SPECIES: Artemisia arbuscula
|Low sagebrush community in the Trout Creek Mountains, Malheur County, Oregon. Photo courtesy of the PRBO Conservation Science Shrubsteppe Monitoring Program.|
Artemisia arbuscula ssp. arbuscula (Nutt.) H. & C. gray low sagebrush
Artemisia arbuscula ssp. longicaulis Winward &McArthur Lahontan sagebrush
Artemisia arbuscula ssp. longiloba (Osterhout) L. Shultz alkali sagebrush
Artemisia arbuscula ssp. thermopola Beetle hotsprings sagebrush
Alkali sagebrush has been previously classified as a separate species (A. longiloba (Osterh.) Beetle) and as a variant of low sagebrush (A. a. var. longiloba (Osterhout) Dorn) [58,113]. Black sagebrush (A. nova) used to be included as a variant or subspecies of low sagebrush A. a. var. nova (A. Nels.) Cronq.; A. a. ssp. nova (A. Nels.) G.H. Ward) because of apparent intergradation between the 2 taxa. The species were separated when genetic analyses showed that black sagebrush is tetraploid while low sagebrush is diploid [58,71]. In this species summary, the common name low sagebrush is used when information applies to all subspecies, otherwise subspecies' common names are used.
Hybridization has apparently occurred between low sagebrush and tall threetip sagebrush (A. tripartita ssp. tripartita), basin big sagebrush (A. tridentata ssp. tridentata), and Wyoming big sagebrush (A. t. ssp. wyomingensis) [71,73]. Previously it was assumed that alkali sagebrush did not hybridize because of its early phenology relative to other sagebrushes (Artemisia spp.) . More recently, populations in Sublette County, Wyoming, have been described as stable hybrids of alkali sagebrush and Wyoming big sagebrush . Beetle  speculated thathotsprings sagebrush originated as a hybrid of tall threetip sagebrush and the gray low sagebrush. Lahontan sagebrush is thought to possibly be a stable hybrid of gray low sagebrush and Wyoming big sagebrush . Intermediates between gray low sagebrush and alkali sagebrush have been reported .LIFE FORM:
FRES21 Ponderosa pine
FRES30 Desert shrub
FRES34 Chaparral-mountain shrub
FRES36 Mountain grasslands
FRES38 Plains grasslands
FRES42 Annual grasslands
Washington: In eastern Washington low sagebrush grows with stiff sagebrush (A. rigida) and mountain big sagebrush (A. t. ssp. vaseyana) with an understory of elk sedge (Carex geyeri), Idaho fescue, Sandberg bluegrass (Poa secunda), and bluebunch wheatgrass . Low sagebrush is not particularly common and, for the most part, is restricted to Chelan, Kittias, and Yakima counties .
Oregon: On the Deschutes, Winema, and Fremont National Forests, low sagebrush (with 5-15% canopy cover) grows with Idaho fescue (2-16% cover) and bluebunch wheatgrass, Sandberg bluegrass, bottlebrush squirreltail (Elymus elymoides), and low pussytoes (Antennaria dimorpha). Such habitats in "poor condition" are characterized by increasing rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus spp.) and cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum); on mesic sites antelope bitterbrush, California oatgrass (Danthonia californica), and prairie Junegrass (Koeleria macrantha) are present [33,51,110]. Forbs present in the communities include rosy pussytoes (Antennaria microphylla), fleabane (Erigeron spp.), rockcress (Arabis spp.), and milkvetch (Astragalus spp.). On sites slightly drier than those occupied by ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) forests, low sagebrush and antelope bitterbrush are dominant with green rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus) and rubber rabbitbrush (C. nauseosus) as minor shrubs where soils are deeper. The most prominent grass is Thurber's needlegrass. Low sagebrush is an occasional component of silver sagebrush (A. cana)/mat muhly (Muhlenbergia richardsonis) communities . Other associates of low sagebrush in eastern Oregon are stiff sagebrush, snowberry (Symphoricarpos spp.), wax currant (Ribes cereum), and Saskatoon serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia) .
