Quantifying and predicting fuels and the effects of reduction treatments along successional and invasion gradients in sagebrush habitats

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Abstract

Sagebrush shrubland ecosystems in the Great Basin are prime examples of how altered successional trajectories can create dynamic fuel conditions and, thus, increase uncertainty about fire risk and behavior. Although fire is a natural disturbance in sagebrush, post-fire environments are highly susceptible to conversion to an invasive grass-fire regime (often referred to as a “grass-fire cycle”). After fire, native shrub-steppe plants are often slow to regenerate, whereas nonnative annuals, especially cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) and medusahead (Taeniatherum caput-medusae), can establish quickly and outcompete native species. Once fire-prone annuals become established, fire occurrences increase, further promoting dominance of nonnative species. The invasive grass-fire regime also alters nutrient and hydrologic cycles, pushing ecosystems beyond ecological thresholds toward steady-state, fire-prone, nonnative communities. These changes affect millions of hectares in the Great Basin and increase fire risk, decrease habitat quality and biodiversity, accelerate soil erosion, and degrade rangeland resources for livestock production. In many sagebrush landscapes, constantly changing plant communities and fuel conditions hinder attempts by land managers to predict and control fire behavior, restore native communities, and provide ecosystem services (e.g., forage production for livestock). We investigated successional and nonnative plant invasion states and associated fuel loads in degraded sagebrush habitat in a focal study area, the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area (hereafter the NCA), in the Snake River Plain Ecoregion of southern Idaho. We expanded our inference by comparing our findings to similar data collected throughout seven major land resource areas (MLRAs) across the Great Basin (JFSP Project “Fire Rehabilitation Effectiveness: A Chronosequence Approach for the Great Basin” [09-S-02-1]). 4 We used a combination of field-sampling, experimental treatments, and remotely sensed data to address the following questions: (1) How do fuel loads change along gradients of succession and invasion in sagebrush ecological sites? (2) How do fuel reduction treatments influence fuels in invaded areas formerly dominated by sagebrush? (3) How do fuel loads vary across landscapes and which remote sensing techniques are effective for characterizing them?

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Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Unnumbered Series
Title Quantifying and predicting fuels and the effects of reduction treatments along successional and invasion gradients in sagebrush habitats
DOI 10.3133/70159656
Year Published 2015
Language English
Publisher Joint Science Program
Contributing office(s) Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center
Description 44 p.
Country United States
State Idaho
Other Geospatial Prey National Conservation Area