Impact of Unburned Remnant Sagebrush Versus Outplants on Post-fire Landscape Rehabilitation
Principal Investigator(s):
  • T. Trevor Caughlin
    Boise State University
Co-Principal Investigator(s):
  • Matthew J. Germino
    Idaho State University, Department of Biological Sciences
  • Cara Applestein
    US Geological Survey, Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center

Cataloging Information

  • active management
  • aerial seeding
  • Artemisia tridentata
  • passive management
  • post-fire regeneration
  • rangeland management
  • sagebrush
  • sagebrush steppe
  • seed dispersal
  • seedling recruitment
JFSP Project Number(s):
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: October 12, 2020
FRAMES Record Number: 62082


Problem Statement: Extensive losses of key native species in response to increases in wildfire and exotic grass invasions to date on nearly 500,000 of the 1,000,0000 square kilometers of western rangeland occupied by sagebrush steppe (Miller et al. 2011) has motivated seeding or planting in post-fire rehabilitation, albeit with mixed success (Pilliod et al. 2017, Knutson et al. 2014). Identifying and evaluating ways to improve success of seeding sagebrush, a foundational species for the diversity and functioning of these ecosystems, is a priority task of the US Integrated Rangeland Fire Management Strategy. One promising avenue for improving the planning and assessment of post-fire seedings involves the spatial patchiness of burn patterns and in the recovery of sagebrush after fire. Fires often leave surviving individuals or patches of sagebrush and recovery patterns are also patchy, often by design. Unburned remnant islands could be valuable seed sources for re-establishment of sagebrush populations in surrounding areas (although this has not been tested) and information on the how much spatial expansion of unburned remnant patches is expected over time could help in the planning of post-fire treatment responses. Based on a small number of descriptive studies, a conventional wisdom that sagebrush seeds disperse only a meter or so from the crown of mother plants has become widely adopted. This limited dispersal would suggest that remnant island expansion into the surrounding burned areas would be relatively slow at best. Paradoxically, establishing islands of sagebrush (through outplanting) in hopes that they will expand is increasingly part of post-fire management plans. This proposed research will determine how much sagebrush patches matter to population regeneration across burned landscapes by collecting detailed data on sagebrush seed dispersal and establishment relative to unburned remnant sagebrush, on historic fires such as the 2015 Soda Wildfire. Objectives: Our overarching goal is to determine the value of sagebrush island patches (specifically, Artemisia tridentata ssp. wyomingensis or ssp. tridentata) for repopulating burned landscapes. To achieve this goal, we will address three questions: Question 1: Is post-fire sagebrush reestablishment enhanced in the vicinity of unburned islands? a. Are there gradients of establishment from islands? b. How do characteristics of islands relate to recovery patterns (shape, density, plant heights) of sagebrush into the burn? Question 2: Does post-fire sagebrush establishment around sagebrush islands differ if the island is an unburned remnant compared to man-made created by planting seedlings? Question 3: How does seed rain and seedling establishment vary with distance from sagebrush island patches? Benefits: Having greater knowledge of how established sagebrush patches grow or shrink could help in projecting sagebrush recovery following fire, and provide cost savings if investments in seeding are strategically focused in areas where sufficient natural regeneration is not expected to occur and more concentrated investment in outplanting patches significantly increases population spread. Deliverables will include 1) pre-project meetings with rehabilitation specialists and wildlife biologists (eg, BLM, FWS, state agencies) to obtain additional feedback on the project plans, 2) presentation of results to managers with an informational sheet and Soda Fire field tour, 3) a presentation at management conference, 4) a peer-reviewed journal article submission in a management-oriented journal, and a 5) a shiny apps web application for estimating short-term recruitment rates around remnant islands. Mechanism of delivery will be by invitation/outreach to managers, oral presentation at a conference, and journal publication. The targeted audience is Great Basin BLM Emergency Stabilization and Rehabilitation practitioners, particularly those in Oregon and Idaho.