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ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Boise, Idaho » Watershed Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #344549

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

Location: Watershed Management Research

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

Author
item Clark, Pat
item Williams, Christopher - Jason
item Kormos, Patrick
item Pierson, Fred

Submitted to: Journal of Arid Environments
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 10/12/2017
Publication Date: 10/27/2017
Citation: Clark, P., Williams, C.J., Kormos, P.R., Pierson, F.B. 2017. Postfire grazing management effects on mesic sagebrush-steppe vegetation: Mid-summer grazing. Journal of Arid Environments. 151:104-112. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaridenv.2017.10.005.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaridenv.2017.10.005

Interpretive Summary: Postfire livestock grazing management in the higher-elevation, mesic portions of the sagebrush steppe lacks a firm scientific foundation to support decision making. Effects of rest or exclusion of mid-summer (July) cattle grazing from burned mesic sagebrush steppe vegetation were evaluated following fall prescribed fire at the Reynolds Creek Experimental Watershed in the Owyhee Mountains of southwestern Idaho. Treatments where burned areas received either no rest, 1, 2, or 3 years of rest from postfire grazing had no additional effects on grass or forb basal cover (a measure of plant presence and vigor) or on plant species diversity (a measure of ecosystem sustainability) beyond that of burned-ungrazed areas (controls) but litter recovery was delayed under all 4 grazed treatments. These findings support calls for increased flexibility in policies governing postfire grazing management on federal lands and, as such, could influence ecosystem health, livestock production and other services throughout the entire western US.

Technical Abstract: Postfire livestock grazing management in the higher-elevation, mesic portions of the sagebrush steppe lacks a firm scientific foundation to support decision making. Following a prescribed fire conducted in fall 2002, we evaluated effects of different lengths of rest from mid-summer (July) cattle grazing on postfire ground cover and plant species diversity responses in mesic sagebrush steppe. Treatment levels representing no rest; 1, 2, or 3 years of rest from grazing, and a burned-ungrazed Control, all had similar effects on graminoid and forb basal cover and plant species density and frequency. However, grazing reduced litter cover and increased bare ground exposure relative to the Control. A synthesis of this and other case studies of postfire grazing in sagebrush steppe indicates multiple years of rest from grazing are not strictly necessary for effective and timely recovery of vegetation but, on sloping terrain where potential runoff and erosion hazards exist, multiple years of rest may be needed to promote acceptable rates of litter recovery and reduction of bare ground exposure. These findings support calls for increased flexibility in policies governing postfire grazing management on federal lands and, as such, could influence ecosystem health, livestock production and other services throughout the entire western US.