SPECIES: Festuca idahoensis


INTRODUCTORY

SPECIES: Festuca idahoensis
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION:
Zouhar, Kristin L. 2000. Festuca idahoensis. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/ [].

ABBREVIATION:
FESIDA

SYNONYMS:
None

NRCS PLANT CODE [252]:
FEIDI

COMMON NAMES:
Idaho fescue
bluebunch fescue
blue bunchgrass

TAXONOMY:
The currently accepted name of Idaho fescue is Festuca idahoensis Elmer (Poaceae) [70,127,132,133,135,153]. 

LIFE FORM:
Graminoid

FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS:
No special status

OTHER STATUS:
No entry


DISTRIBUTION AND OCCURRENCE

SPECIES: Festuca idahoensis
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION:
Idaho fescue is one of the most common and widely distributed grasses in the western states [282]. It occurs from northern New Mexico and the White Mountains and San Francisco Peaks of Arizona [153] to the Sierra Nevada of east-central California; north through Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and the Cascade and Olympic ranges of Oregon and Washington; into British Columbia, Alberta, [133] and Saskatchewan [36]. Idaho fescue is a minor component of plains grasslands east of the Rocky Mountain Front [247]. Its range is reported to extend east into western South Dakota [283], although Houtcooper and others [139] list it as possibly rare, declining, or extirpated in that state since no sites had been verified. Hinckley [129] reports Idaho fescue in the Mount Livermore area of western Texas. Idaho fescue is also occurs in the coastal prairies and annual grasslands of coastal northwestern California [126,155]. It is rare or does not occur in southern portions of California, Nevada, and Arizona [282]. Idaho fescue is associated with the rough fescue (Festuca altaica) prairie in south-central Canada and Montana [67], and with Palouse prairie in eastern Oregon and Washington, southern Idaho and British Columbia, and the intermountain valleys of western Montana [81].  The Natural Resources Conservation Service provides a distributional map of Idaho fescue in the United States (http://plants.usda.gov/plants/) [283].

ECOSYSTEMS [109]:
FRES20 Douglas-fir
FRES21 Ponderosa pine
FRES22 Western white pine
FRES23 Fir-spruce
FRES24 Hemlock-Sitka spruce
FRES25 Larch
FRES26 Lodgepole pine
FRES28 Western hardwoods
FRES29 Sagebrush
FRES34 Chaparral-mountain shrub
FRES35 Pinyon-juniper
FRES36 Mountain grasslands
FRES37 Mountain meadows
FRES38 Plains grasslands
FRES42 Annual grasslands

STATES:
AZ CA CO ID MT NV NM
SD TX UT WA WY
AB BC SK

BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS [22]:
1 Northern Pacific Border
2 Cascade Mountains
4 Sierra Mountains
5 Columbia Plateau
6 Upper Basin and Range
8 Northern Rocky Mountains
9 Middle Rocky Mountains
10 Wyoming Basin
11 Southern Rocky Mountains
12 Colorado Plateau
13 Rocky Mountain Piedmont
15 Black Hills Uplift

KUCHLER [107] PLANT ASSOCIATIONS:
K001 Spruce-cedar-hemlock forest
K002 Cedar-hemlock-Douglas-fir
K008 Lodgepole pine-subalpine forest
K010 Ponderosa shrub forest
K011 Western ponderosa forest
K012 Douglas-fir forest
K013 Cedar-hemlock-pine forest
K014 Grand fir-Douglas-fir forest
K015 Western spruce-fir forest
K016 Eastern ponderosa forest
K017 Black Hills pine forest
K018 Pine-Douglas-fir forest
K019 Arizona pine forest
K020 Spruce-fir-Douglas-fir forest
K021 Southwestern spruce-fir forest
K022 Great Basin pine forest
K023 Juniper-pinyon woodland
K024 Juniper steppe woodland
K026 Oregon oakwoods
K028 Mosaic of K002 and K026
K030 California oakwoods
K031 Oak-juniper woodland
K032 Transition between K031 and K037
K033 Chaparral
K034 Montane chaparral
K035 Coastal sagebrush
K036 Mosaic of K030 and K035
K037 Mountain-mahogany-oak scrub
K038 Great Basin sagebrush
K047 Fescue-oatgrass
K048 California steppe
K050 Fescue-wheatgrass
K051 Wheatgrass-bluegrass
K052 Alpine meadows and barren
K055 Sagebrush steppe
K056 Wheatgrass-needlegrass shrubsteppe
K063 Foothills prairie
K064 Grama-needlegrass-wheatgrass
K066 Wheatgrass-needlegrass

SAF COVER TYPES [104]:
206 Engelmann spruce-subalpine fir
208 Whitebark pine
209 Bristlecone pine
210 Interior Douglas-fir
211 White fir
212 Western larch
213 Grand fir
215 Western white pine
216 Blue spruce
217 Aspen
218 Lodgepole pine
219 Limber pine
220 Rocky Mountain juniper
222 Black cottonwood-willow
224 Western hemlock
227 Western redcedar-western hemlock
228 Western redcedar
229 Pacific Douglas-fir
230 Douglas-fir-western hemlock
233 Oregon white oak
235 Cottonwood-willow
237 Interior ponderosa pine
238 Western juniper
239 Pinyon-juniper
244 Pacific ponderosa pine-Douglas-fir
245 Pacific ponderosa pine
246 California black oak
247 Jeffrey pine
248 Knobcone pine
249 Canyon live oak
250 Blue oak-foothills pine
255 California coast live oak
256 California mixed subalpine

SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES [247]:
101 Bluebunch wheatgrass
102 Idaho fescue
103 Green fescue
104 Antelope bitterbrush-bluebunch wheatgrass
105 Antelope bitterbrush-Idaho fescue
106 Bluegrass scabland
107 Western juniper/big sagebrush/bluebunch wheatgrass
108 Alpine Idaho fescue
109 Ponderosa pine shrubland
110 Ponderosa pine-grassland
201 Blue oak woodland
202 Coast live oak woodland
203 Riparian woodland
204 North coastal shrub
205 Coastal sage shrub
207 Scrub oak mixed chaparral
208 Ceanothus mixed chaparral
209 Montane shrubland
210 Bitterbrush
213 Alpine grassland
214 Coastal prairie
215 Valley grassland
216 Montane meadows
302 Bluebunch wheatgrass-Sandberg bluegrass
303 Bluebunch wheatgrass-western wheatgrass
304 Idaho fescue-bluebunch wheatgrass
305 Idaho fescue-Richardson needlegrass
306 Idaho fescue-slender wheatgrass
307 Idaho fescue-threadleaf sedge
308 Idaho fescue-tufted hairgrass
309 Idaho fescue-western wheatgrass
311 Rough fescue-bluebunch wheatgrass
312 Rough fescue-Idaho fescue
313 Tufted hairgrass-sedge
314 Big sagebrush-bluebunch wheatgrass
315 Big sagebrush-Idaho fescue
316 Big sagebrush-rough fescue
318 Bitterbrush-Idaho fescue
319 Bitterbrush-rough fescue
320 Black sagebrush-bluebunch wheatgrass
321 Black sagebrush-Idaho fescue
322 Curlleaf mountain-mahogany-bluebunch wheatgrass
323 Shrubby cinquefoil-rough fescue
324 Threetip sagebrush-Idaho fescue
401 Basin big sagebrush
402 Mountain big sagebrush
403 Wyoming big sagebrush
404 Threetip sagebrush
405 Black sagebrush
406 Low sagebrush
408 Other sagebrush types
409 Tall forb
410 Alpine rangeland
411 Aspen woodland
412 Juniper-pinyon woodland
413 Gambel oak
415 Curlleaf mountain-mahogany
416 True mountain-mahogany
417 Littleleaf mountain-mahogany
419 Bittercherry
420 Snowbrush
421 Chokecherry-serviceberry-rose
422 Riparian
607 Wheatgrass-needlegrass
608 Wheatgrass-grama-needlegrass
612 Sagebrush-grass
613 Fescue grassland

HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES:
Idaho fescue is a climax indicator or dominant species in numerous habitat types of grassland, sagebrush, forest, alpine, and riparian ecosystems. A selection of published classifications naming it as a codominant species in habitat types, community types or plant associations and representing its range of occurrence is listed below:

Forest vegetation on National Forests in the Rocky Mountain and Intermountain Regions: habitat types and community types [4]
Plant community classification for alpine vegetation on the Beaverhead National Forest, Montana [63]
Forest habitat types of northern Idaho: a second approximation [64]
Steppe vegetation of Washington [76]
Vegetational zonation in the Rocky Mountains [77]
Forest vegetation of eastern Washington and northern Idaho [78]
Yellowstone vegetation: Consequences of environment and history in a natural setting [86]
Plant communities and habitat types in the Lava Beds National Monument, California [102]
The vegetation of the Grand River/Cedar River, Sioux, and Ashland Districts of the Custer National Forest: a habitat type classification [122]
Classification and management of Montana's riparian and wetland sites [123]
Sagebrush-grass habitat types of southern Idaho [130]
Forest vegetation of the Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming: a habitat type classification [135]
Plant associations of the Crooked River National Grassland [138]
Riparian reference area in Idaho: a catalog of plant associations and conservation sites [142]
Plant associations of the Wallowa-Snake Province: Wallowa-Whitman National Forest [146]
Forest vegetation of the Gunnison and parts of the Uncompahgre National Forests: a preliminary habitat classification [158]
Coniferous forest habitat types of northern Utah [182]
Plant communities of the Similkameen Valley, British Columbia, and their relationships to soils [186]
Grassland and shrubland habitat types of western Montana [205]
Forest habitat types of Montana [221]
Forest habitat types of central Idaho [256]
Shrub-steppe habitat types of Middle Park, Colorado [270]
Canyon grasslands and associated shrublands of West-central Idaho and adjacent areas [271]
Grassland and shrubland habitat types on the Shoshone National Forest [278]
A management-oriented classification of pinyon-juniper woodlands of the Great Basin [300]

Idaho fescue is classified as a codominant with the following species:

Plant States References
ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) OR, WA, MT, ID, UT, BC [64,78,83,122,135],

[146,182,186,221,256]

lodgepole pine (P. contorta var. latifolia) ID, OR [83,256]
limber pine (P. flexilis) ID, MT [221,256]
Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii var. glauca ID, MT, CO, BC [64,158,186,221,256]
white fir (Abies concolor) OR [83]
western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis) OR [138,146]
Utah juniper (J. osteosperma) ID [237]
black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa) ID [142]
antelope bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata) MT, WA, OR, CO, WY [76,83,146,158,205,270,278]
sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) NV, MT, OR, ID, WA, WY, CO, UT, BC [25,26,76,83,86,88,123,130],

[138,146,158,182,186,205,278]

common snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) WA, OR [76,146]
shrubby cinquefoil (Dasiphora fruticosa) MT, ID, WY, CO [142,158,205,278]
Nootka rose (Rosa nutkana) WA [76]
skunkbush sumac  (Rhus trilobata) MT [205]
fragrant sumac (R. aromatica) MT [122,205]
parsnipflower buckwheat (Eriogonum heracleoides) WA, BC [76,186]
mountain-mahogany (Cercocarpus spp.) OR, WA [83,120]
greenleaf manzanita (Arctostaphylos patula) OR [83]
spike trisetum (Trisetum spicatum) WY [278]
bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata) MT, OR, WA, ID, WY [76,83,86,138,146,205,271,278]
bearded wheatgrass (Elymus caninus) MT, WY [205,278]
western wheatgrass (Pascopyrum smithii) MT, WY [205,278]
tufted hairgrass (Deschampsia cespitosa) MT, IT, WY [86,142,205,278]
sedge (Carex spp.) MT, OR [122,146,205]
pinegrass (Calamagrostis rubescens) ID [255]
Richardson needlegrass (Achnatherum richardsonii) MT, WY [86,205]
Junegrass (Koeleria spp.)  ID, OR [146,271]
bluegrass (Poa spp.) CO, OR [138,158]
arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) OR [138,146]
thick-stemmed aster (Aster integrifolia) ID [275]
diverse-leaved cinquefoil (Potentilla diversifolia) MT [63]
silky lupine (Lupinus sericeus) OR [146]

Because of its wide ecological distribution, the number and type of secondary species associated with Idaho fescue are very large and highly variable. In western Washington, Columbian whitetop aster (Sericocarpus rigidus) on the list of sensitive taxa in Washington is most likely to be found on undisturbed sites dominated by Idaho fescue [58].  It is also associated with clubmosses (Selanginella spp.) [288] and soil cryptograms [150].

MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS

SPECIES: Festuca idahoensis
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE:
Idaho fescue provides important forge for many types of domestic livestock and several wildlife species. In Oregon, Idaho fescue is the main grass selected most seasons by cattle and horses [289] and by elk and sheep in spring [144]. Idaho fescue makes up 29% of cattle diets from June to October, it had more green leaves in summer than did other grasses, and it was sought out for regrowth in the late summer and fall [136]. It is valuable domestic sheep forage on many high-altitude range sites in eastern Idaho [101], and excellent forage in grassland and open ponderosa pine summer cattle ranges of western Colorado [218]. The ponderosa pine/Idaho fescue community is well suited for spring and fall grazing in the Similkameen Valley of British Columbia [185]. Idaho fescue is major livestock forage species in western Montana [205,302], and is generally preferred over its codominant, bluebunch wheatgrass [251]. The foliage cures well and is preferred by livestock in late fall and winter [246].

Idaho fescue is an important component in elk diets throughout the Rocky Mountain region [24,91,161,167,246,269]. The Idaho fescue-bluebunch wheatgrass habitat type in southwestern Montana is widely used by big game animals.  Elk and deer use the type as low-elevation winter range, and pronghorn use it year-round.  At intermediate elevations Idaho fescue is important spring-fall range, and at upper elevations it provides summer range for elk and mule deer [205].  Some researchers report moderate to heavy use of Idaho fescue as forage for deer [161,215,249,274,285,289]. Others indicate that Idaho fescue plant associations are important deer habitat, but that Idaho fescue is not a preferred forage species [51,83,166]. Bodurtha and others [32] report that Idaho fescue communities are among the least used by mule deer in eastern Oregon. Idaho fescue is a common grass on pronghorn summer range in Yellowstone National Park [244] and southeast Oregon [273] and is reported to be good forage for pronghorn, cattle and sheep in ranges of northern Nevada [116]. 

