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Restoration of Mountain Big Sagebrush Steppe Following Prescribed Burning to Control Western Juniper

K. W. Davies, J. D. Bates, M. D. Madsen, A. M. Nafus
Environmental management 2014 v.53 no.5 pp. 1015-1022
risk, grasses, wildlife, sowing, cutting, livestock, Juniperus occidentalis, Artemisia tridentata, steppes, prescribed burning, habitats, forage production, understory
Western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis ssp. occidentalis Hook) encroachment into mountain big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata spp. vaseyana (Rydb.) Beetle) steppe has reduced livestock forage production, increased erosion risk, and degraded sagebrush-associated wildlife habitat. Western juniper has been successfully controlled with partial cutting followed by prescribed burning the next fall, but the herbaceous understory and sagebrush may be slow to recover. We evaluated the effectiveness of seeding perennial herbaceous vegetation and sagebrush at five sites where juniper was controlled by partially cutting and prescribed burning. Treatments tested at each site included an unseeded control, herbaceous seed mix (aerially seeded), and the herbaceous seed mix plus sagebrush seed. In the third year post-treatment, perennial grass cover and density were twice as high in plots receiving the herbaceous seed mix compared to the control plots. Sagebrush cover and density in the sagebrush seeded plots were between 74- and 290-fold and 62- and 155-fold greater than the other treatments. By the third year after treatment, sagebrush cover was as high as 12 % in the sagebrush seeded plots and between 0 % and 0.4 % where it was not seeded. These results indicate that aerial seeding perennial herbaceous vegetation can accelerate the recovery of perennial grasses which likely stabilize the site. Our results also suggest that seeding mountain big sagebrush after prescribed burning encroaching juniper can rapidly recover sagebrush cover and density. In areas where sagebrush habitat is limited, seeding sagebrush after juniper control may increase sagebrush habitat and decrease the risks to sagebrush-associated species.