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.
Winter 2016 Newsletter
Effects of PJ Encroachment on Hydrology Over Time
Over the past decade, SageSTEP hydrologists have been collecting and analyzing data to learn more about the impacts of woodland encroachment on infiltration, runoff, and erosion by water, and the effects of tree removal on water and soil movement in the short- and long-term. This work spans multiple sites in the SageSTEP network and includes experiments conducted before and after tree removal by burning, cutting, and mastication. Read more about these results from Jason Williams and Fred Pierson. Read more ...
Using SageSTEP Data to Model Climate Change
Scientists from USU are using an innovative method to model how sagebrush responds to climate change, partly inspired by the robust data available from the SageSTEP project. Andrew Kleinhesselink and Peter Adler are using long-term field observations of big sagebrush to estimate its sensitivity to changes in annual precipitation and temperature. Read more ...
This review from The Wildlife Society describes how prescribed fire is widely applied as a management tool in North America to meet various objectives such as reducing fuel loads and fuel continuity, returning fire to an ecosystem, enhancing wildlife habitats, improving forage, preparing seedbeds, improving watershed conditions, enhancing nutrient cycling, controlling exotic weeds, and enhancing resilience from climate change. The authors use a regional approach, focusing on selected vegetation types.
A high mortality rate among seedlings has long plagued restoration projects because the seeds may germinate too soon. In new research in the Soil Science Society of America Journal, Bruce Roundy and Matt Madsen are measuring freezing and thawing on rangeland sites to determine the length of germination delay needed to avoid seedling frost mortality and to help guide frost-tolerance experiments.They analyzed fall to spring soil temperatures from 2010 to 2014 on six sagebrush–bunchgrass sites and eight woodland sites where conifers had invaded sagebrush communities. Soil temperatures were measured in untreated, prescribed burned, and mechanically treated plots. Read more here.
A new literature synthesis: Ecohydrologic impacts of rangeland fire on runoff and erosion by Fred Pierson and Jason Williams is now available online.
Fire can dramatically influence rangeland hydrology and erosion by altering ecohydrologic relationships. This synthesis presents an ecohydrologic perspective on the effects of fire on rangeland runoff and erosion through a review of scientific literature spanning many decades. The objectives are: (1) to introduce rangeland hydrology and erosion concepts necessary for understanding hydrologic impacts of fire; (2) to describe how climate, vegetation, and soils affect rangeland hydrology and erosion; and (3) to use examples from literature to illustrate how fire interacts with key ecohydrologic relationships. The synthesis is intended to provide a useful reference and conceptual framework for understanding and evaluating impacts of fire on rangeland runoff and erosion.
When 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.
The Next Evolution of the SageSTEP Research Project
We tip our hat to some of the hardworking scientists who have contributed to SageSTEP over the years who are now moving into retirement. We also welcome some new blood!
SageSTEP Counts Carbon
We've augmented monitoring protocol this year to gain
better insight on carbon sequestration levels in the Great
Using Visual Data to Better Understand Treatment Change The visual data we captured over many years of treatment response are valuable for getting a general impression of what has happened in our sub-plots over time. We are exploring ways to make these photo series available and useful to managers.
Vegetation Response to Piñon and Juniper Tree Shredding in Rangeland Ecology and Management, by Jordan Bybee et al.
To determine vegetation response to fuel reduction by tree mastication or seeding and then shredding, authors measured cover for shrub and herbaceous functional groups on shredded and adjacent untreated areas on 44 sites in Utah. Shredding or seeding and then shredding should facilitate wildfire suppression, increase resistance to weed dominance, and lead toward greater resilience to disturbance by increasing perennial herbaceous cover.
Incorporating Hydrologic Data and Ecohydrologic Relationships into Ecological Site Descriptions in Rangeland Ecology and Management, by Jason William et al.
