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ARS Home » Plains Area » Sidney, Montana » Northern Plains Agricultural Research Laboratory » Agricultural Systems Research » Research » Research Project #444224

Research Project: Rangeland Resilience Following Wildfire: Post-Fire Soil Health

Location: Agricultural Systems Research

Project Number: 3032-21600-001-004-R
Project Type: Reimbursable Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: Feb 1, 2023
End Date: Jan 31, 2025

Although prescribed fire is known to produce positive ecosystem outcomes and is commonly used for wildlife habitat management, many managers of working rangeland assume that wildfire puts forage and soil resources at risk. As such, rangeland throughout the West is managed under a paradigm of deferring grazing for at least 1-2 seasons after a wildfire. But as wildfire frequency increases, deferment will necessarily reduce the amount of grazing land available, risking unsustainable overstocking of remaining acres. Furthermore, such practices might be denying livestock access to the highest-quality forage in the landscape. In actuality, existing data suggest that soil microbial activity increases after wildfire, but actual impacts of post-fire grazing are poorly described in the Great Plains, especially with regards to soil health and microbial community composition. Without such an understanding, rangeland managers in the region are at a disadvantage in making adaptive management decisions that ensure optimal ecosystem service delivery and conservation of rangeland resources under increasing wildfire activity.

1. Conduct post-wildfire soil sampling across multiple ecological sites within a 1000-acre wildfire perimeter at Fort Keogh. 2. Compare soil microbial community composition and abundance across paired grazed and ungrazed plots. 3. Integrate soils data with other data to create a cost-benefit framework for regional managers to assess the tradeoffs involved with immediate post-wildfire grazing and determine if post-wildfire vegetation is actually a grazing resource that can be used without compromising ecosystem sustainability.