In: Adams, J.R., editor. Cattle Producers Handbook. 3rd Edition. Moscow, ID: Cattlemen Producer's Library. p.1-4.
Boyd, C.S., Beck, J.L., Tanaka, J.A. 2014. Livestock grazing and sage-grouse habitat: impacts and opportunities. Journal of Rangeland Applications. 1:58-77.
James, J.J., Boyd, C.S., Svejcar, A.J. 2013. Seed and seedling ecology research as the foundation for enhancing restoration outcomes. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 66(2):115-116.
Leffler, A.J., James, J.J., Monaco, T.A., Sheley, R.L. 2015. A new perspective on trait differences between native and invasive exotic plants: reply to critique. Ecology. 96(4):1152-1153.
Boyd, C.S., Petersen, S., Gilgert, W., Rodgers, R., Fuhlendorf, S., Larsen, R., Wolfe, D., Jensen, K., Gonzales, P., Nenneman, M., Danvir, R., Dahlgren, D., Messmer, T. 2011. Looking toward a brighter future for lekking grouse. Rangelands. 33(6):2-11. doi: 10.2111/1551-501X-33.6.2.