This paper brings together our knowledge of vegetation and hydrology interactions and ability to include those interactions qualitatively and quantitatively within Ecological Site Descriptions (ESDs). We demonstrate application of the Rangeland Hydrology and Erosion Model to evaluate and predict ecohydrologic responses to vegetation transitions, conservation practices, and disturbances within the ESD context. SageSTEP has been instrumental in increasing knowledge of vegetation and hydrology interactions for sagebrush rangelands and in increasing our understanding of ecohydrologic responses to specific conservation practices (i.e., conifer removal practices). The data acquired through SageSTEP have also greatly contributed to improving RHEM for applications as demonstrated in the paper.
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.
Multi-scale predictions of massive conifer mortality due to chronic temperature rise. Global temperature rise and extremes accompanying drought threaten forests and their associated climatic feedbacks. Our ability to accurately simulate drought-induced forest impacts remains highly uncertain in part owing to our failure to integrate physiological measurements, regional scale models, and dynamic global vegetation models. Here we show consistent predictions of widespread mortality of needleleaf evergreen trees within Southwest USA by using state-of-the-art models evaluated against empirical data sets.
Restoring fire-prone Inland Pacific landscapes: seven core principles. More than a century of forest and fire management of Inland Pacific landscapes has transformed their successional and disturbance dynamics. Many current projects emphasize thinning and fuels reduction within individual forest stands, while overlooking large-scale habitat connectivity and disturbance flow issues. We provide a framework for landscape restoration, offering seven principles.
Wildland fire deficit and surplus in the western United States. The natural role of fire has been disrupted in many regions due to the influence of human activities, which have the potential to either exclude or promote fire, resulting in a ‘‘fire deficit’’ or ‘‘fire surplus’’, respectively. In this study, we developed a model of expected area burned for the western US as a function of climate from 1984 to 2012. We then quantified departures from expected area burned to identify geographic regions with fire deficit or surplus. We developed our model of area burned as a function of several climatic variables from reference areas with low human influence; the relationship between climate and fire is strong in these areas.
The Pros and Cons of Tree
Removal by Shredding
Shredding and mastication makes its own characteristic imprint on the land. We explore some of the principal effects shredding may have on sagebrush steppe fuel-beds, and potential fire
behavior and fire severity.
Using Ecological Variables to
Define Restoration Success
This article highlights how treatments have affected vegetation, the fuel-bed, hydrologic function, and sagebrush-obligate passerine birds. We discuss an important point when it comes to restoration of sage grouse habitat: the judgement of whether or not a treatment has achieved 'restoration success' depends critically on which restoration component is being considered.
Sage-grouse need open sagebrush steppe to thrive, but pinyon and juniper trees have encroached on Great Basin lands. Trees crowd out sagebrush, native grasses, and flowering plants that grouse require for food and shelter. We've produced, with the expertise of Steve Knick, this infographic on what sage-grouse require out of sage steppe environments. Click on the link for a print-ready pdf version. Feel free to print and distribute.
Restoration handbook for sagebrush steppe ecosystems with emphasis on greater sage-grouse habitat — Part 1. Concepts for understanding and applying restoration is the first of a three-part handbook designed to help land managers across the West restore dwindling sagebrush steppe ecosystems that support greater sage grouse and hundreds of other species.
The 56-page handbook released by the U.S. Geological Survey takes a broad look at sagebrush landscapes, with a focus on helping land managers prioritize areas where reseeding or planting would be most successful and identifying the best strategies for restoring these specific areas. The subsequent two parts of the handbook will provide guidance for how to restore habitat at a landscape level and at a site-specific level, respectively.
SageSTEP scientists have now collected six years of post-treatment data on 20 sites throughout the Great Basin, and now have a fairly good understanding of short-term vegetation response to fire and mechanical treatments on at about half of those sites. Jim McIver, Ecologist and SageSTEP Coordinator, Oregon State University, presents these results in a webinar hosted by Great Basin Fire Science Exchange.
