Fuel Treatments & Effects
Prescribed Fire-use treatments
Expansion of juniper (Juniperus spp. L.) and pinyon (Pinus spp. L.) into sagebrush steppe habitats has been occurring for over a century across western United States. Vegetation and fuel treatments, with the goal of increasing landscape diversity and herbaceous productivity, and reducing woody fuels are commonly implemented to mitigate effects of woodland encroachment in sagebrush ecosystems. This study was conducted in conjunction with the Sagebrush Steppe Treatment Evaluation Project (SageSTEP) and was designed to determine the impact of vegetation treatments on fuel variables two years post treatment in sagebrush steppe with an expanding juniper or pinyon −juniper woodland component. Ten locations that characterize common sagebrush steppe sites with an expanding woodland component in the Intermountain West were chosen for analysis. These woodland sites, covering a gradient of juniper development phases, were treated with mechanical (cut and leave) and prescribed fire treatments.
Results: Two years post treatment, prescribed fire increased herbaceous biomass and reduced shrub biomass and down woody debris, but was not as effective in woodlands with higher juniper densities. Mechanical treatments increased herbaceous biomass and were effective in preserving the shrub biomass but increased down woody debris, which could lead to severe fire effects in the future.
Conclusions: We conclude that both prescribed fire and mechanical treatments are important management tools for maintenance and restoration of sagebrush steppe in areas that support juniper woodland expansion, but the differences in effects on shrub biomass and woody debris must be considered. A combination of the two treatments could lead to desirable effects in many areas.