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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

2016 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 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 peer-reviewed manuscripts and outreach materials are being prepared. Seed coating research and development has continued at a rapid pace. Working cooperatively with The Nature Conservancy (TNC), ARS completed initial field evaluation of numerous seed enhancement technologies, has expanded to larger scale field trials, published two peer-review publications relating to seedling ecology/restoration, and is analyzing data in preparation for additional 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 was featured on an episode of the Oregon Public Broadcasting television show, Oregon Field Guide, and has been reported on National Public Radio. Additional grant funds from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) were secured to update seed ecology lab facilities. Data collection continues on evaluating livestock grazing effects on fuels in native sagebrush steppe and exotic annual grass invaded-communities and has resulted in four scientific journal articles in 2016. Various grant funds to hire a post-doc to broaden this research were secured. Short–term results of the effects of different seed mixes after annual grass control resulted in several publications. Data collection continues on evaluating the long-term effects of various seed mixes after annual grass control treatments. This work was expanded with grant funds from the ODFW and Crooked River National Grasslands. For Objective 2, data collection on western juniper control practices was completed and scientists from Burns, Oregon were invited to author or co-author three papers (papers have been written and submitted) in a special issue of the peer-review journal, Rangeland Ecology and Management, dedicated to conifer management in sage-grouse habitat. Data collection continues to determine the efficacy of grazing management as a tool to reduce exotic annual grass invasion and to improve understanding of the relationships between site characteristics, climate, and long-term productivity and diversity of sagebrush plant communities. Research on evaluating grazing management practices using remotely sensed data resulted in one peer-reviewed journal publication. Scientists from Burns, Oregon authored 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. Exotic annual grasses are now present on nearly 100 million acres of western U.S. Rangeland. Invasion by exotic annual grasses increases the amount of highly flammable fine fuels and this increases the amount of rangeland burned in wildfires leading to loss of livestock forage, degraded wildlife habitat, dramatically increased risk to human safety, and further expansion of annual grasses. Most of the effort to mitigate the loss of native plant communities to annual grass invasion has been in the form of post-fire plant community restoration, but, these practices have experienced only limited success. ARS scientists in Burns, Oregon found through multiple published studies that pre-fire management of fuel loads can be used to decrease loss of desired native plants during fire. This information was used as the basis of a synthesis article in the peer-review journal Rangeland Ecology and Management that proposed a model and research-framework for using pre-fire fuels management (including livestock grazing) to decrease mortality of desired native plants during wildfires and reduce reliance on marginal post-fire seeding practices. This work provides ranchers and public land managers with a defensible justification for engaging in preemptive fuels management and serves as a framework for identifying key research questions to guide future studies.

ARS scientists at Burns, Oregon have participated in outreach activities targeted for a number of different audiences in FY16. This outreach has included events such as workshops, field days, and youth range camps that reached over 500 individuals. These events can potentially benefit small farms, ranching families, and holders of grazing allotments on public land by 1) maintaining the quality and quantity of the forage base and 2) by increasing the profitability of pasture and hay production. Scientists delivered instruction and provided hands-on activities related to plant identification, soil erosion, invasive species management, wildlife habitat, and grazing management to students from elementary to college age, as well as, producers and land managers.