To see the one-hour webinar, click here.
A new publication by Robin Tausch in the journal Natural Resource Modeling is now available. It is titled "A Structurally Based Analytic Model of Growth and Biomass Dynamics in Single Species Stands of Conifers," and is a theoretically based analytic model of plant growth in single species conifer communities based on the species fully occupying a site and fully using the site resources.
New research by Michael Reisner, Paul Doescher and David Pyke about how the stress-gradient hypothesis explains susceptibility to bromus tectorum invasion and community stability is now available from the Journal of Vegetation Science. The authors ask what combinations of overlapping water and heat stress and
herbivory disturbance gradients are associated with shifts in interactions
between Artemisia tridentata and herbaceous beneficiary
species. They find that cattle grazing
was a significant component of two overlapping stress gradients most strongly
associated with observed shifts in interactions.
A study describing the effects of biological soil crust response to late season prescribed fire in a Great Basin juniper woodland is now available. Compared with unburned plots, the biomass of cyanobacteria was diminished under juniper and sagebrush; it was reduced in the interspaces in both burned and unburned plots, presumably in response to generally harsher conditions in the post-burn environment. Although fire negatively affected some biological soil crust organisms in some parts of the early-seral juniper woodland, the overall impact on the crusts was minimal. Intense fire should be avoided due to the potential for greater encroachment into the shrub interspaces, which contain the majority of biological soil crust organisms. Burning early-seral juniper may be preferred for controlling juniper encroachment on rangeland. Authored by Steven Warren, Larry St.Clair, Jeffrey Johansen, Paul Kugrens, Scott Baggett, and Benjamin Bird.
SageSTEP Answers Secretarial Order with Research Insight
In order to convert cheatgrass-riddled and juniper-encroached communities back to functioning sagebrush communities that include wildlife, land managers need information about what treatments will trigger beneficial change, and how long it will take. Find out how SageSTEP researchers are uniquely positioned to provide insight about creating and sustaining high quality sage-grouse habitat.
Spider Populations Illustrate Short-Term Change after Restoration Treatment
By Jim McIver
Sagebrush steppe spiders are known to be sensitive indicators of environmental change. SageSTEP researchers are discovering how these little-understood species correspond with patterns of vegetation structure and how sagebrush steppe restoration treatments change these patterns.
Vegetation Restoration in Response to Pinyon and Juniper Control Treatments presented March 5, 2015. Bruce Roundy, Plant Ecologist, Brigham Young University, discussed vegetation restoration in response to piñon and juniper control treatments.
New research by Kert Young, Bruce Roundy, Steve Bunting
and Dennis Eggett is now available from the International Journal of Wildland Fire. The authors treated pinyon-juniper trees to reduce canopy fuel loads and crown fire potential. They measured the effects of juniper–piñon infilling and fuel-reduction treatments on fuel loads at four locations in Utah. By 2 years after the treatment, herbaceous fuel loads were greater than pretreatment in all treated areas. Cut and mastication treatments increased surface woody 10- and 100-h fuel loads and wood/bark cover. The conversion of canopy fuels to surface fuels reduced fuels that enable crown fire and extreme fire intensity. To read more, click here.
A revised Field Guide for Selecting the Most Appropriate Treatment in Sagebrush and Piñon-Juniper Ecosystems in the Great Basin is now available. This guide by Rick Miller, Jeanne Chambers, and Mike Pellant is designed to allow field personnel to evaluate resilience to disturbance and resistance to invasive annual grass for an area of concern, predict the potential successional pathways, and then select the most appropriate treatment, including the need for seeding.
Take 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.
The latest newsletter from the Utah Shrubland Management Group at USU is now available. It includes an interesting Interview with Rial Berry, ranch owner in Cedar Fort, Utah, and a brief introduction to snakeweed management.
