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What is SageSTEP?

SageSTEP (Sagebrush Steppe Treatment Evaluation Project) is a regional experiment evaluating methods of sagebrush steppe restoration in the Great Basin. Sagebrush communities have been identified as one of the most threatened land types in North America, and as much as half of this land type has already been lost in the Great Basin. From 2005-2010, fuels treatments were implemented at study sites and SageSTEP scientists began looking at the short-term effects of land management options on a variety of ecosystem components. In 2011, we began a long-term monitoring phase of the project to better understand the changes in response to treatment over time. Research results are being used to provide resource managers with information to make restoration management decisions with reduced risk and uncertainty. For summaries of SageSTEP studies and objectives, visit our About the Project page.



What's New?

Newsletter Fall 2019

Introducing the Fuels Guide for Sagebrush and Pinyon-Juniper Reduction Treatments: 10 years post-treatment

A guide intended to help land managers better understand the variability in long-term responses of fuel loads and vegetation to woody-plant reduction treatments in the Intermountain West. It pairs photographs of sagebrush and pinyon-juniper treatments with fuel loading and plant height, cover, and density data.

A closer look: Biological soil crusts as restoration targets in sagebrush steppe and woodland communities

There is a growing body of research on active restoration of biocrusts. The response of biocrusts to fuel reduction treatments sets this interesting and often overlooked vegetative group, as another restoration component to consider if reduced cover of cheatgrass is a management goal.

Webinar: Answering Questions about the Appropriateness of Woody Vegetation Treatments

A presentation from the "Lunch and Learn" webinar series, USU Forestry Extension: Answering Questions about the Appropriateness of Woody Vegetation Treatments, featuring Mark Brunson, Professor of Environment and Society, Eric Thacker, Associate Professor and Rangeland Extension Specialist, USU. It addresses some of the thorny questions managers need to respond to when explaining or justifying pinyon and juniper removal.

Ten Year Post-Treatment Guide

Fuels Guide for Sagebrush and Pinyon-Juniper Treatments: 10 Years Post-Treatment

Using SageSTEP data, Samuel Wozniak (Soil Conservationist, USDA - NRCS) and Eva K. Strand (University of Idaho) created this guide to summarize fuel loads, vegetation cover by functional group, and shrub and tree stem density 10 years after sagebrush and pinyon-juniper reduction treatments. These data can be used by land managers and fire behavior specialists to quickly estimate fuel loads in older treatments or to predict fuel loads 10 years after a potential treatment, and the fuel loading data can be used to create custom fuel beds to model fire behavior and effects


Three-part Restoration Handbook

Restoration handbook for sagebrush steppe ecosystems with emphasis on greater sage-grouse habitat by David Pyke, Jeanne Chambers, Michael Pellant & Richard Miller

Part 1. Concepts for understanding and applying restoration summarizes the literature and synthesizes core concepts that are necessary for a practitioner/manager to apply tools to help make landscape and site-specific decisions

Part 2. Landscape level restoration decisions presents a landscape restoration decision tool intended to assist decision makers in determining landscape objectives, to identify and prioritize landscape areas where sites for priority restoration projects might be located, and to aid in ultimately selecting restoration sites guided by criteria used to define the landscape objectives.

Part 3. Site level restoration decisions is written so it might be used in conjunction with Part 2, landscape-level decision tool of the handbook on restoration of sagebrush steppe ecosystems or as a stand-alone tool for any site within the sagebrush steppe.


Newsletter Spring 2019

Bird Community Changes after Pinyon-Juniper Treatment

Managers use prescribed fire and mechanical treatments to reduce or eliminate conifers, to restore plant communities and to improve habitat quality for greater sage-grouse – but, until recently, there has been little research on what actually happens to birds during the transition after woodland treatment. Read more about research recently published by Steve Knick and Steve Hanser that explores this issue.

Using Predictive Modeling Tools to Improve Timing of Seeding Treatments

Researchers at BYU used SageSTEP soil moisture and temperature data to develop a tool that predicts germination in the sagebrush steppe and shows how some species are more likely to experience premature germination when sown in the fall – a step toward better rangeland seeding practices.

