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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

2017 Annual Report

1) Develop practices and strategies for restoring perennial livestock forage systems, improving Great Basin rangelands using practices such as grazing management, soil treatments, seed coatings, and traditional restoration techniques. (NP215 Component 1; Problem Statements A and C) 2) Develop decision-support tools to enhance livestock production and precision restoration efforts, while also providing other ecosystem services, in different sites, climate conditions, and management systems on northwestern rangelands. (NP215 Component 1; Problem Statement B) 3) Develop effective precision restoration technologies and practices that target specific restoration needs, provide forage for productive grazing, and enhance sage grouse habitat. The technologies and practices could include areas such as engineering of improved means of site and seed preparation, new equipment or techniques for planting, development and use of amendments such as biochar, or others. (NP215 Component 1; Problem Statements B and C)

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 is the final report for project 2070-21630-001-00D, which has been replaced by project 2070-21630-002-00D, "Restoring and Managing Great Basin Ecosystems." For Objective 1, ARS scientists joined with Oregon State University, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and other university partners in a three state effort to evaluate dormant season cattle grazing as a fuels management tool and as a tool for increasing perennial bunchgrasses on exotic annual grass-prone sagebrush rangeland. ARS scientists completed a study assessing successional dynamics spanning 25 years following juniper cutting. Results from this study indicate juniper cutting increased forage yield eight-fold compared to uncut woodland but that control of invasive exotic annual grasses may be necessary following cutting. This research resulted in a peer review publication and results are being used by land management agencies (BLM and U.S. Forest Service) in Oregon, California, and Idaho for Environmental Impact Statements and Ecological Assessments, and for developing juniper control practices and by ranchers treating private property and applying for range improvement grants. Research on management of crested wheatgrass monocultures was completed and published. This work provides critical information for land managers to guide management of crested wheatgrass stands to meet various objectives, including increasing cover of native vegetation and maintaining forage production. For Objective 2, ARS scientists partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy, and private industry to develop an ecologically-based decision-support system for management of sage-grouse habitat. This system is currently in operation on approximately five million acres of private, state, and federal lands in Oregon and ARS researchers are currently consulting with BLM and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service partners for use of this decision-support system in Idaho. For Objective 3, research was completed and published detailing the effects of biotic and abiotic environmental variables on seeding success for big sagebrush. This work is being used by the BLM to inform post-fire and post-juniper treatment seeding plans on millions of acres of rangeland in southeast Oregon and adjoining states. Research on seed amendment technologies is continuing and expanding. Working cooperatively with The Nature Conservancy and Brigham Young University, ARS scientists published a paper detailing the potential benefits of seed amendment technologies, and initiated new research to determine the efficacy of different compounds as hydrophobic seed coatings. Research was completed and scientific journal articles were published detailing the use of carbon-based seed amendments to limit impacts of herbicides on seeded species. Additional grant funds were secured through the BLM to hire a graduate student to further develop seed technologies that allow for simultaneous application of seeding treatments and pre-emergent herbicide. Research on the use of post-fire soil color to predict mortality of perennial bunchgrasses was completed and published in scientific journals. This work serves as a baseline for informing allocation of limited post-fire restoration resources, an issue that can annually effect hundreds of thousands of rangeland acres in Oregon alone.

1. Revegetation of exotic annual grass-invaded rangelands would be improved if desired species could be seeded simultaneously with pre-emergent herbicide control of exotic annuals. However, herbicide damage to seeded vegetation has limited this approach and thus desired vegetation is often seeded one year after herbicide application. Success of seeding at this time can be limited as exotic annual grasses are starting to reinvade the treated area. ARS scientists in Burns, Oregon investigated the effects of using activated carbon pellets surrounding seed to allow desired vegetation to be seeded at the same time that exotic annual grasses are controlled with a pre-emergent herbicide. They determined that activated carbon pellets could be used to prevent herbicide damage to vegetation seeded when annual grasses were controlled with a pre-emergent herbicide. This work suggests that activated carbon pellets could be used to seed desired species simultaneously with pre-emergent herbicide control of exotic annuals and is the first field test of this technology.