Climax bunchgrass communities are dominant components of winter ranges of bighorn sheep, and bunchgrasses are the dominant forage class during the winter [228]. Some Idaho fescue sites at moderately high elevations are used by bighorn sheep and Rocky Mountain goats (Oreamnos americana missoulae) as winter range [154,205,257]; however, Idaho fescue is not commonly used by bighorn sheep in Glacier National Park, Montana [229].  Idaho fescue was an identified component in the stomach of Rocky Mountain goats in the fall in Montana [239], and in Olympic National Park, Washington, it was a selected forage species of mountain goats. It decreased in cover under high mountain goat density, while the less palatable western yarrow (Achillea millefolium) increased in cover [241].

Northern pocket gophers eat primarily the leaves and stems of Idaho fescue in June through September, although they prefer forbs [293]. Cox [68] found that grasses constituted only 2.4% of the shoot matter in northern pocket gopher diets. Idaho fescue was most commonly consumed grass in their diet, probably because it was the most abundant grass on the study site.  

Idaho fescue is a component of grizzly bear habitat in Yellowstone National Park [29,30,86] and other locations [98,188,236]. Davis and Butterfield [82] also include it among foods of the grizzly bear. Idaho fescue is a common understory component of grouse habitat in Oregon [69], Idaho [157,208] and Montana [178,179,180,263]. 

PALATABILITY:
Palatability of Idaho fescue varies with season [295] and community type [120]. Bedell and Bunch [19] report that Idaho fescue is often left ungrazed under a western juniper canopy but is readily grazed when the canopy is removed. 

Palatability of Idaho fescue is rated as follows [87]:

 

CO

MT

UT

WY

Cattle  good good good good
Domestic sheep good good fair good
Horses good  good good good
Pronghorn ---- good fair poor
Elk  ---- good good good
Mule deer ---- poor fair good
Small mammals  ---- ---- fair good
Small nongame birds ---- ---- fair fair
Upland game birds ---- ---- fair fair
Waterfowl  ---- ---- poor poor


NUTRITIONAL VALUE:
Nutritional value of Idaho fescue varies with season [17,18,23,128,218,246,251], associated vegetation [128], grazing pressure [250], soil parent material, and soil condition. It is comparable (mean value) to other native grass species in the early season but is less digestible than other grasses at the end of the season [23]. Protein and phosphorus contents tend to be high in the spring and decrease over the growing season [17,128,218,246], while calcium remains about the same over the growing season [218]. Bezeau and Johnston [23] observed in-vitro digestibility of cellulose in cows and calculated digestibility of protein in 32 plants species of the rough fescue association. They found that the nutritional value of Idaho fescue was greatest in the early season, during the leaf and heading stages, and decreased over subsequent stages of seasonal growth. Bedell [18] reports similar seasonal trends in Idaho fescue for crude protein, digestibility, and dry matter. Skovlin [251] recorded the same trend in crude protein and phosphorus, with a rise in protein content at the end of the growing season. Other researchers report that the protein content of Idaho fescue remains higher than associated grasses during the latter part of the growing season [17,128,251]. Hickman [128] found crude protein was high in early spring and deficient during seed formation, with ash content increasing as protein decreased. Fat content was lower than that of the other grasses sampled. Digestibility was low in early spring, peaked in May, and was still higher than other species in the fall [128]. Elliot and Flinders [99] found Idaho fescue had the highest average crude protein content and comparable calcium, phosphorus, and moisture content compared to bluebunch wheatgrass and alpine timothy (Phleum alpinum) in a wilderness mountain meadow in Idaho.   

Nutritive values for Idaho fescue were highest for plants growing in antelope bitterbrush habitat types when compared with samples taken from ponderosa pine and western juniper habitat types on Oregon winter range [128]. In Yellowstone National Park, protein content, nitrogen, macronutrient (Ca, Mg, P, K) concentrations, and digestibility were higher in Idaho fescue plants grazed by elk in the winter than in ungrazed plants [250]. 

COVER VALUE:
The degree to which Idaho fescue provides cover for livestock and wildlife has been rated as follows [87]:

  MT UT WY
Small mammals  poor good good
Small nongame birds poor fair good
Upland game birds poor fair fair
Waterfowl ----  poor poor
Small mammals ----  poor  poor 

VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES:
In many areas where Idaho fescue is a late seral community dominant, grasslands are currently occupied by non-native species [33,126,145,155,164] or have species compositions that deviate from historical communities and favor less desirable species [115]. The practice of seeding with native species in restoration efforts has had a "disappointing history," with some non-native species establishing more rapidly and having better longevity than native species (e.g., [152,183]). Johnson and others [145] cite little success with rangeland improvement seedings, because preferred grass species are sought out by grazers immediately after germination. Despite these difficulties, the trend in restoration requires use of native species such as Idaho fescue to satisfy the mandate of ecosystem management [42]. Chambers and others [56] suggest inclusion of late successional species in reseeding programs is important for restoration of ecosystem function.

Idaho fescue is slow to establish [119,286], but once established, has abundant growth of fine leaves that provide effective ground cover, and high yields of tough, fine, fibrous roots that control erosion and improve soil structure [119]. It has poor tolerance to salinity [286], although Ho [134] suggests this may be overcome through inoculation with mycorrhizal fungi. Idaho fescue is suitable for year-round planting (fair in winter) [286], has good stand maintenance [119,286], and retards or prevents the invasion of weeds once firmly established [33,119]. Its close relative, sheep fescue (Festuca ovina), provides excellent ground cover and has a dense root mass that improves soil structure, holds the soil in place, and resists invasion of cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) and other weeds [168]. 

The competitive influence of invasive species such as spotted knapweed (Centaurea maculosa) and cheatgrass can interfere with the re-establishment of slower growing, native perennials [169,183]. Borman and others [33,34] found Idaho fescue was 1 of the perennial grasses that, once established, suppressed resident annual plant production.  Nasri and Deoescher [209,210] studied the effects of competition by cheatgrass on shoot growth of Idaho fescue and found that increasing cheatgrass cover depleted soil moisture and reduced growth of Idaho fescue; however, Idaho fescue produced greater tiller and leaf numbers than did cheatgrass. Lindquist and others [169] found Idaho fescue had no impact on spotted knapweed growth in greenhouse studies. Furthermore, Marler and others [176] found that vesicular-arbuscular mycorrhizae enhance spotted knapweed's competitive dominance over Idaho fescue.

Site preparation and seeding method are important considerations for rehabilitation of disturbed sites. Everett [103] found that the litter of singleleaf pinyon (Pinus monophylla) appeared to inhibit emergence of Idaho fescue. Vallentine and Stevens [287] suggested using livestock to "graze out" invading cheatgrass as site preparation for reseeding with perennials including Idaho fescue. Seedling emergence is greater when seed is protected with mulch [55,119] or is mixed with an earlier seral, rapid-developing grass [119]. Chambers and others [56] found seeds collected from the Beartooth Plateau in Montana had high viability and high germination under all conditions in the laboratory and suggested that adequate field germination could be obtained by employing a variety of seeding methods such as surface sowing and shallow drilling.