New Research

In Ecohydrology: Long‐term evidence for fire as an ecohydrologic threshold‐reversal mechanism on woodland‐encroached sagebrush shrublands 

In this research, Jason Williams and others evaluated whether tree removal by burning could decrease late‐succession woodland ecohydrologic resilience by increasing vegetation and ground cover over a nine‐year period after fire. They looked at whether the soil erosion feedback on late‐succession woodlands was reversible by burning. They employed a suite of vegetation and soil measurements and rainfall simulation and concentrated overland flow experiments across multiple plot scales on unburned and burned areas at two sagebrush sites in the later stages of woodland succession.

Modeling the Timing of Germination

Researchers at BYU used SageSTEP soil moisture and temperature data to develop a tool that predicts germination in the sagebrush steppe and shows how some species are more likely to germinate when sown in fall or spring ... another step toward better rangeland seeding practices! Read more about it in an open access article, published in Ecology and Evolution. And find the tool they developed here: https://autogerm.byu.edu/

Newsletter Fall 2018

Wildfire and SageSTEP Research: an inevitable collision

In a matter of just hours, the Martin Fire swept down from the Goat Corral Mountains near Winnemucca, Nevada – ballooning by nearly 88,000 acres. At a staggering 54 miles across from east to west, the fire emitted a column of smoke that could be seen from space. Although no lives or structures were lost in the massive wildfire, it had scientific implications, especially for SageSTEP research sites. 

Treatment Longevity and Changes in Surface Fuel Loads after Pinyon-Juniper Mastication

By shredding whole trees into smaller pieces of woody debris, mastication treatments decrease canopy fuels, alter potential fire behavior, and promote the growth of understory grasses, forbs, and shrubs. Although mastication is now a common management tool, there are still many unanswered questions about how treated areas change over time.

Read more ...

New Research

Spatial and temporal changes in ecosystem carbon pools following juniper encroachment and removal by Heather L. Throop and Kate Lajtha. Although woody plants have substantial impacts on soils, the impact of woody encroachment and brush management influences on carbon pools is just being discovered. Surface carbon pools (shallow soils and litter) may be particularly dynamic in response to encroachment and brush management. The authors assessed the impact of western juniper encroachment and removal on carbon pools in a semi-arid sagebrush ecosystem.



Newsletter Spring 2018

Getting to the bottom of pinyon jay decline in the Intermountain West

There are inevitable unintended consequences for pinyon-juniper removal in the great basin. One potential consequence in the balance is the Pinyon Jay -- the bird’s population declined by a startling 85% between 1970 and 2014. These birds present both a conservation challenge and a paradox. It seems that population declines are not a function of reductions in habitat amount, but are related to changes in habitat quality.

Mini-Grants Spur Plans for Innovative Data Analysis

Since issuing an open invitation to use SageSTEP data to discover as-yet untold stories about our research, several new SageSTEP investigators have stepped forward to participate. We’ve issued these volunteers mini-grants with the hope that they help our new PIs to answer critical questions that may otherwise have remained unanswered.

Read more ...

New Publication

A conservation paradox in the Great Basin—Altering sagebrush landscapes with fuel breaks to reduce habitat loss from wildfire 

Linear fuel breaks have long been used to help suppress fire in the Great Basin, and thousands of miles of new fuel breaks may be constructed in coming years to protect sagebrush ecosystems, including greater sage-grouse habitat. Although fuel breaks can reduce fire size and frequency by enhancing suppression efforts, habitat loss or fragmentation when fuel breaks are constructed may be an unintended consequence. Unfortunately, there is relatively little published science that addresses either fuel break effectiveness in rangelands or possible ecological effects on sagebrush ecosystems. A new USGS report addresses this information gap. In the report, USGS and U.S. Forest Service authors review recent federal protection policies and management directives; describe fuel conditions, fire behavior, and fire trends in the Great Basin; and assess what is known about fuel break treatment effects on sagebrush plant communities and associated wildlife. Their conclusions will aid land managers in designing, implementing, and maintaining an effective fuel break system in sagebrush landscapes into the future.  

Shinneman, D.J., Aldridge, C.L., Coates, P.S., Germino, M.J., Pilliod, D.S., and Vaillant, N.M., 2018, A conservation paradox in the Great Basin—Altering sagebrush landscapes with fuel breaks to reduce habitat loss from wildfire: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2018–1034, 70 p., https://doi.org/10.3133/ofr20181034.


