About the Project

Land Management Treatments

Vegetation and Fuels

Soils and Biogeochemistry

Water Runoff and Erosion

Birds and Insects


Human Perspectives

Climate Change Connection

Weather Stations

SageSTEP Team Members

SageSTEP Partners

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.

Short-term Response to Treatments (2005-2010)

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 2009 General Fact Sheet (PDF, 1 MB)

The Importance of Long-term Monitoring (2011 and beyond)

From the beginning of the study, SageSTEP scientists and managers knew that we would have to continue measuring response to treatments for at least ten years after treatment. Many of the important components of the system will not stabilize until many years after treatment, 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 five years, which will take us to between 8 and 10 years post-treatment. While monitoring will occur at a reduced frequency, we believe that we will be able to capture the main events that occur throughout this intermediate time period. If we believe SageSTEP sites have not stabilized even after that period of time, we will search for funding to push measurement out further into the future. As the study progresses through time, we will also have a higher probability of detecting climate change events, as they will eventually manifest themselves in measurable changes in flora and fauna. We look forward to continuing this work into the future as some of the most interesting stories unfold.

SageSTEP Long-term Monitoring Fact Sheet (PDF, 1.5 MB)