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.
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 by 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.
When using treatments, there are a host of political, economic, and social factors to consider and a variety of legal and institutional rules to navigate. This online guide is a starting point for exploring the legal and institutional constraints relevant to land managers working in the Great Basin.
Organized first into national and then state resources this guide focuses on prescribed burning, mechanical removal of vegetation, and the application of herbicides, as well as one of the most common land uses in the region—grazing.
Utah State University ecologist John Stark is another step closer to understanding a natural phenomenon that enables desert plants to access water and nutrients they desperately need — even in the driest circumstances.
“We’ve long known plants reach deep below surface soil to take water up into their shoots and leaves, says Stark, professor in USU’s Department of Biology and the USU Ecology Center. “What we’re discovering is, through a process called hydraulic lift, plants also leak water into the bone-dry surface soil to release nutrients and stir microbial activity critical to the plants’ survival.” Read more
In the News
Based on anecdotal observations of where the birds are and aren’t, wildlife experts and ranchers have long thought sage grouse avoid conifers, which have encroached on their prime habitat. But until now, there hasn’t been landscape-level scientific proof to back up juniper removal as a conservation strategy. Last week, the journal Biological Conservation published a Nature Conservancy and Sage Grouse Initiative-sponsored modeling study based on high-resolution maps and counts of male sage grouse visiting leks, or breeding sites, within an approximately 6 million-acre east-Oregon study area. It showed that sage grouse basically abandoned leks in areas with very few trees. Read more.
Wildlife Management Institute: Early Removal of Invasive Conifers Essential to Habitat Restoration for Sage Grouse
Research led by The Nature Conservancy and released in mid-September validates efforts to limit the encroachment of juniper and other conifers in sagebrush habitats in order to maintain sage grouse populations, reports the Wildlife Management Institute. The report found that in the study area in eastern Oregon, there were no active sage grouse leks when conifer cover exceeded 4 percent within two-thirds of a mile of a lek location. The new study, that also assessed treatment costs, shows that proactive conservation efforts being undertaken through the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Sage Grouse Initiative can help to sustain populations of this bird that is teetering on the edge of being listed under the Endangered Species Act. Read more.
SageSTEP News Issue 22, Fall 2013
- PJ Control by Mastication: What happens to fuels, soils, and vegetation after shredding pinyon and juniper trees?
- Ecological Responses of Arid Wyoming Big Sagebrush Communities to Fuel Treatments
- Initial Effects of Imazapic on Cheatgrass, Native Grasses and Forbs
Presentations are now available from the workshop, "Landscape Management of a Native Invader: promoting rangeland productivity and sage grouse conservation through coordinated juniper treatment."
Video here. Powerpoints here.
The workshops was September 10, 2013, at UC Davis. Speakers included:
Mark Brunson, Professor of Environment and Society, USU
Ceci Dale-Cesmat, State Rangeland Management Specialist, USDA-NRCS, Tom Esgate, Environmental Consultant, David Lile, UC Cooperative Extension County Director, Lassen County, Ken Tate, Russell L. Rusticci Endowed Chair, UC Davia, and REACH IGERT students.
The IGERT group has also developed a short video: Landscape management of a native invader: Promoting rangeland productivity and sage-grouse conservation through coordinated juniper removal.
"The Great Basin: A Landscape Under Fire"
December 9-10, 2013, University of Nevada, Reno
Wildfire is changing the nature of the Great Basin on an unprecedented scale; burning 3.3 million acres in 2012 alone. The Great Basin is North America’s largest desert encompassing 135 million acres, nearly 75% of which is managed by federal and state programs. Learn about current and emerging issues, share information, and help develop new and creative ways of collaborating to address the major threats to the Great Basin.
View a synopsis of the agenda, registration, and the call for posters for the third annual Great Basin Consortium Conference: A Landscape Under Fire, here.
Western Juniper Handbook
Printed in 2005, this publication, the Biology, Ecology, and Management of Western Juniper, continues to be a useful resource for managers. It covers Western Juniper expansion, ecology, biology, hydrology, restoration and management.
Although no longer in print, a pdf version is available here.
Scientists Featured for Cheatgrass/Grazing Research
5/16/13 - Several present and former SageSTEP scientists have been featured in the media for a study that recently appeared in the Journal of Applied Ecology. Michael Reisner, James Grace, David Pyke, and Paul Doescher studied the role that gaps between perennial plants play in enhancing cheatgrass invasibility. Their research found that when livestock and wildlife overgraze rangeland, they can trample soil and thin out native bunchgrasses. Degradation of native bunchgrasses and trampling that disturbs biological soil crusts creates bare spots where cheatgrass thrives. In this way overgrazed land can lose the mechanisms to resist invasion.
Read our 2013 general fact sheet to find a two-page description of who we are, what we are doing, and what we have planned. Find a quick summary of research results for fire behavior consequences, native versus exotic vegetation, social and economic considerations and more.
There are many organizations in the Great Basin with an interest in the management of sagebrush rangelands. A SageSTEP publication and online resource, Guide to Stakeholder Groups for Great Basin Sagebrush Steppe Restoration, provides information about stakeholder groups to assist managers as they deal with issues facing these systems.
As land managers work to incorporate the priorities of stakeholders into restoration plans, they may avoid conflicts and be better prepared to address conflicts when they arise.
Cheatgrass poses a challenge to land managers dealing with health of forests and woodlands. This field guide, along with a series of field guides covering other weed species in the Southwest is available from the USDA Forest Service Southwestern Region. It covers ecology, management, and control strategies.
Guides are available in PDF format
Produced December 2012