Review Publications
Hulet, A., Boyd, C.S., Davies, K.W., Svejcar, A.J. 2015. Prefire (preemptive) management to decrease fire-induced bunchgrass mortality and reduce reliance on postfire seeding. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 68(6):437-444. doi: 10.1016/j.rama.2015.08.001.
Davies, K.W., Boyd, C.S., Bates, J.D., Hulet, A. 2016. Winter grazing can reduce wildfire size, intensity, and behavior in a shrub-grassland. International Journal of Wildland Fire. 25:191-199. doi: 10.1071/WF15055.
Bates, J.D., Davies, K.W. 2015. Seasonal burning of juniper woodlands and spatial recovery of herbaceous vegetation. Forest Ecology and Management. 361:117-130. doi: 10.1016/j.foreco.2015.10.045.
Davies, K.W., Boyd, C.S., Bates, J.D., Hulet, A. 2016. Winter grazing decreases the probability of fire-induced mortality of bunchgrasses and may reduce wildfire size: a response to Smith et al (this issue). International Journal of Wildland Fire. 25:489-493. doi: 10.1071/WF15209.
Davies, K.W., Nafus, A.M., Boyd, C.S., Hulet, A., Bates, J.D. 2016. Effects of using winter grazing as a fuel treatment on Wyoming big sagebrush plant communities. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 69:179-184. doi: 10.1016/j.rama.2015.12.005.
Davies, K.W., Bates, J.D., Boyd, C.S. 2016. Effects of intermediate-term grazing rest on sagebrush communities with depleted understories: evidence of a threshold. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 69:173-178. doi: 10.1016/j.rama.2016.01.002.
Davies, K.W., Bates, J.D., Boyd, C.S., Svejcar, A.J. 2016. Pre-fire grazing by cattle increases postfire resistance to exotic annual grass (Bromus tectorum) invasion and dominance for decades. Ecology and Evolution. 6(10):3356-3366. doi: 10.1002/ece3.2127.
Sheley, R.L., Boyd, C.S., Dobrowolski, J., Hardegree, S.P., James, J., Mangold, J. 2016. Editorial: a scientifically rigorous and user-friendly Rangeland Ecology & Management. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 69(1):1-3. doi: 10.1016/j.rama.2015.10.013.
Davies, K.W., Boyd, C.S., Bates, J.D., Hulet, A. 2015. Dormant season grazing may decrease wildfire probability by increasing fuel moisture and reducing fuel amount and continuity. International Journal of Wildland Fire. 24(6):849-856. doi: 10.1071/WF14209.
Williams, C.J., Pierson Jr, F.B., Spaeth, K.E., Brown, J.R., Al-Hamdan, O.Z., Weltz, M.A., Nearing, M.A., Herrick, J.E., Boll, J., Robichaud, P.R., Goodrich, D.C., Heilman, P., Guertin, P.D., Hernandez, M., Wei, H., Hardegree, S.P., Strand, E.K., Bates, J.D., Metz, L., Nichols, M.H. 2016. Incorporating hydrologic data and ecohydrologic relationships in ecological site descriptions. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 69:4-19.
Hamerlynck, E.P., Sheley, R.L., Davies, K.W., Svejcar, A.J. 2016. Postdefoliation ecosystem carbon and water flux and canopy growth dynamics in sagebrush steppe bunchgrass. Ecosphere. 7(7):1-21. doi: 10.1002/ecs2.1376.
Boyd, C.S., Lemos, J.A. 2015. Evaluating winter/spring seeding of a native perennial bunchgrass in the sagebrush steppe. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 68(6):494-500. doi: 10.1016/j.rama.2015.07.009.
Nafus, A.M., Svejcar, A.J., Davies, K.W. 2016. Disturbance history, management, and seeding year precipitation influences vegetation characteristics of crested wheatgrass stands. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 69(4):249-256. doi: 10.1016/j.rama.2016.03.003.
Hamerlynck, E.P., Smith, B., Sheley, R.L., Svejcar, A.J. 2016. Compensatory photosynthesis, water-use efficiency, and biomass allocation of defoliated exotic and native bunchgrass seedlings. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 69(3):206-214. doi: 10.1016/j.rama.2015.12.007.
Svejcar, A.J., Angell, R.F., James, J. 2016. Spatial and temporal variability in minimum temperature trends in the western U.S. sagebrush steppe. Journal of Arid Environments. 133:125-133. doi: 10.1016/j.jaridenv.2016.06.003.
Madsen, M.D., Davies, K.W., Boyd, C.S., Kerby, J.D., Svejcar, A.J. 2016. Emerging seed enhancement technologies for overcoming barriers to restoration. Restoration Ecology. 64(S2):S77-S84. doi: 10.1111/rec.12332.