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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: Invasive Species Assessment and Control to Enhance Sustainability of Great Basin Rangelands

Location: Great Basin Rangelands Research

Title: Assessment of horse creek conservation seeding

Author
item Clements, Darin - Charlie
item Harmon, Daniel - Dan
item Weltz, Mark
item Blank, Robert - Bob
item Henderson, Don

Submitted to: The Progressive Rancher
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 1/28/2015
Publication Date: 2/9/2015
Citation: Clements, D.D., Harmon, D.N., Weltz, M.A., Blank, R.R., Henderson, D.E. 2015. Assessment of horse creek conservation seeding. The Progressive Rancher. 15(2):35-37.

Interpretive Summary: On-going management of western rangelands is critically important in providing future habitats and grazing resources for the multiple resource demands on these rangelands. Big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata)/bunchgrass communities that have been invaded by the exotic and invasive annual, cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) require pro-active management to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires. The introduction of cheatgrass has increased the chance, rate, spread and season of wildfires and with each passing wildfire season more and more big sagebrush/bunchgrass habitats are converted to annual grass dominance. In the summer of 2010, the Great Basin Rangeland Research Unit, USDA, Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS-GBRRU) was approached by the Wildfire Conservation Group and Poncho McErguiaga of the Horse Creek Ranch located in the King’s River Valley of northern Nevada to address the rehabilitation of degraded big sagebrush habitats in an effort to decrease cheatgrass densities and the associated fuels and wildfire dangers. In cooperation with USDA-ARS Range and Forage Pasture Unit in Logan, Utah and the University Nevada we researched potential techniques to rehabilitate these degraded big sagebrush habitats. Our hope was to decrease cheatgrass densities, reduce wildfire risks, and improve wildlife and livestock forage. Ten acres was fenced off as an un-grazed control while 30 acres was disked in the fall of 2010 and received 3 separate seeding trials; 1) plant material testing of 18 species and seed mix trials (native, introduced and native/introduced),2) larger conservation seeding using Siberian wheatgrass, ‘Hycrest’ crested wheatgrass (Agropyron cristatum) and ‘High Plains’ bluegrass (Poa secunda), and 3) testing the broadcast and no-till drill seeding of fresh-current year-vs- 1-yearcold storage ‘Immigrant’ forage kochia (Bassia prostrata ssp. virescens). Plant material testing and seed mix trials experienced a seedling emergence that peaked in May 2011 with the introduced grass species Siberian wheatgrass and ‘Ephraim’ crested wheatgrass having the highest seedling counts, 9.2/ft² and 8.8/ft², respectfully. The native species that performed the best were ‘Whitmar’ beardless wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata ssp. inermis) at 1.3/ft² and Thickspike wheatgrass (Elymus lanceolatus) at 1.2/ft². No native shrubs (e.g. four-wing saltbush, shadscale) were recorded to have emerged. Native forbs also did very poorly as Lewis flax (Linum lewisii) peaked at 0.3/ft² in April 2011 but was absent from the seeding plots by June 2011. By September 2011, Siberian wheatgrass had been reduced to 1/ft², ‘Ephraim’ crested wheatgrass was 0.8/ft² while Thickspike wheatgrass was not recorded and ‘Whitmar’ beardless wheatgrass was reduced to 0.2/ft². By September 2012 we recorded the established plants from the plant material testing plots with Siberian wheatgrass, 1/ft², leading the way and ‘Ephraim’ crested wheatgrass reduced to 0.5/ft². The larger conservation seeding experienced seedling emergence that peaked in May 2011 as well, 8.8 perennial grasses/ft² and 1.3 forage kochia/ft². By September 2012 the conservation seeding had established 2.6 perennial grasses/ft² and 0.6 ‘Immigrant’ forage kochia/ft². ‘Immigrant’ forage kochia cold storage –vs- fresh seed trials did not result in any significant differences as both treatments established well as seedling recruitment within the seeded area helped propagate the population. We built a very strong relationship with the land owner and local cooperators which helped all involved parties grow and learn about the difficulties of rehabilitating degraded rangelands. A special thank you goes out to Poncho McErguiaga of the Horse Creek Ranch and Jan Schade of the Wildfire Conservation Group for their efforts in this conservation seeding.

