Skip to main content
ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Boise, Idaho » Watershed Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #310649

Research Project: Assessment, Conservation and Management of Rangelands in Transition

Location: Watershed Management Research

Title: Postfire grazing management effects on mesic sagebrush-steppe vegetation: spring grazing

Author
item Clark, Pat
item Williams, Christopher - Jason
item Hardegree, Stuart
item Pierson, Fred

Submitted to: Journal of Arid Environments
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 10/30/2015
Publication Date: 1/22/2016
Citation: Clark, P., Williams, C.J., Hardegree, S.P., Pierson Jr, F.B. 2016. Postfire grazing management effects on mesic sagebrush-steppe vegetation: spring grazing. Journal of Arid Environments. 132:49-59.

Interpretive Summary: The influence of fire-grazing interactions on ecological pattern and process has been fairly well studied in some rangeland ecosystems (e.g., tallgrass prairie) but is only poorly understood in others. On sagebrush-steppe rangelands of the western US, there has been a long-standing concern that fire followed by grazing can cause substantial mortality in sensitive plant species. Vegetation responses to the interactive effects of fire and grazing, however, have never been studied in the higher elevation, more mesic portions of the sagebrush-steppe. We investigated whether graminoid, forb, and litter cover; bare ground; and species density and frequency responses differed among burned areas which were grazed at a very light stocking rate (33 ha AUM-1) during spring (May) without postfire deferment and areas where postfire grazing was excluded or where 1-2 growing seasons of deferment was applied. Fire-grazing interactions had very few effects on vegetation but did influence litter cover and bare ground compared to burning alone. This was a case study; consequently, caution should be taken in applying these results beyond their limited scope of inference. In some cases, however, postfire grazing can likely be employed without deferment or after deferring for only one growing season, without substantial adverse impacts on vegetation.

Technical Abstract: Vegetation responses to the interactive effects of fire and grazing have never been studied in the higher elevation, more mesic portions of the sagebrush-steppe ecotype. We investigated whether graminoid, forb, and litter cover; bare ground; and species density and frequency responses differed among burned areas which were grazed at a very light stocking rate (33 ha AUM-1) during spring (May) without postfire deferment and areas where postfire grazing was excluded or where 1-2 growing seasons of deferment was applied. Fire-grazing interactions had very few effects on vegetation but did influence litter cover and bare ground compared to burning alone. Findings from this study will aid natural resource managers and livestock producers in the formulating science-based, postfire livestock grazing management plans for the mesic sagebrush steppe.