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Woody Encroachment in Northern Great Plains Grasslands: Perceptions, Actions, and Needs
- Symstad, Amy J., Leis, Sherry A.
- Natural areas journal 2017 v.37 no.1 pp. 118-127
- Juniperus scopulorum, Juniperus virginiana, grasslands, grazing, landscapes, prescribed burning, public lands, surveys, woody plants, Great Plains region, United States
- The United States Northern Great Plains (NGP) has a high potential for landscape-scale conservation, but this grassland landscape is threatened by encroachment of woody species. We surveyed NGP land managers to identify patterns in, and illustrate a broad range of, individual managers' perceptions on (1) the threat of woody encroachment to grasslands they manage, and (2) what management practices they use that may influence woody encroachment in this region. In the 34 surveys returned, which came from predominantly public lands in the study area, 79% of responses reported moderate or substantial woody encroachment. Eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana) and Rocky Mountain juniper (Juniperus scopulorum) were the most problematic encroachers. Thirty-one survey respondents said that prescribed fire was used on the lands they manage, and 64% of these responses reported that controlling woody encroachment was a fire management objective. However, only 18% of survey respondents using prescribed fire were achieving their desired fire return interval. Most respondents reported using mechanical and/or chemical methods to control woody species. In contrast to evidence from the central and southern Great Plains, few survey respondents viewed grazing as affecting encroachment. Although the NGP public land managers we surveyed clearly recognize woody encroachment as a problem and are taking steps to address it, many feel that the rate of their management is not keeping pace with the rate of encroachment. Developing strategies for effective woody plant control in a variety of NGP management contexts requires filling ecological science gaps and overcoming societal barriers to using prescribed fire.