Selection of seed is an important consideration in any revegetation program. Idaho fescue exhibits ecotypic development expressed in differential growth characteristics in seeds collected from different habitat types [89]. Seeds of Idaho fescue collected from a pristine population produced plants with more aboveground biomass than plants collected from degraded sites, and exhibited a different response to competition than those from the degraded site [209]. Plants grown from seed taken from populations that evolved with frequent and intense defoliation tend to have shorter and more prostrate genotypes [209]. Shaw and Cooper [246] claim that Idaho fescue has not been successful in Montana reseeding programs, but used seed collected at low elevations to reseed a site at 9,300 feet (2790 m). Age of seed is also an important consideration when seeding with Idaho fescue [54]. Eddleman [97] found germination was highest with new seed (3 months old) and declined with seed age, although cold temperatures (4 oC) promoted germination for older (15 months) seed. Maguire and others [172] suggest matriconditioning of seed (with Ca2Si) to improve germination rates. Holzworth and Lacey [137] discuss 2 cultivars of Idaho fescue with potential for restoration programs. Information is available regarding the seed collection and production, planting, and monitoring [174].

Majerus [173] lists Idaho fescue among the native plant species found to reestablish naturally on disturbed sites in Yellowstone and Glacier national parks, and cites its use in seed mixtures for restoration of fescue grasslands in those areas. Youtie [315] used seed propagated in the greenhouse to establish Idaho fescue in a small native plant garden on the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Oregon. A similar small-scale project using propagules of Idaho fescue and 12 other native species was initiated at Jenkin's Creek Park, Washington, in 1989 [8]. Thomas and Gamon [267] had good success establishing Idaho fescue on a restoration project in western Washington (< 10% mortality of planted seedlings). Meier and Weaver [189] provide detailed information on roadside rehabilitation and suggest that Idaho fescue establishes well. Additional guidelines for planting can be found in several publications [246,292,295].

OTHER USES AND VALUES:
No entry

OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS:
Grazing can stimulate plant vitality and play a beneficial role in community stability; the key is timely grazing of plants and moderate use of the community [144]. The amount of use that Idaho fescue can sustain without adversely affecting vigor is dependent on numerous conditions including the combination of livestock and wildlife using the range, plant phenology, the type of grazing system used, competition from associated vegetation, plant vigor at the time of use, and site conditions [205]. Mueggler [204] found maximum leaf length was a good indicator of vigor in Idaho fescue, but noted that because of yearly variations in weather conditions, evaluation of vigor requires comparison with protected plants of normal vigor. Many approaches to determining vigor for Idaho fescue have been used, sometimes with contradictory results. Mueggler and Stewart [205] concluded that the only reliable approach was to observe the response of the vegetation over a period of years.

Idaho fescue is a decreaser under heavy grazing by livestock [95,96,141,301] and wildlife [107]. Several studies have reported Idaho fescue as less abundant on areas grazed by livestock compared to ungrazed areas [96,141,185,291,294,310]. Olson and Wallander [213] found root and shoot biomass were 38 and 27% less on grazed than on ungrazed plants, while carbohydrate pools were similar for grazed and ungrazed plants. In contrast, spotted knapweed biomass was unchanged by grazing; suggesting that repeated grazing may reduce the ability of Idaho fescue to compete with invading spotted knapweed when both species are grazed [213]. Merrill and others [191] found that at the end of the growing season, standing dead material on Idaho fescue plants was less in cattle-grazed sites than on ungrazed sites; however, standing Idaho fescue biomass and crown biomass were equal on grazed and ungrazed sites. In an exclosure study including Idaho fescue sites in Wyoming and Montana, Stohlgren and others [259] report that Idaho fescue showed inconsistent responses to grazing. Other studies show similar, equivocal responses [199,304,305]. In northwest Wyoming, Jones [149] found Idaho fescue decreased under cattle grazing but remained relatively unchanged by elk grazing.

n Yellowstone National Park, Coughenour and others [65] found no differences in Idaho fescue cover in exclosed and unexclosed range. Also in Yellowstone National Park, vegetative culms of Idaho fescue were shorter on areas grazed by elk and bison than culms on ungrazed areas. Grazing did not affect the number of vegetative culms or the height or number of reproductive culms of grasses [250]. Dead bunchgrass clumps (expected on an overgrazed range) did not vary between grazed and ungrazed sites. Grass biomass was lower on grazed sites in 1986, the drier year, but not different in 1987 [250]. 

Northern pocket gopher activity can aggravate impacts of grazing livestock and can prevent the return of Idaho fescue on overgrazed ranges [264,265]. Idaho fescue decreases as northern pocket gopher activity increases [301], and can give way to Bromus and other undesirable species [185,310]. The dense roots of Idaho fescue are not preferred forage of northern pocket gophers. They may protect other plants growing among them [252], preventing occupation by northern pocket gophers where turf is intact [265].  

Anderson and Scherzinger [7] report improvement of range for elk with cattle grazing through a detailed resource management system. Preconditioning in this manner has been reported to extend the grazing season and improve production of viable seed in Idaho fescue [6]. Anderson and others [6] measured a 38% increase in Idaho fescue cover after grazing by elk for 24 years, thereby re-establishing habitat for blue grouse. Late-seral grasslands dominated by Idaho fescue may provide the best forage for grass-eating ruminants, but mid-seral stages of Idaho fescue associations may offer more to all users of grasslands due to their greater plant species diversity [144]. 

Bunchgrasses best tolerate light grazing after seed formation [43,195]. Britton and others [38] observed the effects of harvest date on basal area of 5 bunchgrasses in eastern Oregon, including Idaho fescue, and found grazing from August to October (after seed set) has the least impact on these bunchgrasses, while plants harvested in May showed a 40% reduction in basal area, due primarily to reductions in Idaho fescue and Thurber needlegrass (Achnatherum thurberianum). Idaho fescue is most sensitive to defoliation from flowering to seed ripening [144,195,202]. Johnson and Simon [146] suggest avoiding early grazing that will deter seed formation. Johnston and others [148] discusses "dates of readiness for grazing" for fescue grassland, using seed set as an important indicator. Beetle [20] found Idaho fescue could withstand moderate, continuous grazing on sedimentary soils, but even light grazing reduced its vigor on granitic soils [205]. The greatest modification of Idaho fescue communities in the Blue Mountains of Oregon occurs with several consecutive seasons of early spring grazing, when soils are often wet and trampling can dislodge plants [145]. 

Abundant information exists on different grazing systems and management approaches for Idaho fescue grasslands [90,95,165,205,276,311]. Idaho fescue is favored by light to moderate grazing [72,108,246] and is moderately resistant to trampling [60,246]. Heavy grazing may lead to replacement of Idaho fescue with alien species such as cheatgrass [43,207,246], and can adversely affect soil fertility [147]. 

Control of associated woody species tends to improve yield and diversity of Idaho fescue communities [50,94,194,196,200,207,262]. Mueggler [203] found reducing competition through tilling and clipping more than offset the effects of even extreme clipping (100% herbage removal at flowering) on the volume of herbage and number of flowerstalks produced the following year in Idaho fescue plants. Overstory removal in ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir communities leads to an increase in yield and abundance of Idaho fescue [184,197]. Three summers of domestic sheep grazing to reduce spotted knapweed led to an increase in Idaho fescue plant density, although leaves and flowerstems on these plants were shorter than in ungrazed areas [214].  

