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Chemical Control of Sand Sagebrush: Implications for Lesser Prairie-Chicken Habitat

Thacker, Eric T., Gillen, Robert L., Gunter, Stacey A., Springer, Tim L.
Rangeland ecology & management 2012 v.65 no.5 pp. 516-522
2,4-D, Artemisia filifolia, Tympanuchus, chemical control, forage, forbs, grasses, grasshoppers, habitat preferences, habitats, livestock, pastures, pesticide application, rangelands, shrubs, Oklahoma
Traditional management of sand sagebrush (Artemisia filifolia) rangelands has emphasized sagebrush control to increase forage for livestock. Since the 1950s shrub removal has been primarily achieved with herbicides. Concerns over declining lesser prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus; LPC) populations have led to increased scrutiny over the use of herbicides to control shrubs. The objective of our research was to describe changes to LPC habitat qualities following chemical control of sand sagebrush in northwest Oklahoma. Study pastures ranged in size from 10 to 21 ha. Five pastures were sprayed with 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) in 2003 (RECENT), five were sprayed with 2,4-D in 1984 (OLD), and four received no treatment (SAGE). We measured habitat structure (sagebrush cover, sagebrush density, visual obstruction [VO], and basal grass cover), and dietary resources (forb density, forb richness, and grasshopper density) in all pastures from 2003 to 2006. OLD and RECENT pastures had less sagebrush (cover and density) and VO than SAGE pastures. OLD pastures produced more annual forbs than either SAGE or RECENT pastures. SAGE pastures had more perennial forbs than RECENT pastures. Herbicide application reduced protective cover while providing no increase in forb abundance in RECENT pastures. Our results indicated that it may take several years to realize increases in annual forbs following application of 2,4-D. However, loss of protective cover may persist for multiple years (20+ yr), and removal of sagebrush did not increase forb richness or grasshopper abundance. Thus, 2,4-D may have limited use as a habitat management tool because it takes numerous years to reap the benefit of increased forb abundance while reducing habitat structure in the long term.