Maintaining the Good

Due to the complex nature of the threats facing the sagebrush ecosystem, and our limited ability to restore degraded systems, we believe a top priority for conservation and research is to focus on how to “keep the good stuff good”. Maintaining areas of intact sagebrush rangeland (state A) provides the greatest benefit with the least amount of resources. Below are research projects focused on maintaining state A. To learn more about state A rangelands and Threat Based Land Management visit www.sageshare.org/.

Contemporary Grazing in Sagebrush Country

Grazing seasons of use effects on the sagebrush steppe ecosystem:

Extensive reduction and fragmentation of the sagebrush ecosystem has generated an intense focus on how remaining intact sagebrush habitats should be managed. Livestock grazing is the predominant land use in the sagebrush ecosystem but surprisingly, limited information is available for understanding the influence of the direct and indirect effects of common contemporary grazing practices on the  sagebrush ecosystem over both short and long time scales.

  • We are conducting a long-term replicated experiment focused on three common grazing regimes in the Great Basin: dormant season grazed, spring-defer rotationally grazed and grazing exclusion at a moderate utilization of bunchgrasses in 15-20 acre pastures.
  • Status: Currently in year five of a five plus year project, and have completed one year of pre-treatment data collection and, 4 years of treatment application and 3 years of post-treatment data collection.
  • Anticipated publications:
    • Influences of Moderate Levels of Rotational and Winter Grazing on Subsequent Year’s Sagebrush Habitat Characteristics (2022)
    • Sustainable Grazing Practices for Sagebrush Rangelands (2023)

Grazing and Wild Horses

Season Long Horse Grazing in Sage-Grouse Habitat

Fourteen of Oregon’s seventeen Horse Management Areas (HMAs) located in sagebrush rangelands overlap either partially or entirely with BLM’s preliminary priority sage-grouse habitat, with the core distinction indicating the highest quality grouse habitat. Currently there is a high degree of uncertainty regarding wild horse grazing impacts to grouse habitat and population metrics. Preserving these core habitat areas is a top conservation priority, and we need a science-based understanding of horse impacts if we wish to mitigate any potential negative effects to grouse habitat.

  • We have initiated a concentrated horse grazing study on private land
  • Status: We are using a case study approach to determine the impacts of season-long (8 months/year) horse grazing on
    • Sage-grouse nesting habitat structure and composition and
    • (potentially) behavioral interactions between nesting sage-grouse and grazing horses within active nesting habitat located near a water source.
    • Currently collecting several years of pre-treatment data before applying the season long horse grazing treatment

Developing Wildfire Management Tools

Developing Fine Fuels and Forage Management Decision Support Tools for Sagebrush Rangelands in the Northern Great Basin Pilot Project

Annual weather is a major driver of plant community dynamics and production, especially in water limited biomes such as the sagebrush steppe. In the northern Great Basin, annual variation in precipitation is enormous for any given site. Additionally, a large proportion of rangeland within the region is not currently representative of the biotic potential of ecological sites, but rather is comprised of vegetation states that have been degraded by conifer encroachment and invasive annual grasses. Vegetation that has been impacted by these threats potentially responds to variable precipitation inputs with differing forage production capacities and amounts and continuity of fine fuels.

  • Forage production and fine fuels characteristics depend on year and location
  • Appropriate techniques and practices for managing grazing and fine fuels (fire risk) vary over time with erratic weather inputs and over space with differences in soils and landscape position.
  • Collecting data on vegetation standing crop and production, plant functional group composition, and fine fuels (amount, continuity, and moisture) monitoring project at 20 Remote Automated Weather Station sites
  • Data collected will be used to develop adaptive decision support tools for predictive, spatially explicit identification of areas to target for fine fuels and fire risk reduction in the northern Great Basin.

Restoration

While preserving intact habitat provides the highest return on limited resources, preventing the degradation of habitats on the brink of persistent conversion to an undesired state is the next highest priority. These habitats still provide some measure of use for wildlife and ranchers, but are at high risk of being lost with a single disturbance event, such as fire.

Restoring habitats on the brink of persistent degradation

One of the highest priority management challenges is restoring perennial vegetation in habitats that still have sagebrush but lack a productive and resilient understory needed to resist invasion in annual grass prone areas of the ecosystem.  These areas often provide important connectivity between intact habitats and still potentially service certain habitat needs of sage-grouse and other sagebrush obligates.  However, these areas are also at the highest risk for a persistent conversion to exotic annual grassland following disturbance.  We also know the least about potential viable conservation measures for these degraded habitats. As such, we have implemented a study that is evaluating the efficacy of various pre-fire and post-fire conservation measures for restoring a perennial understory in degraded sagebrush habitats. We have applied treatments and collected two years of post-treatment monitoring.   

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