California: On the Modoc Plateau of northeastern California, common understory associates in low sagebrush stands are Idaho fescue, bitterbrush (Purshia spp.), bluebunch wheatgrass, Thurber's needlegrass, prairie Junegrass, phlox (Phlox spp.), pussytoes (Antennaria spp.), fleabane, blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia spp.), Ross' sedge (Carex rossii), and rushes (Juncus spp.). Shrubs frequently associated are western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis), green rabbitbrush, gray horsebrush (Tetradymia canescens), and longflower snowberry (S. longiflorus). Cheatgrass, garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), and medusahead (Taeniatherum caput-medusae) are prominent weedy species after grazing; historically bottlebrush squirreltail and/or Sandberg bluegrass had greater canopy cover . Low sagebrush is more common in western juniper stands than in pinyon (Pinus spp.)/juniper (Juniperus spp.) stands; big sagebrush is much more frequently found in pinyon-juniper stands . In the White Mountains of eastern California in Rocky Mountain bristlecone pine (Pinus aristata), limber pine (P. flexilis), and quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) stands with discontinuous sparse cover, low sagebrush grows with big sagebrush, green rabbitbrush, curlleaf mountain-mahogany (Cercocarpus ledifolius), littleleaf mountain-mahogany (C. intricatus), fernbush (Chamaebatiaria millefolium), oceanspray (Holodiscus discolor), and desert gooseberry (Ribes velutinum). Grasses present include are prairie Junegrass, bottlebrush squirreltail, mat muhly, and timblerline bluegrass (Poa glauca var. rupicola) .
Utah: Low sagebrush grows in Utah in Box Elder, Cache, Millard, Rich, Salt Lake, Summit, and Toole counties in Colorado pinyon (Pinus edulis)/juniper, mountain brush, sagebrush, and, to a lesser extent, in openings in white fir (Abies concolor), quaking aspen, and Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii)-white fir communities. Alkali sagebrush is found in sagebrush grassland communities in Rich and Summit counties . In the interior ponderosa pine (P. p. var. scopulorum)/black sagebrush habitat type, trees present are limber pine (in Utah only), Colorado pinyon, and Rocky Mountain juniper (Juniperus scopulorum). Dominant shrubs include low sagebrush, green rabbitbrush, Gambel oak (Quercus gambelii), gray horsebrush, and blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis) . In Uintah County of northeastern Utah, low sagebrush grows in Colorado pinyon/Utah juniper (Juniperus osteosperma) communities with big sagebrush, fourwing saltbrush (Atriplex canescens), shadscale (Atriplex confertifolia), true mountain-mahogany (Cercocarpus montanus), birchleaf mountain-mahogany (Cercocarpus betuloides), and ephedra (Ephedra spp.). Important grasses are purple threeawn (Aristida purpurea), saltgrass (Distichlis spicata), Indian ricegrass (Achnatherum hymenoides), Sandberg bluegrass, needle-and-thread grass (Hesperostipa comata), bottlebrush squirreltail; forbs include Fendler's sandwort (Arenaria fendleri), rose heath (Chaetopappa ericoides), thickstem wild cabbage (Caulanthus crassicaulis), cryptantha (Cryptantha spp.), Fendler's springparsley (Cymopterus acaulis var. fendleri), prickly-pear (Opuntia spp.), and others .
Montana: Low sagebrush is found only in southwestern Montana. Gray low sagebrush is in Beaverhead, Madison, and Deer Lodge counties [13,79]. Common associates include slender wheatgrass (Elymus trachycaulus) and Idaho fescue . Alkali sagebrush is present in only a few isolated stands in Beaverhead and Madison counties [17,79]. Alkali sagebrush occurs with Idaho fescue, western wheatgrasss (Pascopyrum smithii), thickspike wheatgrass (Elymus lanceolatus), bluebunch wheatgrass, and alkali cordgrass (Spartina gracilis) .