Research: Feral horses on Sagebrush Steppe
In Ecosphere, find an article on the effects of feral free-roaming horses on semi-arid rangeland ecosystems by K. Davies, G. Collins and C.S. Boyd. Feral horses are relatively unmanaged, and information about their influence on semi-arid rangelands has been limited. Researchers compared plant and soil characteristics in horse-grazed areas to ungrazed exclosures in northern Nevada. The cumulative effects of feral horses suggest that they may increase the risk of soil erosion, and decrease availabile water for plant growth. Feral horses may limit sagebrush recruitment, having a negative impact on Greater Sage-grouse and other sagebrush associated wildlife.
Agencies have new tool for managing fire, invasives
Scientists are rolling out a new strategy this week to fight wildfire and cheatgrass threatening the greater sage grouse. The goal is to help the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service place firefighting assets, target vegetation treatments and launch rehabilitation projects for burned landscapes in the Great Basin.
"This is the first time we've developed a landscape-scale prioritization for addressing wildfire and invasive threats," said Jeanne Chambers, a research ecologist at the Forest Service's Rocky Mountain Research Station, who was the lead author of a report detailing the strategy. "We're really excited about the work being applied."
The agencies are amending land-management plans across the West, but they have finite resources for preventing wildfires and performing treatments that benefit sage grouse. Chambers and her colleagues are set to present the report at a conference in Boise, Idaho, to facilitate discussion between scientists and land-management officials on how to address wildfire and invasive species in sage grouse habitat.
The Chambers report is among the first to bring together an interdisciplinary group of researchers and managers from the Forest Service, U.S. Geological Survey, USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service and Agricultural Research Service, Bureau of Land Management, and state wildlife agencies.
See a six-page fact sheet from the Sage Grouse Initiative here.
- Special SageSTEP Issue of Rangeland Ecology and Management
- Decoding Cheatgrass Die-off in the Great Basin
Awards for SageSTEP Scientists
Congratulations to Dr. Jeanne Chambers, who was selected to be the first recipient of the GBSER Distinguished Restoration Ecologist Award in recognition of her many years of research and collaboration on riparian alpine and upland plant communities and restoration in the Great Basin.
Dr. Chambers will be recognized at an upcoming SER meeting and will present her "big-picture" perspectives on restoration.
Dr. Richard Miller recieved the Henry Wright Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association of Fire Ecology. This honor is the highest award presented by the Association of Fire Ecology for scientists working in fire on rangelands. Congratulations to Dr. Miller for the well-deserved recognition.
- Improving public support for restoration plans
- Bacteria ACK55 show potential for cheatgrass control
Mechanical Mastication of Utah Juniper Encroaching Sagebrush Steppe Increases Inorganic Soil N
by Kert Young, Bruce Roundy and Dennis Eggett
in Applied and Environmental Soil Science.
Juniper mechanical mastication increases cover of understory species but could increase resource availability and subsequently invasive plant species. We compared resource availability in paired masticated and untreated areas in three juniper-dominated sagebrush and bunchgrass ecosystems in the Utah portion of the Great Basin. Read more.
Webinar: Effects of imazapic four years post-treatment
Eugene Schupp, Professor of Plant Population Ecology and Restoration Ecology with Utah State University, presented preliminary research findings on plant responses to imazapic and other treatments after four years post-treatment on Wednesday, March 26th, 2014.
Watch the webinar here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vLvTvJlHRiY#t=20
- Ecological Responses of Arid Wyoming Big Sagebrush Communities to Fuel Treatments
- Cheatgrass Control with Imazapic: What Influences Success and What Are the Side Effects?
- Attack of the Moth: Monitoring the sagebrush defoliating Aroga Moth and Aiding its Enemies
Sagebrush Steppe Treatment Evaluation Project; short-term results sponsored by Great Basin Fire Science Delivery
In 2006, SageSTEP scientists and their manager partners began evaluating restoration treatments at 18 study sites. They have measured ecosystem response to prescribed fire, clearcutting, tree shredding, mowing, and herbicides. Collaborators at universities and government agencies in six western states are now working together to analyze and interpret field data. This webinar, presented by Jim McIver, Research Ecologist at Oregon State University, is a compilation of some of the more important short-term results of SageSTEP experiments through the third year after treatment.
