Skip to main content
ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Burns, Oregon » Range and Meadow Forage Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #300618

Research Project: Restoring and Managing Great Basin Ecosystems

Location: Range and Meadow Forage Management Research

Title: Implications of longer term rest from grazing in the sagebrush steppe

item Davies, Kirk
item VAVRA, MARTIN - Us Forest Service (FS)
item SCHULTZ, BRAD - University Of Nevada
item RIMBEY, NEIL - University Of Idaho

Submitted to: Journal of Rangeland Applications
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 1/31/2014
Publication Date: 2/20/2014
Publication URL:
Citation: Davies, K.W., Vavra, M., Schultz, B.W., Rimbey, N. 2014. Implications of longer term rest from grazing in the sagebrush steppe. Journal of Rangeland Applications. 1:14-34.

Interpretive Summary: Livestock grazing is controversial in the sagebrush steppe with some advocating for long-term grazing rest and even permanently excluding grazing. We synthesized the literature to determine the influence of long-term rest on plant community dynamics, soils, and wildlife. Long-term rest and grazing applied according to modern recommendations generally produce similar results. However, there are situations where long-term rest may benefit some resources, but there are also situations where long-term rest causes negative ecological and economic effects. This suggests that land managers need to carefully determine if implementing long-term grazing rest will actually achieve management goals.

Technical Abstract: Longer term grazing rest has occurred or been proposed in large portions of the sagebrush steppe based on the assumption that it will improve ecosystem properties. However, information regarding the influence of longer term rest is limited and has not been summarized. We synthesized the literature on long-term rest in the sagebrush steppe to evaluate the potential ecosystem effects and identify factors that influence those effects. Longer term rest is clearly advantageous compared to detrimental grazing practices (repeated defoliation during the growing season without periodic deferment or short-term rest). Changing grazing management from detrimental use to modern recommended grazing practices or dormant season use will likely convey the same benefits as long-term grazing rest in most situations. In general, long-term rest and modern properly managed grazing produce few significant differences. However, some topic areas have not been adequately studied to accurately predict the influence of long-term rest compared to modern managed grazing. In some situations, long-term rest may cause negative ecological effects. Not grazing can cause an accumulation of fine fuels that increase fire risk and severity and subsequently, the probability of sagebrush steppe rangelands converting to exotic annual grasslands. One common theme we found was that shifts in plant communities (i.e. exotic annual grass invasion and western juniper encroachment), caused in part from historical improper grazing, cannot be reversed by long-term rest. This synthesis suggests that land managers should carefully consider if long-term rest will actually achieve their management goals and if a change in grazing management would achieve similar results.