Idaho: The gray low sagebrush/bluebunch wheatgrass habitat type supports bluebunch wheatgrass, Sandberg bluegrass, bottlebrush squirreltail, Hood's phlox (Phlox hoodii), tapertip hawksbeard (Crepis acuminata) and prairie Junegrass [48,94]. The gray low sagebrush/Idaho fescue type is widespread in western Idaho in the same elevation zone; forb associates are phlox, rosy pussytoes, tapertip hawksbeard, lambstongue ragwort (Senecio integerrimus), and Hooker balsamroot (Balsamorhiza hookeri); bluebunch wheatgrass is abundant on some sites and absent on others. The gray low sagebrush/Sandberg bluegrass habitat type occurs where soils are too shallow to support Idaho fescue or bluebunch wheatgrass. In this type, Sandberg bluegrass and gray low sagebrush have increased with grazing pressure and species diversity has been reduced. In the Dautrich Memorial Desert Preserve in southeastern Idaho, low sagebrush sometimes grows with big sagebrush, fourwing saltbrush, shadscale, littleleaf horsebrush (Tetradymia glabrata), grayball sage (Salvia dorrii), and basin wildrye (Leymus cinereus) . The alkali sagebrush/Idaho fescue type occurs on and near the Owyhee Plateau; associated grasses are bluebunch wheatgrass and Thurber's needlegrass (with variable presence and cover) and Sandberg bluegrass. Forbs are small bluebells (Mertensia longiflora), narrowleaf pussytoes (Antennaria stenophylla), alpine ionactis (Ionactis alpina), tapertip onion (Allium accuminatum), and Holboell's rockcress (Arabis holboellii) .
Hotsprings sagebrush is only known in Custer County, Idaho . The hotsprings sagebrush/Idaho fescue habitat type occupies glacial outwashes and ridges with thin soil; bluebunch wheatgrass is sometimes present. In some areas grazing pressure has caused Idaho fescue to be replaced by Letterman needlegrass (Achnatherum lettermanii) . Other associates include Sandberg bluegrass, bottlebrush squirreltail, fleabane, rosy pussytoes, Hood's phlox, and snowline springparsley (Cymopterus nivalis) .
Wyoming: Gray low sagebrush grows in Lincoln and Teton counties, and hotsprings sagebrush grows in Lincoln and Teton counties and Yellowstone National Park . Alkali sagebrush is in Carbon, Hot Springs, Lincoln, Sublette, Teton and Uinta counties . Beetle  estimated that in Wyoming gray low sagebrush covers about 2,000 square miles (510,000 ha) and alkali sagebrush covers the same; hotspring sagebrush covers about 100 square miles (26,000 ha). Gray low sagebrush and alkali sagebrush are confined primarily to the western part of the state; hotsprings sagebrush is in the northwestern part. Common understory grasses are western wheatgrass, thickspike wheatgrass, Idaho fescue, prairie Junegrass, Cusick's bluegrass (Poa cusickii), mutton grass (Poa fendleriana), and Sandberg bluegrass .
Nevada: Alkali sagebrush is present in Elko and Humboldt counties [13,17,124]. The alkali sagebrush/Idaho fescue habitat type is common in Elko County; the type is very similar to the composition of the gray low sagebrush/Idaho fescue type described above, but Thurber's needlegrass is generally more prominent .
Gray low sagebrush is best represented in northern Nevada; in southern Nevada this variety is a component of singleleaf pinyon (Pinus monophylla)/Utah juniper stands . In the gray low sagebrush/Sandberg bluegrass habitat type species present include fleabane, phlox, bitterroot (Lewisia rediviva), milkvetch, Idaho fescue, and curlleaf mountain-mahogany. In singleleaf pinyon/Utah juniper communities low sagebrush grows with big sagebrush, green rabbitbrush, antelope bitterbrush, cheatgrass, bottlebrush squirreltail, California brome (Bromus carinatus), Sandberg bluegrass, bushy bird's beak (Cordylanthus ramosus), tapertip onion, longleaf phlox (Phlox longifolia), sego lily (Calochortus nuttallii), largeflower hawksbeard (Crepis occidentalis), and pinyon groundsmoke (Gayophytum ramosissimum) . In the Ruby Mountains gray low sagebrush communities typical species are Idaho fescue, bottlebrush squirreltail, green rabbitbrush, Sandberg bluegrass, fleabane, granite prickly phlox (Leptodactylon pungens), spike fescue (Leucopoa kingii), lupines (Lupinus spp.), Wyoming Indian paintbrush (Castilleja linariifolia), colddesert phlox (Phlox stansburyii), and pussytoes . The gray low sagebrush/Thurber's needlegrass habitat type is common in northwestern Nevada; subdominant grasses are Sandberg bluegrass, bottlebrush squirreltail, and Idaho fescue. Forbs present are fleabane, Hood's phlox, alpine ionactus, and woollypod milkvetch (Astragalus purshii) .