To see the recorded webinar, click here.
Warming, soil moisture, and loss of snow increase Bromus tectorum's population growth rate
in Elementa, Science of the Anthropocene.
Cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) is arguably the most destructive biological invader in basins of the North American Intermountain West, and warming could increase its performance through direct effects on demographic rates or through indirect effects mediated by loss of snow. Scientists conducted a two-year experimental manipulation of temperature and snow pack to test whether 1) warming increases cheatgrass population growth rate and 2) reduced snow cover contributes to cheatgrass’ positive response to warming. Read more.
New Publications and Research
An Object-Based Image Analysis of Pinyon and Juniper Woodlands Treated to Reduce Fuels
in Environmental Management, December 2013
April Hulet, Bruce A. Roundy, Steven L. Petersen, Ryan R. Jensen and Stephen C. Bunting
Mechanical and prescribed fire treatments are commonly used to reduce fuel loads and maintain or restore sagebrush steppe rangelands across the Great Basin where pinyon and juniper trees are encroaching. Geospatial technologies, particularly remote sensing, could potentially be used in these ecosystems to evaluate the longevity of fuel reduction treatments, provide data for planning and designing future fuel-reduction treatments, and assess the spatial distribution of horizontal fuel structure following fuel reduction treatments.
Assessing the Relationship between Ground Measurements and Object-Based Image Analysis of Land Cover Classes in Pinyon and Juniper Woodlands
in American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing: October 2013.
April Hulet, Bruce A. Roundy, Steven L. Petersen, Ryan R. Jensen, and Stephen C. Bunting.
Land managers need to rapidly assess vegetation composition and bare ground to effectively evaluate and manage shrub steppe communities. We used an object-based image analysis (OBIA) approach to estimate land cover classes found in pinyon-juniper woodlands, and evaluated the relationship between ground measurements and OBIA land cover measurements. Although OBIA cover estimates varied slightly from ground cover estimates, methods provide land managers with options for prioritizing management practices and enabling monitoring at an operational scale.
Tree reduction and debris from mastication of Utah juniper alter the soil climate in sagebrush steppe
in Forest Ecology and Management: December 2013.
Kert R. Young, Bruce A. Roundy, and Dennis L. Eggett.
We determined the effects of tree reduction and soil cover in the forms of tree mounds and masticated debris on hourly soil water potential and soil temperature at 1–30 cm soil depth. Measurements were made in masticated and untreated areas at three sites in the western Utah portion of the Great Basin.
Plant Establishment in Masticated Utah Juniper Woodlands
in Rangeland Ecology & Management: September 2013.
Kert R. Young, Bruce A. Roundy, and Dennis L. Eggett.
Mechanical mastication where juniper density is high and perennial grass cover is low brings a risk of invasive weed dominance unless perennial species are established. To determine whether juniper mastication favors annual- or perennial-grass establishment, we compared seedling emergence, tillers, and aboveground biomass of cheatgrass and Anatone bluebunch wheatgrass.
A Review of Fire Effects on
Vegetation and Soils in the Great
Basin Region: Response and Ecological Site Characteristics
Richard F. Miller, Jeanne C. Chambers, David A. Pyke, Fred B. Pierson, and C. Jason Williams
This publication is a comprehensive review of the current knowledge of fire effects on plants and soils. It covers the sagebrush and pinyon-juniper biomes in the Great Basin and Columbia and Snake River basins. It discusses the effect of site characteristics (e.g. soil temperature and moisture regimes) that influence response. The table of contents is a good tool for finding specific topics related to fire, such as fire and grazing, fire severity, etc.