A strategy for monitoring post-fire seedings in the sagebrush steppe of the Intermountain West was developed and used to monitor four example fires in the Vale, Oregon District of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). We began to develop a potential approach by (1) reviewing previous vegetation monitoring manuals produced by the Federal government to determine what techniques and approaches had been approved for use, and (2) monitoring a set of example fire rehabilitation projects from 2006 through 2008.
We reviewed seven vegetation monitoring manuals approved for use by the Federal government. From these seven manuals, we derived a set of design elements appropriate for monitoring post-fire rehabilitation and stabilization projects. These design elements consisted of objectives, stratification, control plots, random sampling, data quality, and statistical analysis. Additionally, we chose three quantitative vegetation field procedures that were objective and repeatable to be used in conjunction with these six design elements.
During the spring and summer of 2006 to 2008, U.S. Geological Survey personnel monitored vegetation in seven post-fire seeding treatments in four burned areas in the Vale district of the BLM in eastern Oregon. Treatments monitored included a native and non-native seeding in each of the Farewell Bend, Double Mountain, and Keeney Pass fires, and a native seeding at the Cow Hollow fire. All fires occurred in 2005.
There generally was a low level of plant establishment for all seedings by 2008. The quantitative objective established by the BLM was to achieve 5 seeded grass plants/m2 by the end of 3 years as a result of the seeding. There was an estimated 3.97 and 6.28 plants/m2 in 2006 and 1.06 and 0.85 plants/m2 seeded perennial grasses in 2008 from the Keeney Pass non-native and native seeding, respectively. The Cow Hollow seeding resulted in the lowest establishment of perennial seeded grasses of the four project areas with 0.69 plants/m2 in 2006 and 0.09 plants/m2 in 2008. Density of seeded perennial grasses at the Double Mountain non-native and native seeding were 2.72 and 3.86 plants/m2 in 2006 and 0.90 and 1.74 plants/m2 in 2008, respectively. The Farewell Bend non-native seeding resulted in 5.62 plants/m2 in 2006 and 0.42 plants/m2 in 2008 while the native seeding had 2.22 seeded grass plants/m2 in 2006 and 0.44 plants/m2 by 2008. The primary reason for low level of establishment on most treatments except the Cow Hollow seeding was most likely the unfavorable timing and amount of precipitation in 2007 and 2008.
Measurements of density within the first 3 years provide the best estimate of initial seeding success. Increases in cover due to the seedings were not detectable in the first 3 years following seeding in this monitoring effort. Changes in cover resulting from the treatments may be detectable in cases where the seedings were very successful in the first 3 years following seeding, but in areas with lower annual average precipitation, may not occur consistently. As a result, cover of seeded species may not be a good indication of seeding success in the early years after treatment. However, cover is useful for monitoring initial patterns of abundance of naturally recovering vegetation, exotic annual grasses and forbs, and bare ground. Cover measurements at these four sites revealed patterns common to most of the treatment areas in cover of litter, bare ground, and exotic annuals in response to drill seeding and weather patterns. There was a rapid increase in litter at all treatments after the fire. Additionally, there was less litter in treatment plots than in the control plots in 2006 probably due to the mechanical action of the seed drill. There also was a corresponding decrease in bare ground from 2006 to 2008. Initially, higher bare ground cover at treatment plots appears to be due to the mechanical action of the seed drill.
Cover of annual grasses, primarily Bromus tectorum,