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ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Burns, Oregon » Range and Meadow Forage Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #336770

Research Project: Restoring and Managing Great Basin Ecosystems

Location: Range and Meadow Forage Management Research

Title: Wildlife responses to brush management: a contemporary evaluation

Author
item Fulbright, Timothy - Texas A&m University
item Davies, Kirk
item Archer, Steven - University Of Arizona

Submitted to: Rangeland Ecology and Management
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 7/5/2017
Publication Date: 1/5/2018
Citation: Fulbright, T.E., Davies, K.W., Archer, S.R. 2018. Wildlife responses to brush management: a contemporary evaluation. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 71(1):35-44. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rama.2017.07.001.

Interpretive Summary: Brush management has been widely practiced with the general intent of curtailing or reversing the proliferation of shrubs and trees in grasslands and savannas. Here, we review the literature reporting the effects of brush management on wildlife and make recommendations for applying brush management to accomplish wildlife conservation objectives. Key observations arising from our review are that habitat-related terminology is often misused in brush management literature. Brush management is frequently recommended as a “wildlife habitat” improvement tool. This is a non sequitur because habitat is species-specific and brush management has different consequences for different species of wildlife and plants. Changes in resources resulting from brush management may not benefit an animal species unless these changes overcome some limiting factor or factors. Brush management plans and recommendations should also be cognizant of trade-offs, such as benefitting grassland wildlife at the expense of woodland species. Balancing the needs of wildlife with the broader portfolio of ecosystem services affected by woody plant encroachment and brush management should be a key goal of natural resource managers.

Technical Abstract: Brush management has been widely practiced with the general intent of curtailing or reversing the proliferation of shrubs and trees in grasslands and savannas. The traditional aim of brush management has been to increase livestock forage or to improve water yield. Its potential role for restoring habitat for the plants and animals endemic to and characteristic of grassland and savanna ecosystems has received less attention. Wildlife-associated recreation and biodiversity conservation have emerged as important management goals on public and private rangeland, making it imperative that natural resource professionals explicitly take wildlife conservation – game and non-game - into account in vegetation management planning and implementation. Here, we review the literature reporting the effects of brush management on wildlife and make recommendations for applying brush management to accomplish wildlife conservation objectives. Key observations arising from our review are that habitat-related terminology is often misused in brush management literature. Brush management is frequently recommended as a “wildlife habitat” improvement tool. This is a non sequitur because habitat is species-specific and brush management has different consequences for different species of wildlife and plants. Changes in resources resulting from brush management may not benefit an animal species unless these changes overcome some limiting factor or factors. Wildlife responses to brush management treatments are complex: they are mediated by climate and soil properties and depend on the plant community, size and configuration of the area manipulated, the type of brush management treatment applied, and time since treatment application. Communication between resource managers and stakeholders would be improved by correct use of habitat-related terminology and by developing clear criteria for what constitutes a benefit of brush management to a given species or functional group of wildlife. Brush management plans and recommendations should also be cognizant of trade-offs, such as benefitting grassland wildlife at the expense of woodland species. Balancing the needs of wildlife with the broader portfolio of ecosystem services affected by woody plant encroachment and brush management should be a key goal of natural resource managers.