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ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Burns, Oregon » Range and Meadow Forage Management Research » Research » Research Project #432221

Research Project: Restoring Sagebrush After Large Wildfires: An Evaluation of Different Restoration Methods across a Large Elevation Gradient

Location: Range and Meadow Forage Management Research

Project Number: 2070-21630-003-02-I
Project Type: Interagency Reimbursable Agreement

Start Date: Aug 1, 2015
End Date: Apr 30, 2020

The objectives of this study are to 1) determine where different post-fire sagebrush restoration methods should be applied based on environmental characteristics to efficiently and effectively restore sagebrush, and 2) evaluate newly developed technologies to restore sagebrush steppe habitat. We hypothesize that 1) natural recovery and seeding sagebrush will be more successful as elevation increases, 2) improving soil-seed contact by using a roller-packer after seeding sagebrush will improve seeding success, and 3) at lower elevations, seed pillows and planting seedlings will be more successful than other methods at establishing sagebrush.

We will evaluate sagebrush restoration success with five methods across an elevation gradient using a randomized block design. Treatments will be randomly assigned within block (site) and include: 1) natural recovery (control), 2) broadcast seeding sagebrush, 3) broadcast seeding sagebrush followed by roller-packing, 4) broadcast seeding sagebrush seed pillows, and 5) planting sagebrush seedlings. All sagebrush used in the study will be big sagebrush. However, subspecies (Wyoming or mountain) of big sagebrush will vary based on the potential natural community type. Wyoming and mountain big sagebrush will be seeded and planted on sites where Wyoming or mountain big sagebrush was dominant prior to burning, respectively. Treatments will be applied along five transects that span an elevation gradient from 1219 to 2134 m (4000 to 7000 ft). Along each elevation gradient, treatments will be applied at approximately1219, 1372, 1524, 1676, 1829, 1981, and 2134 m (4000, 4500, 5000, 5500, 6000, 6500, and 7000 ft) elevation. At each elevation on each transect, treatments will be randomly assigned to five 5 X 10 m plots with a 2 m buffer between treatment plots in each year. Total number of blocks will be 35 (5 elevation transects X 7 elevations per transect = 35 blocks) and total number of treatment plots will be 350 (5 treatments X 2 years X 35 blocks = 350 plots). All sagebrush seeding treatments will be applied at a rate of 1.1 kg pure live seed per hectare in the fall. Roller-packing will be applied by pulling a small roller-packer either by hand across the plot after seeding. Seed pillows will be a mixture that promotes survival, growth, and establishment of sagebrush (exact formulation is not reported because of proprietary rights). Seeds and seed pillows will be broadcasted using a non-automated centrifugal flinger fertilizer spreader. Sagebrush seedlings will be hand planted at a density of 1 seedling per m2. Sagebrush seedlings will be grown to a pre-planting height of approximately 15 cm by planting five sagebrush seeds in seedling cone containers in a greenhouse following methods in Davies et al. (2013). Cone containers will be 3.8 cm diameter at the top and 21 cm tall. Sagebrush seedlings will be thinned to one individual per cone container. Sagebrush seedlings will be planted in the spring by digging a hole approximately 21 cm deep, placing the seedling in the hole, and pressing the soil around the roots of the seedlings. Vegetation measurement will be conducted for four years after treatments are applied. Site characteristics will be measured at each block.