Skip to main content
ARS Home » Plains Area » Miles City, Montana » Livestock and Range Research Laboratory » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #329848

Research Project: Adaptive Rangeland Management of Livestock Grazing, Disturbance, and Climatic Variation

Location: Livestock and Range Research Laboratory

Title: Reconsidering rest following fire: Northern mixed-grass prairie is resilient to grazing following spring wildfire

Author
item GATES, EMILY - Montana State University
item Vermeire, Lance
item MARLOW, CLAYTON - Montana State University
item Waterman, Richard

Submitted to: Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 1/3/2017
Publication Date: 1/3/2017
Publication URL: http://handle.nal.usda.gov/10113/5618142
Citation: Gates, E.A., Vermeire, L.T., Marlow, C.B., Waterman, R.C. 2017. Reconsidering rest following fire: Northern mixed-grass prairie is resilient to grazing following spring wildfire. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment. 237:258-264. doi:10.1016/j.agee.2017.01.001.

Interpretive Summary: Current federal land management recommendations following fire in the United States suggest that rangelands be rested from grazing for two growing seasons following fire to allow for proper recovery. However, there is a lack of information supporting this recommendation. This project was designed to determine if grazing the first growing season following a spring wildfire would harm rangelands. Following the April 2013 Pautre wildfire in northwestern South Dakota, 10 m2 exclosures were placed in three burned pastures to compare post-fire rest with post-fire grazing. A sandy and loamy ecological site in each pasture was observed. Following the second growing season after the fire, productivity and plant community composition were determined. Productivity was greater for loamy than sandy ecological sites (loamy= 2460 lbs/acre, sandy = 2096 lbs/acre), but was similar between grazing treatments (rested= 2275 lbs/acre, grazed= 2281 lbs/acre). Ecological site strongly determined species composition. Loamy sites consistently contained more western wheatgrass, blue grama and threadleaf sedge than sandy sites (30 v 0%, 18 v 8%, 4 v 1% respectively). The effects of rest following fire were apparent in only needle-and-thread grass and the non-native crested wheatgrass. Needle-and-thread grass was more prevalent on rested sites (22 v 15%). Crested wheatgrass was reduced by grazing on sandy sites (40 v 63%), but was not affected on loamy sites (2 v 1%) . Results do not support the recommendation that a two growing season rest period following fire is required in the northern mixed-grass prairie.

Technical Abstract: Current federal post-fire land management recommendations in the United States suggest that rangelands be rested from grazing for two growing seasons following fire to allow for proper recovery, despite the lack of empirical literature supporting this recommendation. This project was designed to determine if grazing the first growing season following a spring wildfire alters subsequent productivity and species composition of northern mixed-grass prairie. Following the April 2013 Pautre wildfire in northwestern South Dakota, 10 m2 exclosures were erected in three burned pastures to simulate two growing seasons of rest. Grazing exclosures were paired with sites grazed both the first and second growing seasons following the fire and replicated across loamy and sandy ecological sites. Prior to grazing the second growing season, five 2 m2 cages were placed at each grazed site to assess first-year grazing effects. Following the second growing season, productivity and species composition were determined for exclosures and cages. Current-year productivity was greater for loamy than sandy ecological sites (loamy= 2764 kg ha-1, sandy = 2356 kg ha-1; P=0.0271), but was similar between grazing treatments (rested= 2556 kg ha-1, grazed= 2564 kg ha-1; P=0.9550). Ecological site strongly determined species composition. Loamy sites consistently contained more Pascopyrum smithii, Bouteloua gracilis and Carex duriuscula than sandy sites (30 v 0%, 18 v 8%, 4 v 1%; P= 0.0004, 0.0457 and 0.0382 respectively). The effects of grazing exclusion manifested in only Hesperostipa comata and the non-native Agropyron cristatum. H. comata was more prevalent on rested sites (22 v 15%, P=0.0096). A. cristatum experienced a grazing treatment by ecological site interaction as it was reduced by grazing on sandy sites, but was not affected on loamy sites (P=0.0226). Results do not support the notion that a two growing season rest period following fire is required in the northern mixed-grass prairie.