At the edge of its ecological range (e.g., where it occurs with Wyoming big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata ssp. wyomingensis) in Oregon), Idaho fescue may be very sensitive to heavy livestock utilization [88]. The big sagebrush ecosystem is particularly sensitive to grazing, and bunchgrasses decrease rapidly with severe defoliation [100]. Mueggler [204] studied the recovery rate of Idaho fescue and bluebunch wheatgrass after heavy and extreme clipping and found that Idaho fescue plants of moderately low vigor required about 3 years of protection to recover normal vigor. He estimated that recovery from a state of low vigor might take more than 6 years of protection.

Two cultivars of Idaho fescue have been developed that are adapted to variable climatic and soil conditions in the Intermountain west and Pacific Northwest where precipitation ranges from 14-31 inches (350-770 mm).  They are cold and drought hardy, moderately shade tolerant, grow well in ponderosa pine/big sagebrush, and persist on shallow, gravelly to well-drained soils [101].


BOTANICAL AND ECOLOGICAL CHARACTERISTICS

SPECIES: Festuca idahoensis
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS:
Idaho fescue is a vigorous, native, long-lived, perennial, cool-season, bunchgrass [124,261]. Plants are strongly caespitose. Leaves are fine, dense, and mostly basal, with sheaths remaining firm and entire [70,132]. Culms are densely tufted in large bunches, with tuft 6 to 10 inches (15-25 cm) high, usually more than 1/2 the length of culms. Culms are erect, from 1 to 3.3 feet (0.3-1 m) tall [124,131,132,133,261]. Spikelets are 5- to 6-flowered, with large, awned seeds [70,124]. Plants have a strong root system [124] that can extend 16 inches (40 cm) deep in a 4-inch (10 cm) diameter plant [306]. In well-drained soils, root biomass is greatest at 0.8- to 1.6-inch (2-4 cm) depths [296]. Goodwin and Doescher [111] found that in both disturbed and undisturbed sites, 40% of root biomass was contained in the upper 0.8 inch (2 cm) of soil, and 60% was in the upper 4 inches (10 cm) of soil. Idaho fescue roots are infected with vesicular-arbuscular mycorrhizae, which may give it a competitive advantage over non-mycorrhizal plants and/or allow it to thrive on nutrient-poor soils or extreme environmental conditions [112,134,176,198].

RAUNKIAER [226] LIFE FORM:
Hemicryptophyte

REGENERATION PROCESSES:
Idaho fescue reproduces from seeds and tillers [261]. Seed production varies: it may produce a fair amount of seed of high viability [282] and it may have poor seed production and weak seedling vigor [119]. Ensign and others [101] observed considerable variation in reproductive success in Idaho fescue among and within ecotypes. Doescher and others [89] found Idaho fescue seeds selected from big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) habitat types germinated better and faster over wider temperature and water stress regimes than did seeds gathered from ponderosa pine habitat types. They speculate that this may reflect the variability of the environments in which the plants evolved. Chambers and others [55] note that Idaho fescue establishment from seed in alpine areas is episodic and dependent on proper environmental conditions for both seeds and seedlings in consecutive years.  

Seeds are produced in all but the driest years [111], but the percentage of viable seeds varies greatly from year to year [54]. Low seed viability may coincide with low seed fill, which can indicate poor overall development [56]. Although Johnston and others [148] found no relationship between plant basal area and the number of seeds produced in Idaho fescue on Alberta prairie topsoil, they did find that plants not summer-grazed by cattle produced larger seed crops than grazed plants. 

Chambers [54] observed a 13, 32, and 53% decrease in seed viability over 1, 2, and 3 years, respectively. Goodwin and others [110] found Idaho fescue seed requires after-ripening. The after-ripening period assures that at least 35% of the seed crop remains dormant for 6 months following dispersal - a strategy that promotes germination after winter precipitation has usually recharged soil moisture. Goodwin and others [111] found percent germination of Idaho fescue seed is related to soil water potential, with fewer seeds germinating at higher water stress levels. Smyth [254] presents evidence of seedbanking in Idaho fescue in British Columbia. Seed dispersal is limited to the immediate vicinity of the plant.

Tillering in Idaho fescue arises from a relatively small budding zone within a compact root crown area [62]. In cases of disturbance in which the root crowns of Idaho fescue survive, tillering may result in a rapid increase in size of Idaho fescue plants in non-competitive environments [145,209].

SITE CHARACTERISTICS:
Idaho fescue grows on many landforms, elevations, aspects, and soil types. It occurs at elevations from 990 feet (300 m) in Oregon to nearly 13,200 feet (4000 m) in Colorado [261]. It thrives in areas of 15 inches (380 mm) mean annual precipitation or greater [295], but is also found in areas with lower precipitation (7.3 inches (186 mm) at 1 site in Oregon). Idaho fescue has broad ecological amplitude and a wide range of productivity within and between habitat types in which it is a dominant species [205]. Because of its ubiquity, site characteristics are difficult to generalize. For example, Stubbendieck and others [261] report that Idaho fescue is most abundant on well-drained loams with a neutral to slightly alkaline pH, while other authors [73,130,140,223] report that it favors a slightly acid pH. In the northern Rocky Mountain region it is considered a species of the dry end of the moisture gradient, and in the southern Rockies it is a species of the moist end [75]. Since Idaho fescue occurs in a variety of ecosystems (grassland, sagebrush, forest, and alpine), it is probably most useful to look at site characteristics within each of these ecosystems.   

In the grasslands of the Intermountain region, Idaho fescue occurs in valleys, canyons, benches, slopes, and rolling hills bordering sagebrush/grasslands, juniper woodlands, or the lower treeline [36,77,117,187,219]. It is most commonly found in mesic grasslands, but is also a component of the more xeric grasslands dominated by bluebunch wheatgrass, where it usually occupies the cooler, moister microsites on north and east aspects [88,117,159,271]. It can be found on south-facing slopes at higher elevations [120]. It is found on a variety of parent materials and soil depths, but is most productive on well-drained, loamy to sandy soils [120,205]. In a western Montana grassland on morainal mounds in the upper Blackfoot Valley, Idaho fescue tolerated the widest extremes of environmental conditions present, though it did show a gradual decrease on south and southwest exposures of the mounds [31]. In the biscuit scablands (areas of rolling topography on basic flow lavas with "biscuits" of soil between islands of very shallow soil over lava) in eastern Oregon, Idaho fescue grows in the cool moist microsites of the biscuits [120,315].