New Research

Using germination prediction to inform seeding potential: II. comparison of germination predictions for cheatgrass and potential revegetation species in the Great Basin by Nathan Cline, Bruce Roundy, Stuart Hardegree and William Christensen.


Using germination prediction to inform seeding potential: I. Temperature range validation of germination prediction models for the Great Basin, USA by Nathan Cline, Bruce Roundy, and William Christensen.

Germination models predict germination timing under seedbed water potential and temperature conditions. Using a wet thermal time model for germination prediction, we estimated progress toward germination (PTG) of 31 seedlots (10 species) as a function of hourly seedbed temperature (> 0 °C) when soils were above a water potential of −1.5 MPa. Seasonally-summed progress toward germination with a value > 1 indicates that germination will occur for that season. We used near surface (1–3 cm) soil water potential and temperature measurements collected at 24 sites in the Great Basin to determine effects of site, season, and year on PTG. On tree encroached sites, we also determined effects of tree infilling phase at time of tree removal, removal method,and microsite on estimated PTG.


Newsletter Fall 2017

Unmined Treasures: An Invitation to Dig into SageSTEP Data and Sites

When establishing the scope of the SageSTEP project, we realized that what we were doing could be useful for more than just our own research questions. Despite now having published more than120 technical papers on all aspects of the study, we are still awash in unpublished stories. This is where you come in. We are issuing an open invitation to use SageSTEP data and sites to discover some of those important stories for yourself.

Farewell to a Friend: SageSTEP Pioneer Paul Doescher

We wanted to acknowledge the recent passing of our valued SageSTEP colleague and friend Paul Doescher. Paul made many contributions to Range Ecology, and to SageSTEP in particular...

Read more ...

New Research

Response of bird community structure to habitat management in piñon-juniper woodland-sagebrush ecotones in Forest Ecology and Management.

Management actions using prescribed fire and mechanical cutting to reduce woodland cover and control expansion provided opportunities to understand how environmental structure and changes due to these treatments influence bird communities in piñon-juniper systems. Steve Knick and other authors surveyed 43 species of birds and measured vegetation for 1–3 years prior to treatment and 6–7 years post-treatment at 13 locations across Oregon, California, Idaho, Nevada, and Utah and used structural equation modeling to develop and statistically test a conceptual model that the current bird assembly at a site is structured primarily by the previous bird community with additional drivers from current and surrounding habitat conditions as well as external regional bird dynamics.

Newsletter Spring 2017 

Ecological Consequences of Pinyon and Juniper Removal; Six Years Later

The longer-term consequences of tree removal is becoming easier to evaluate, thanks to recently published research by Rachel Williams, Bruce Roundy and others. This research details the fate of the understory after treatments designed to address ongoing pinyon-juniper expansion at six years after treatment. Trajectories diverge over time.

Developing Technology to Reduce Seeding Failure

Arid land seedings often fail, as newly germinated seedlings are lost to harsh environmental conditions. To counter this, Matthew Madsen and Bruce Roundy at Brigham Young University are developing new technologies to improve seeding success on these complex and sometimes inhospitable landscapes.

Read more ...

Science Innovations

Pasta VideoWhen scientists were looking for a better way to restore sagebrush they thought way outside of the box. The solution — a pasta maker. Check out this short video to see how it is done.


Video and Infographic on Carbon and Climate Change

Restoration of Great Basin sagebrush steppe is about more than rebuilding healthy landscapes ... these environments also influence global climate change through large-scale carbon systems. Check out a three-minute video that introduces the relationship between carbon sequestration, climate change, fire and the health of Great Basin lands. See a user-friendly infographic on the same subject. Feel free to share and print these products.


Carbon and climate change video
Carbon and climate change infographic
Print the infographic from a PDF in trifold format

Pinyon and Juniper Expansion Infographic

InfographicTake a look at our new infographic on the expansion of Pinyon and Juniper Trees in the Great Basin. It presents the problem in simple terms and lays out the strengths and weaknesses of three of the remedies that SageSTEP scientists are studying ... prescribed fire, tree cutting, and tree shredding. This is great for a quick reference on what we know (and don't yet know) about how landscapes will respond after these treatments, and about what may happen in the future if nothing is done.