Review Publications
Madsen, M.D., Hulet, A., Phillips, K., Staley, J.L., Davies, K.W., Svejcar, A.J. 2016. Extruded seed pellets: a novel approach to enhancing sagebrush seedling emergence. Native Plant Journal. 17(3):230-243.
Davies, K.W., Bates, J.D. 2017. Restoring big sagebrush after controlling encroaching western juniper with fire: aspect and subspecies effects. Restoration Ecology. 25:33-41.
Bates, J.D., Svejcar, A., Miller, R., Davies, K.W. 2017. Plant community dynamics 25 years after juniper control. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 70(3):356-362. doi:10.1016/j.rama.2016.11.003.
Svejcar, T., Boyd, C.S., Davies, K.W., Hamerlynck, E.P., Svejcar, L. 2017. Challenges and limitations to native species restoration in the Great Basin, USA. Plant Ecology. 218:81-94. doi: 10.1007/s11258-016-0648-z.
Boyd, C.S., Kerby, J., Svejcar, T., Bates, J.D., Johnson, D., Davies, K.W. 2017. The sage-grouse habitat mortgage: effective conifer management in space and time. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 70(1):141-148. doi:10.1016/j.rama.2016.08.012.
Boyd, C.S., Davies, K.W., Hulet, A. 2015. Predicting fire-based perennial bunchgrass mortality in low elevation big sagebrush plant communities. International Journal of Wildland Fire. 24:527-533.
Boyd, C.S., Davies, K.W., Collins, G.H. 2017. Impacts of feral horse use on herbaceous riparian vegetation within a sagebrush steppe ecosystem. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 70(4):411-417.
Davies, K.W., Gearhart, A., Boyd, C.S., Bates, J.D. 2017. Fall and spring grazing influence fire ignitability and initial spread in shrub steppe communities. International Journal of Wildland Fire. 26:485-490.
Davies, K.W., Madsen, M.D., Hulet, A. 2017. Using activated carbon to limit herbicide effects to seeded bunchgrass when revegetating annual grass-invaded rangelands. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 70:604-608.
Bates, J.D., Davies, K.W. 2017. Effects of conifer treatments on soil nutrient availability and plant composition in sagebrush steppe. Forest Ecology and Management. 400:631-644.
Bates, J.D., Davies, K.W., Hulet, A., Miller, R.F., Roundy, B. 2017. Sage-grouse groceries: forb response to pinon-juniper treatments. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 70:106-115.
Davies, K.W., Gearhart, A.L., Vavra, M., Schultz, B.W., Rimbey, N. 2016. Longer term rest from grazing: a response to Jones & Carter. Journal of Rangeland Applications. 3:9-15.
Schantz, M.C., Sheley, R.L., James, J.J., Hamerlynck, E.P. 2016. Role of dispersal timing and frequency in annual grass-invaded Great Basin ecosystems: how modifying seeding strategies increases restoration success. Western North American Naturalist. 76(1):36-52. doi: 10.3398/064.076.0106.
Bansal, S., Sheley, R.L., Blank, R.R., Vasquez, E. 2014. Plant litter effects on soil nutrient availability and vegetation dynamics: changes that occur when annual grasses invade shrub-steppe communities. Plant Ecology. 215:367-378. doi: 10.1007/s11258-014-0307-1.
Boyd, C.S., Davies, K.W., Lemos, J.A. 2017. The influence of soil color on seedbed microclimate and seedling demographics of a perennial bunchgrass. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 70(5):621-624.
Williams, C.J., Pierson, F.B., Spaeth, K., Brown, J., Al-Hamdan, O., Weltz, M.A., Nearing, M.A., Herrick, J.E., Boll, J., Robichaud, P.R., Goodrich, D.C., Heilman, P., Guertin, D.P., Hernandez Narvaez, M.N., Wei, H., Polyakov, V.O., Armendariz, G.A., Nouwakpo, S.K., Hardegree, S.P., Clark, P., Strand, E.K., Bates, J.D., Metz, L.J., Nichols, M.H. 2017. Application of ecological site information to transformative changes on Great Basin sagebrush rangelands. Rangelands. 38(6):379-388.