In semi-arid sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) grasslands, Idaho fescue is found with bluebunch wheatgrass but is restricted to the cooler, moister sites [5,28,46,71,92,93,120,313,316], and tends to be found on deeper, well-drained, loamy to sandy textured soils [25,26,71,122,237]. Idaho fescue occurs as a dominant or co-dominant species on cool, moist microsites protected from wind, where there is more snow retention and less moisture loss than on less protected sites [73,294]. In a study of soil properties in big and low sagebrush (Artemisia arbuscula) communities in southern Idaho, Fosberg and Hironaka [105] concluded that moisture availability was more important than parent material in determining the distribution of bluebunch wheatgrass and Idaho fescue. When compared with 5 common grasses in the Great Basin (bluebunch wheatgrass, Thurber needlegrass, needle-and-thread grass (Hesperostipa comata), galleta (Pleuraphis jamesii), and Indian ricegrass (Achnatherum hymenoides), Idaho fescue and bluebunch wheatgrass were associated with soils in wetter and colder climates and with a slightly more acidic pH, higher water-holding capacity, higher clay contents, and lower bulk density than soils of other grasses. Idaho fescue had the narrowest environmental tolerances [223]. Johnson [144] says that moisture availability (which is enhanced by deeper soils and cooler microsites) determines the ability of Idaho fescue to persist at lower elevations.

Everett [103] examined the possibility of allelopathic effects of singleleaf pinyon and Utah juniper litter on seedling emergence of Idaho fescue, and found that the presence of litter can be a negative factor if seed is buried. Where Idaho fescue occurs in forest habitats with limber pine, ponderosa pine, and Douglas-fir, it is usually on the cool, dry aspects that border sagebrush-grass communities [120,186,221,256].

In the northern Rocky Mountains, Idaho fescue also occurs in mountain parks at upper elevations where tree growth is inhibited [77,79,170,193,216,225,235]. Daubenmire [75,80] speculates that the occurrence of these small parks in northern Idaho and eastern Washington represents areas of soil drought that may have resulted from the transfer of snow from the windward to the leeward slopes. Jensen [143] cites Idaho fescue as 1 of the major grasses at 4,950-9,900 feet (1500-3000 m) on Caribou National Forest, southeastern Idaho. On these sites, moisture becomes limiting soon after snowpack melts, producing drought conditions that dominate through most summer months on predominantly cold, cryic soils. Weaver and Collins [297] found Idaho fescue decreased in abundance with increasing snowpack in Montana. Several authors [21,63,85,120,141,220,225,245] have described alpine and subalpine communities with Idaho fescue as an important, sometimes dominant, component in several western states. Idaho fescue is the dominant understory species on many of the most arid whitebark pine sites [13,256].    

Mollisols are most commonly associated with grassland ecosystems; however, Nimlos and Tomer [211] found Mollisols under dry end Douglas-fir forests in southwest Montana, usually on sites where Idaho fescue is among the understory grass component. These sites may have been grasslands that were invaded by conifers. Similarly, the absence of Idaho fescue on unproductive Mollisols may indicate a disclimax where Idaho fescue has been eliminated by disturbance.

Idaho fescue occurs in the following elevational ranges:

MT 5,000-8,000 feet (1500-2400 m)  [205,282]
UT and CO 7,000-10,000 feet (2100-3000 m) [281,282]
CA 3,000-7,000 feet (900-2100 m) [282]
ID 1,320-7,000 feet (400-2100 m) [130,271]
OR and WA 1,700-8,200 feet (510-2460 m) [71,88,120]
WY 5,500-10,000 feet (1650-3000 m) [86,141]
AB, BC, SK 4,224-5,148 feet (1280-1560 m) [36,260]

SUCCESSIONAL STATUS:
As a climax species, Idaho fescue is a common component of many "pristine," "undisturbed," or "relict" areas [53,58,106,115,117,121,140,268,272]. It is a major component of late-seral ecosystems, but may also colonize suitable disturbed sites [56]. Idaho fescue communities may rely on periodic disturbance such as soil and slope movement to rejuvenate and maintain vigor of the plant community [144]. 

In cases where the level of disturbance is such that cover of Idaho fescue decreases (e.g., heavy grazing pressure or severe fire), Idaho fescue succeeds to various native and non-native increaser species. Some examples are bluegrasses (Poa spp.) [171,279,294], sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) [205,310], rubber rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus nauseosus) and broom snakeweed (Gutierrezia sarothrae) [310], needlegrasses (Achnatherum and Hesperostipa spp.), lupine (Lupinus spp.) [53,146,205], phlox (Phlox spp.)[53,145,205,278], spotted knapweed [205,279,280], yellow starthistle (Centaurea solstitialis) [232], timothy (Phleum pratense) [279], and cheatgrass [171,205,224].

SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT:

In general, Idaho fescue starts growth in early spring, seeds mature by midsummer [101,261], and dispersal is prompt [110]. Weaver and Collins [297] report that the time required for seed maturation varies with different degrees of water stress - from 63 days without water stress to 37 days with early water stress. Seed germination requires 8 to 10 days [103]. From observations made in common snowberry/Idaho fescue community and greenhouse studies, Daubenmire [75] speculated that the ability of Idaho fescue to survive drought is related to its ability to germinate in autumn and grow intermittently in winter during periods of favorable weather and so be sufficiently advanced in development by the time drought intensifies in early summer that it can aestivate.

Mueggler [206] compared dates of phenological events for prominent grasses at 7,100 feet (2130 m) on southwestern and northeastern exposures in western Montana over 10 years. The start of growth was uncertain because green leaves were frequently present at the time of snowmelt, probably because they overwintered from fall regrowth. The following dates were recorded for phenology of Idaho fescue on southwestern exposures [206]:

Range Mean
Growth starts late April to mid-May May 4
1st bloom occurs  late May to late June  June 14
Blooming over   early to mid-July July 13
Dissemination starts   late July to mid-August  August 5
Plant dried  late August to mid October  September 21


On northeastern exposures, growth starts, 1st bloom emerges, and blooming is over in the same range of dates. Means are 3 to 4 days later than on southwestern exposures; dissemination started 6 days later, and plants dried 16 days later, on average. The appearance of flowerstalks and flowering were both correlated with May and June temperatures in that the warmer the temperatures, the earlier the appearance of flowerstalks [28]. The date of range readiness, as indicated by the appearance of Idaho fescue flowerstalks, differed as much as 5 weeks over 10 years, although in 2 out of 3 years the dates were within 2 weeks of the mean [206]. Other researchers report phenological dates for Idaho fescue in eastern Montana and Yellowstone National Park [240] and Oregon [128,251].

FIRE ECOLOGY

SPECIES: Festuca idahoensis
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS:
Idaho fescue is a small bunchgrass that can survive light-severity fires. It is usually harmed by more severe fire [35,52,253,309]. Fires burning at 10- to 25- year intervals have neutral to negative effects on Idaho fescue [2]. Rapid tillering occurs when root crowns are not killed and soil moisture is favorable [145,231]. Plants may re-establish from seed after fire if temperatures are low enough to allow for survival of seed [59,294]. 

Native ranges and forests in which Idaho fescue occurs have historically been subjected to fires at varying intervals. Native Americans were probably an important ignition source in prehistoric Idaho fescue grasslands [2]. Maintenance of grasslands in the Intermountain West is dependent, in part, on periodic fires to remove dry matter and invading shrubs and trees [9,12,47,49,159,216]. A decrease in or loss of dominant seral species such as Idaho fescue due to fire exclusion has been noted in many areas [113].    

