Conifer removal effects on sagebrush plant communities a decade after treatment

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Beth A. Newingham, Stephanie M. Freund, Jeanne C. Chambers, Alexandra K. Urza, Bruce A. Roundy, and J. Hall Cushman

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Tree-removal treatments are widely implemented in expanding woodlands to reduce fuel loads and improve habitat, but few studies have measured treatment outcomes over long timescales or large geographic areas. The Sagebrush Treatment Evaluation Project (SageSTEP) evaluated the effectiveness of prescribed fire and cut-and-leave treatments in sagebrush communities experiencing tree expansion across the Great Basin region. We used ten years of data to test how treatments interacted with tree density, soil climate, and time since treatment to affect plant functional groups and dominant species. Non-sprouting shrubs (Artemisia spp.), sprouting shrubs, perennial graminoids, and annual grasses responses depended on tree density and soil climate, which largely reflected the dominant species’ life history traits. Sites with warm and dry soils, regardless of tree density, did not recover desirable understory conditions after prescribed burning, while sites with cool and moist soils showed favorable burn responses, particularly at low to moderate tree density. Cut-and-leave treatments sustained or increased desirable understory plants with smaller increases in exotic annual plants in both soil climates across the tree-density gradient. Both treatments reduced biocrust cover. Selecting appropriate tree-removal treatments requires considering site abiotic and biotic conditions, as well as the relative abundance and life-history traits of dominant species.

Resource Type:
Conference Presentation, SER2021

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