About the Project

SageSTEP Research Overview

SageSTEP is a long-term multidisciplinary 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. Many of the sagebrush communities that remain are in poor health. SageSTEP scientists are studying the effects of land management options to provide resource managers with improved information to make restoration management decisions with reduced risk and uncertainty.

For more detailed information about different aspects of the study, click on the links at right or below.

  • Land Management Treatments
  • Vegetation and Fuels
  • Soils and Biogeochemistry
  • Water Runoff and Erosion
  • Birds and Insects
  • Economics
  • Human Perspectives
  • Climate Change Connection
  • Weather Stations
  • SageSTEP Team Members
  • SageSTEP Partners

Short-term Response to Treatments (2005-2014)

To study the effects of land management options on sagebrush communities, two experiments were conducted across a regional network of sites. We are using this network to help us understand the thresholds between healthy and unhealthy sagebrush communities over a broad range of conditions across the Great Basin. We are evaluating treatment effects on plants, potential for wildfire, soils, water runoff and erosion, and birds and insects. Economic analyses have been conducted to assist managers in selecting optimal management strategies, and citizens’ and managers’ views about the management actions are being evaluated.

The first experiment is focused on cheatgrass invasion (Cheatgrass Network), and the second experiment is focused on woodland encroachment (Woodland Network).

Cheatgrass Network:

For this experiment, sites are located in sagebrush communities threatened by cheatgrass invasion, and we are studying the effects of four land management options: control (no management action), prescribed fire, mechanical thinning of sagebrush by mowing, and herbicide application (to thin old, unproductive sagebrush plants and encourage growth of young sagebrush and native understory grasses). An additional herbicide application to control cheatgrass was applied within portions of treated areas. The objective is to address the question of what amount of native perennial bunchgrasses needs to be present in the understory of a sagebrush community in order for managers to improve land health without having to conduct expensive restoration, such as reseeding of native grasses.

Woodland Network:

For this experiment, sites are located in sagebrush communities threatened by woodland encroachment, and we will study the effects of no management action (control), prescribed fire, and mechanical removal of trees (chainsaw cutting). The objective is to address the question of what amount of the native sagebrush/bunchgrass community there needs to be in order for managers to improve land health without having to conduct expensive restoration.

From 2006-2010, we focused on socio-political and economic work, on implementing treatments at all of our sites, and on measuring both hydrological and ecological response to treatment. All sites were successfully treated in the late summer and fall of 2006, 2007, and 2008, resulting in 3 to 5 years of post-treatment data to capture the short-term story of treatment response.

Short-term results have been reported in our newsletter and other publications.

SageSTEP General Fact Sheet (PDF, 1 MB)

The Importance of Long-term Monitoring (2015 and beyond)

From the beginning of the study, SageSTEP scientists and managers knew that we would have to continue measuring response to treatments for many years after treatment. Many of the important components of the system have not yet stabilized, due primarily to processes that operate at longer time scales. We have obtained generous support to monitor SageSTEP sites for most critical variables for an additional four years, which will take us to 14 years post-treatment. Long-term monitoring of the SageSTEP study plots is essential to understanding the full implications of fuels treatments. Starting in 2016, we will begin measuring sites at the 10-year post-treatment mark. Our long-term plan is to continue measuring for up to 25 years post-treatment. This length of time will be sufficient to begin to understand climate change influences in the flora and fauna. We look forward to continuing this work into the future as some of the most interesting stories unfold. To read more about our long-term monitoring plans, see the fact sheet below.

SageSTEP Long-term Monitoring Fact Sheet (PDF, 217 KB)


Lisa Ellsworth
Project Co-coordinator
Dept. Fisheries & Wildlife
Oregon State University
Corvallis, OR  97331
(541) 737-0008

Beth Newingham
Project Co-coordinator
GB Rangelands Research
USDA Ag. Res. Service
Reno, NV  89512
(775) 784-6057 ext. 233

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