Technical Abstract: Millions of acres of big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata)/bunchgrass communities have been invaded by the exotic and invasive annual, cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) and require pro-active management to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires. The introduction of cheatgrass has increased the chance, rate, spread and season of wildfires and with each passing wildfire season more and more big sagebrush/bunchgrass habitats are converted to annual grass dominance. Cheatgrass is not considered forage on public lands managed by Federal Agencies, therefore, the invasion of cheatgrass along with the decrease of perennial grasses and rest-rotation grazing systems has resulted in the build-up of herbaceous fuels that are often dominated by the fine-textured early maturing cheatgrass. These fuel build-ups are one lightning strike away from the start of a catastrophic wildfire that can completely burn entire mountain ranges. In the summer of 2010, the Great Basin Rangeland Research Unit, USDA, Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS-GBRRU) was approached by the Wildfire Conservation Group and Poncho McErguiaga of the Horse Creek Ranch located in the King’s River Valley of northern Nevada to address the rehabilitation of degraded big sagebrush habitats in an effort to decrease cheatgrass densities and the associated fuels and wildfire dangers. The site was dominated by sparse decadent big sagebrush with an understory of cheatgrass that was at high risk of fire. The site was divided to accommodate different research trials. Ten acres was fenced off as an un-grazed control while 30 acres was disked in the fall of 2010 and received 3 separate seeding trials; 1) plant material testing of 18 species and seed mix trials, 2) larger conservation seeding using Siberian wheatgrass (Agropyron fragila ssp. sibiricum), ‘Hycrest’ crested wheatgrass (Agropyron cristatum) and and ‘High Plains’ bluegrass (Poa secunda), and 3) testing the broadcast and no-till drill seeding of fresh-current year-vs- 1-yearcold storage ‘Immigrant’ forage kochia (Bassia prostrata ssp. virescens). Seedling emergence peaked in May 2011 with the introduced grass species Siberian wheatgrass and ‘Ephraim’ crested wheatgrass having the highest seedling counts, 9.2/ft² and 8.8/ft², respectfully, in the plant material testing plots. The native species that performed the best were ‘Whitmar’ beardless wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata ssp. inermis) at 1.3/ft² and Thickspike wheatgrass (Elymus lanceolatus) at 1.2/ft². No native shrubs (e.g. four-wing saltbush, shadscale) were recorded to have emerged. Native forbs also did very poorly as Lewis flax (Linum lewisii) peaked at 0.3/ft² in April 2011 but was absent from the seeding plots by June 2011. By September 2011, Siberian wheatgrass had been reduced to 1/ft², ‘Ephraim’ crested wheatgrass was 0.8/ft² while Thickspike wheatgrass was not recorded and ‘Whitmar’ beardless wheatgrass was reduced to 0.2/ft². By September 2012 we recorded the established plants from the plant material testing plots and seed mix trial with Siberian wheatgrass, 1/ft², leading the way and ‘Ephraim’ crested wheatgrass reduced to 0.5/ft². ‘Snowstorm’ forage kochia established at 0.5/ft² while ‘Immigrant’ forage kochia established at 0.2/ft². The larger conservation seeding emergence peaked in May 2011 with 8.8 perennial grasses/ft² and 1.3 forage kochia/ft². By September 2012 the conservation seeding had established 2.6 perennial grasses/ft² (‘Hycrest’ crested wheatgrass, Siberian wheatgrass and ‘High Plains’ bluegrass) and 0.6 ‘Immigrant’ forage kochia/ft². ‘Immigrant’ forage kochia cold storage –vs- fresh seed trials resulted in 0.73/ft² while the 1-year old cold-storage seed source resulted in 0.48/ft². Because forage kochia does such a good job of propagating within its community (seeded area), there was no significant difference after two years as both seed so

Last Modified: 09/24/2017
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