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.
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.
New 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.
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
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.
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.