The following table provides some fire regime intervals for communities in which Idaho fescue occurs:

Community or Ecosystem Dominant Species Fire Return Interval Range in Years
silver fir-Douglas-fir Abies amabilis-Pseudotsuga menziesii var. menziesii > 200 
grand fir A. grandis 35-200 
California chaparral Adenostoma and/or Arctostaphylos spp. < 35 to < 100 
sagebrush steppe Artemisia tridentata/Pseudoroegneria spicata 20-70 [41]
basin big sagebrush A. t. var. tridentata 12-43 [238]
mountain big sagebrush A. t. var. vaseyana 5-15 [312]
Wyoming big sagebrush A. t. var. wyomingensis 10-70 (40)** [290,312]
coastal sagebrush A. californica < 35 to < 100 
cheatgrass Bromus tectorum < 10 
California montane chaparral Ceanothus and/or Arctostaphylos spp. 50-100 [41]
curlleaf mountain-mahogany* Cercocarpus ledifolius 13-1000 [14,242]
mountain-mahogany-Gambel oak scrub C. l.-Quercus gambelii < 35 to < 100 
California steppe Festuca-Danthonia spp. < 35 
western juniper Juniperus occidentalis 20-70 
Rocky Mountain juniper J. scopulorum < 35 
western larch Larix occidentalis 25-100 
Engelmann spruce-subalpine fir Picea engelmannii-Abies lasiocarpa 35 to > 200 
black spruce P. mariana 35-200
pinyon-juniper Pinus-Juniperus spp. < 35
whitebark pine* P. albicaulis 50-200 [41]
Rocky Mountain lodgepole pine* P. contorta var. latifolia 25-300+ [11,234]
Colorado pinyon P. edulis 10-49
Jeffrey pine P.  jeffreyi 5-30 
western white pine* P.  monticola 50-200
Pacific ponderosa pine* P.  ponderosa var. ponderosa 1-47 
Rocky Mountain ponderosa pine* P.  p. var. scopulorum 2-10 [41]
quaking aspen (west of the Great Plains) Populus tremuloides 7-120 [41,114,190]
mountain grasslands Pseudoroegneria spicata 3-40 (10)** [11]
Rocky Mountain Douglas-fir* Pseudotsuga menziesii var. glauca 25-100 [41]
coastal Douglas-fir* P.  m. var. menziesii 40-240 [41,201,230]
California oakwoods Quercus spp. < 35 
oak-juniper woodland (Southwest) Q.-Juniperus spp. < 35 to < 200 
western redcedar-western hemlock Thuja plicata-Tsuga heterophylla > 200 
western hemlock-Sitka spruce T.  heterophylla-Picea sitchensis > 200 [41]
*fire return interval varies widely; trends in variation are noted in the species summary
**(mean)

POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY [258]:
Tussock graminoid
Secondary colonizer (on-site or off-site seed sources)

FIRE EFFECTS

SPECIES: Festuca idahoensis
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT:
Idaho fescue grows in a dense, fine-leaved tuft. Fires tend to burn within the accumulated fine leaves at the base of the plant and may produce temperatures sufficient to kill some of the root crown [2]. Mature Idaho fescue plants are commonly reported to be severely damaged by fire in all seasons [35,52,253,309]. Initial mortality may be high (in excess of 75%) on severe burns, but usually varies from 20 to 50% [15]. Idaho fescue is commonly reported to be more sensitive to fire than bluebunch wheatgrass [27,61,62,145,309]; however Robberecht and Defosse [231], using special instrumentation to control the intensity and duration of fire treatment for individual plants, suggested the latter was more sensitive. They observed culm and biomass reduction with moderate fire severity in bluebunch wheatgrass, whereas a high fire severity was required for this reduction in Idaho fescue. Also, given the same fire severity treatment, postfire culm production was initiated earlier and more rapidly in Idaho fescue [231]. 

DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT:
Fire effects vary with condition and size of the plant, season and severity of fire, and ecological conditions. Rapid burns leave little damage to root crowns, and new tillers are produced with onset of fall moisture [145]. This was the case with small bunches of Idaho fescue when a "hot" June wildfire caused incomplete burning of the root crowns on a western Montana grassland [9]. After decades of fire exclusion and/or the absence of grazing, the thicker duff layer and dense, dry crowns burn longer, so heat penetrates deeper and may kill the plants [10]. The dense culms may provide enough fuel to burn for hours after the fire has passed, reaching temperatures as high as 1000 degrees Fahrenheit (538 oC), thus killing or seriously injuring the plant regardless of the intensity of the fire [309]. Bunting [44] also points out that Idaho fescue is sometimes rooted in the litter under western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis) which will, of course, burn.

PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE:
Most studies show that fire initially reduces frequency [48,162,243] and basal area [16,243] of Idaho fescue. Recovery to prefire levels may require more than 25 years if density is severely reduced [15], as was observed by Harniss and Murray [125] in Idaho, where return to prefire cover took over 30 years after summer prescribed burning in a big sagebrush/Idaho fescue range. Effects of most fires are not, however, so extreme, and show a wide range of responses. Idaho fescue plants burned in Nevada in the spring of 1973 still showed signs of damage in 1976, but they were recovering [16]. Idaho fescue frequency was not significantly (p<0.05) different between burn and control plots 2 and 4 years after prescribed burning on a mountain big sagebrush/Idaho fescue site in Idaho [175]. On a lodgepole pine site in Idaho, Idaho fescue plants had regained vigor by the 3rd year and showed improved vigor by the 5th year [222]. Idaho fescue resprouted after spring prescribed burns in central Oregon, and within 3 months more than 80% of Idaho fescue plants had vigorous growth, with greater production in burned areas than in adjacent unburned areas [1]. Forage biomass of burned Idaho fescue grassland had surpassed that of unburned grassland following fires in Yellowstone National Park in both grazed (by elk and some bison) and ungrazed portions, 2 years after burning [248]. 

Idaho fescue on burned areas may have more protein than those on unburned areas [16]. Singer and Harter [248] found that digestibility of Idaho fescue was enhanced (for 1 year) on grazed but not on ungrazed sites following the 1988 fires in Yellowstone National Park. Dry matter digestibility was higher in Idaho fescue plants the 1st year following burning in Yellowstone, and both digestibility and percent protein were higher the 2nd year [212]. Similarly, crude protein in Idaho fescue increased from 0.6 to 2.6% after spring burning in Douglas-fir and limber pine in central Montana [156]. 

DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE
Plant response varies with fire severity, season of burn, ecological condition at the time of the burn, and management activities before and after burning [2]. Vigor of surviving Idaho fescue plants is reduced by high severity fires because the root crown's budding zone is confined to a relatively small area at or above the surface of the ground where it may be exposed to higher temperatures for prolonged periods [62]. Spring prescribed burns in a Nevada big sagebrush/grassland were classified as "hot" and "cool" fires, and cool fires resulted in only a small decrease in Idaho fescue cover, while hot burns resulted in a significant (p<0.05) decrease that recovered to prefire levels in 3 years [162]. 

