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ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Reno, Nevada » Great Basin Rangelands Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #331913

Title: Intermountain west range improvement practices: lessons learned

item Clements, Darin - Charlie
item RUBALD, TIM - Nevada Department Of Conservation And Natural Resources
item Harmon, Daniel - Dan

Submitted to: The Progressive Rancher
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 8/29/2016
Publication Date: 9/12/2016
Citation: Clements, D.D., Rubald, T., Harmon, D.N. 2016. Intermountain west range improvement practices: lessons learned. The Progressive Rancher. 16(7):16-18.

Interpretive Summary: Controversy exists on the use of various traditional rangeland improvement practices such as chemical and mechanical treatments to treat disturbed rangelands or the use of introduced plant species in seeding treatments. Some of these treatments have been labeled as further disturbing rangelands and benefitting one user group over another. Here we report on some efforts by land owners, conservation districts and cooperative work with state and federal agencies to treat degraded rangelands and improve wildlife habitat and grazing resources as well as pre-fire suppression actions to protect critical habitats. Since 2013, more than 5,000 acres of PJ have been selectively removed by the Eureka County Conservation District in cooperation with private land owners and state and federal agencies to enhance grazing and wildlife resources. The costs of these cuttings have ranged from $70-$115 depending on slope and density, and have significantly improved grazing resources as well as releasing herbaceous and woody species for wildlife. Private landowner, Jim Baumann in cooperation with Jan Schade, Wildfire Conservation Group applied the mechanical treatment of the Lawson Aerator on 160 acres in 2011 and 2012. A portion of the treated area was the seeded with crested wheatgrass in the fall of 2103 using a rangeland drill and ‘Immigrant’ forage kochia using a broadcast seeder. By 2015 the treated habitat had experienced a 300% increase in herbaceous grass and forbs while at the same time has enhanced the shrub stand age, edge effect and grazing and wildlife resources. The treated habitat resulted in a new sage grouse lek (strutting/mating) as well as increased sage grouse habitat use. This type of proactive approach was only made possible by the vision and commitment of the local land owner. The lessons learned from Jim Baumann’s efforts have been exciting to say the least, and many land owners are tackling challenges on their land by imposing range improvement practices. Jim Baumann continued his pro-active approach by addressing a big sagebrush site that was mowed back in 2004. Many of the mow strips became dominated by cheatgrass and Halogeton as there was not enough residual perennial grass species to fill the void by which weedy species will. Sherm Swanson, University Nevada, reports they found that 57 out of the 76 (75%) mowed sites they measured increased in perennial herbaceous cover rather than an increase in annual species such as cheatgrass. The mow strips (fuels management) Baumann was dealing with is west of Eureka, NV, and had been broadcast seeded numerous times by the BLM, but resulted in minimal success. In cooperation with Jim Baumann, the BLM provided the seed and Baumann drill seeded crested wheatgrass in the fall of 2015 and broadcasted ‘Immigrant’ forage kochia in the spring of 2016 following snow melt. In June 2016, the seeded sites averaged nearly 18 seeded species/ft². This seedling density is very good and should result in an excellent establishment of perennial grass and kochia for fire suppressive advantages. Range improvement practices are valuable tools that enhance the productivity of rangelands for various user groups.

Technical Abstract: The Nevada Section, Society for Range Management held its annual summer field tour July 29-30, 2016 in Eureka, Nevada, where numerous private land owners, conservation districts, consultants, state and federal agencies participated in a learningful and exciting tour. The tour included the cooperation of private landowners, Eureka County Conservation District and state agencies in the cutting of Pinon-Juniper woodlands to release and enhance grazing and wildlife resources as well as use the bi-products of the woody material for mulch, biochar and soil amendments. The mechanical application of the Lawson Aerator by the private land owner and the Wildfire Conservation Group was well received by all as this application resulted in more than a 300% density increase in herbaceous species as well as significantly enhancing the wildlife value of the treated sites by providing mating, nesting, and brood rearing habitat for the sensitive upland game bird, sage grouse. Maintaining habitat improvement practices is also very important as the Conservation District, in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management, teamed up to cut Pinon-Juniper on a 1969 chaing/seeding project that had returned back to a phase II-III woodland. For $70 an acre, a crew of 18 cut the trees down in a 3-day period which keeps the PJ invasion from truncating critical browse and herbaceous species for grazing and wildlife values. The use of mechanical mowing for fuels management is a popular methodology, yet the ability of these mow strips to be dominated by weedy species adds complication for fuels management. The private land owner, in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management, addressed the fuels management issue of fuel strips being taken over by weeds and implemented a greenstrip seeding on these strips that in its infancy was averaging nearly 18 seeded species/ft². Range improvement practices are critical in the effort to improve and enhance degraded rangelands as they can add edge effect and increase grazing and wildlife resource.