Idaho fescue is sensitive to severe burns in late summer and early fall in eastern Oregon [146]. Such fires favor succession to forbs in Idaho fescue plant associations [2]. Both number of plants and basal crown area were severely reduced in Idaho fescue following an August wildfire on northern California perennial range and remained reduced 5 years later [66]. A hot June wildfire in a Montana grassland reduced biomass and cover of Idaho fescue. The damaged clumps failed to produce much autumn growth, so Idaho fescue cover remained low in the following spring in favor of forb species. Idaho fescue recovered completely (98% of unburned cover) 3 years after the fire [9]. Spring and late fall burns on sites with good soil moisture and favorable Idaho fescue root reserves are thought to injure plants less [16,309,314]. Britton and others [37] observed greater plant damage with late August than mid-October burning; however, they also found that plants watered immediately before or after burning had the greatest basal area reduction and produced the least re-growth. They explained that with increasing water content, thermal conductivity increases, and therefore the potential for the heat pulse to reach the grass' meristematic tissue faster and remain at lethal temperatures longer exists when soils are wet. 

Idaho fescue is tolerant of late-season burning [2,3,308], but again, results are varied. Armour and others [10] saw recovery to preburn levels of Idaho fescue in 3 years after fall prescribed burning in Douglas-fir/ninebark (Physocarpus malvaceus) habitat type in Idaho. Britton and Clark [40] compared early May, mid-June, and mid-October burns in eastern Oregon and found highest mortality in early May (30%), and no mortality in mid-June or mid-October. Corresponding basal area reductions were 48% in May, 52% in June, and 34% in October [40]. A comparison of spring and fall burning in Idaho fescue grassland in Oregon showed no difference for season of burn [277]. A significant (p<0.05) decrease in Idaho fescue cover occurred in both seasons, although frequency was not reduced, and Idaho fescue remained the dominant prairie species [277]. Conversely, Shwecke and Hann [243] observed 25% kill of Idaho fescue after a spring burn, compared with 40% kill after a fall burn, in a Douglas-fir and big sagebrush/grass mosaic in western Montana. There was a similar decrease in basal crown sizes for both burns, but the canopy cover of surviving fescue (Festuca spp.) plants almost doubled compared to prefire canopy cover. Sagebrush sites became dominated by fescues 1 year after fire in both cases [243]. Another comparison of spring and fall burning found that fall burning killed 20% of the Idaho fescue population and reduced basal area by 23% the 1st year. Spring burning resulted in no significant change in basal area and only 3.5% mortality. Plants recovered to 90% of their preburn size by the 2nd year after the fall burn [238]. Idaho fescue is sensitive to burning in any season in areas where it is at the margins of its ecological range [27,62,309]. 

Fire in water-limited environments generally reduces the productivity of grasses during the 1st postfire growing season [27,74,231,307], and in many cases reduces productivity of Idaho fescue for several years to come [125]. Defosse and Robberecht [84] used a special device to apply similar fire severity levels inside the meristematic root crown region to several Idaho fescue and bluebunch wheatgrass plants and followed the treatment with different levels of competition simulated by removing varying amounts of aboveground biomass of neighboring potential competitors. Idaho fescue did show meristematic damage after the fire, but no mortality was observed. Regrowth occurred within 15 days - more rapidly than bluebunch wheatgrass. Subsequent competition reduced root production and restricted aboveground productivity by 115% in Idaho fescue, and by 70% for bluebunch wheatgrass. These results suggest that survival and productivity following fires is related to subsequent soil water availability. A species with roots concentrated in upper soil layers (e.g., Idaho fescue) will experience a decline of water availability when compared with a deeper rooted species (e.g., bluebunch wheatgrass), thus affecting subsequent growth [84]. This may help explain why many studies show that Idaho fescue is more severely damaged by fire than bluebunch wheatgrass [2]. 

Conrad and Poulton [62] observed that Idaho fescue basal diameter reduction was less after fire in grazed conditions (27%) than in ungrazed conditions (40%). Idaho fescue basal area was reduced equally by burning and clipping (an average of 48%) in May and June in eastern Oregon [39]. Other treatment-date combinations (late summer and fall) did not significantly (p<0.05) reduce basal area, suggesting that it is less susceptible to late-season defoliation than reported previously.

Recovery of Idaho fescue frequency is also a function of seed production and germination after a fire. Sapsis [238] found higher numbers of vegetative culms in burned plants compared with unburned plants. Seed production of Idaho fescue plants subjected to fall prescribed burning in the sagebrush/grassland region in Idaho and Oregon was not different from seed production on unburned controls in postfire years 1 and 3, but was greater on a 5-year-old burn [217]. Both severe and lower-severity fire treatments reduce emergence of Idaho fescue from seed [57]. Warg [294] cites a study in which seeds of Idaho fescue are exposed to temperatures of 80, 100, 125, and 150 oC for periods of 5, 15, 30, and 60 minutes. Germination was good for seeds exposed to 80, 100 and 125 oC for 5 minutes, but did not occur beyond that temperature or time period. Clark and others [59] studied the effects of fire on seed banks and found the LD 50 for most seeds was between 70 to 85 oC.

In a basin big sagebrush community in east-central Oregon, mean density and basal area of Idaho fescue was significantly greater on fall-burned plots (P<0.1) than on spring-burned and control plots. However, Idaho fescue mortality was less on spring- than fall-burned plots, and Idaho fescue produced more flowering culms on spring-burned compared to control plots [238]. See the Research Project Summary of this work for more information on fire effects on Idaho fescue and 60 additional grass, forb, and woody plant species.

On ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir communities in the Blue Mountains of northeastern Oregon, Idaho fescue cover and frequency in postfire year 4 were higher on prescribed burned sites than on thinned, thinned-and-burned, or unburned control sites. Idaho fescue was determined to be an indicator species for burned sites (P0.05).  For further information on the effects of thinning and burning treatments on Idaho fescue and 48 other species, see the Research Project Summary of Youngblood and others' [317] study.

The following other Research Project Summaries also provide information on prescribed fire use and postfire response of Idaho fescue and other plant community species:

FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS:
Fire suppression coupled with grazing pressure has changed the structure of Idaho fescue communities, often by increasing cover of woody species [2,12]. Prescribed burning can be an effective management tool for all types of Idaho fescue communities. Early spring burning is preferred in some cases e.g., [163,243], late season burning in others (e.g., [3,40,238,308]). Beardall and Sylvester [16] recommend burning of big sagebrush/grasslands before or just after the plants have broken dormancy, when root reserves remain high, to improve survival of perennial species. Johnson and Simon [146] suggest that cool, light burns in late winter or early spring, when plant moisture levels are high, help protect root crowns from damage. Similarly, Wright [307] suggests conducting burns when preferred plants are dormant, and includes that it is better to burn during wet years and never during extended dry periods, so as to not magnify drought stress on plants. 

Bunting and others [45] concluded that postfire plant mortality and productivity might be related to the length of time grazing is excluded during postfire regeneration period. Early spring fire alone resulted in low mortality, and early season defoliation (simulated grazing) after fire resulted in 50 % mortality for Idaho fescue. Detrimental effects were lessened when defoliation was delayed by 1 growing season after fire [45]. In a big sagebrush/grassland in Idaho burned once in September of 1933, again in August of 1936, and subsequently "conservatively" grazed after 1 full year of protection, Blaisdell [27] observed no significant differences in total grass production on any severity of burn 15 years after burning. Idaho fescue was, however, significantly reduced, achieving prefire levels within 12 years after a light-severity burn, and at only 77 and 53% of prefire levels 12 years after a moderate and heavy burn, respectively. All other grasses had recovered beyond prefire levels by postfire year [27]. 


Festuca idahoensis: References


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