New Mexico: Gray low sagebrush grows on dry plains, mountain slopes, and ridges in northwestern and west-central New Mexico . With Utah juniper frequently codominant, low sagebrush grows with big sagebrush, fourwing saltbush, Stansbury cliffrose (Purshia mexicana var. stansburiana), broom snakeweed (Gutierrezia sarothrae), prickly-pear, and pingue hymenoxys (Hymenoxys richardsonii). Common grasses are blue grama, hairy grama (Bouteloua hirsuta), sideoats grama (B. curtipendula), galleta (Pleuraphis jamesii), threeawn (Aristida spp.), western wheatgrass, bottlebrush squirreltail, and Indian ricegrass .
Colorado: In the White River-Arapaho National Forest the low sagebrush/arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) habitat type occurs on warm aspects; associated shrubs are Utah serviceberry (Amelanchier utahensis), longflower rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus depressus), and mountain snowberry (Symphoricarpos oreophilus). Prominent grasses include prairie Junegrass, mutton grass, Sandberg bluegrass, and bottlebrush squirreltail, and forbs of importance are pale agoseris (Agoseris glauca), Geyer's onion (Allium geyeri), Gunnison's mariposa lily (Calochortus gunnisonii), largeflower hawksbeard, Gray's biscuitroot (Lomatium grayi), and lambstongue ragwort .
Alkali sagebrush grows in Garfield, Jackson, Routt, Moffat, and Rio Blanco counties . The alkali sagebrush/Sandberg bluegrass habitat type occurs in central Colorado. Grasses present (in descending importance) are bottlebrush squirreltail, mutton grass (Poa fendleriana), bluebunch wheatgrass, western wheatgrass, pine needlegrass (Achnatherum pinetorum), needle-and-thread grass, prairie Junegrass, cheatgrass, and basin wildrye . Other important shrubs are green rabbitbrush, mountain snowberry, fringed sagebrush (Artemisia frigida), winterfat (Krascheninnikovia lanata), broom snakeweed, and Vasey's rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus vaseyi). Forbs present are phlox, mat penstemon (Penstemon caespitosus), and fleabane .
Classifications describing plant communities in which low sagebrush is a dominant species are as follows:
New Mexico: 
Leaves are up to 1.5 cm long; in hotsprings sagebrush leaves are deeply cleft in three while gray low sagebrush's leaves are variably cleft [47,49]. The inflorescence is a spike-like, narrow panicle 0.6 inch (1.5 cm) wide . Gray low sagebrush has 4 to 9 flowers per head [49,113]. Alkali sagebrush has 6 to 11 flowers per head . Numerous ecotypes, phases, races, and forms of low sagebrush have been described [48,73,93,112]. Both small-headed and later blooming large-headed forms have been noted [36,112], as have green and gray forms which differ in palatability [73,93]. Not much is known of the longevity of low sagebrush but members of the genus are generally long-lived, sometimes up to 150 years . The Flora of North America provides a morphological description and identification key for low sagebrush .
Roots: Sagebrush may be either arbuscular mycorrhizal or ectomycorrhizal . Low sagebrush has an extensive fibrous root system down to about 8
inches (20 cm); roots are generally tolerant of poor aeration and more efficient at removing water from this soil
depth than big or black sagebrush's root systems [80,114].
RAUNKIAER  LIFE FORM:
Breeding system: Low sagebrush flowers are perfect . Some sagebrush species generally have perfect flowers but sometimes have outer flowers that are female and central flowers that are sterile . It is not known whether this occurs in low sagebrush.
Pollination: No information
Seed production: Reproduction of low sagebrush is generally by seed, even though alkali sagebrush layers occasionally . There are frequent large seed crops; seeds are light, wind-dispersed cypselas . Cleaned seed averages 980,000 per pound (2,160/g) [13,71]. Fruits are about 0.08 inch (2 mm) long. Seed viability is about 4 to 6 years in dry storage .
Seed dispersal: Seeds are dispersed by wind [95,123].
Seed banking: No information
Germination: Germination requires warm temperatures following a cold period of stratification. A 10-day chilling at 36 degrees Fahrenheit (2 °C) is used for stratification in nurseries . Highest germination rates are between 73 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit (23-30 °C). Seed from California germinated on many soil types under a wide temperature range . Light is required for germination .
Seedling establishment/growth: There is high mortality in the 1st year of growth . Establishment is probably greatest when seeds are covered by a thin layer of soil. Best practices for planting seed are 0.25 inch (0.6 cm) deep planting in fall or winter on sites with sun exposure and shallow clayey soils .
Asexual regeneration: Low sagebrush does not sprout; layering occurs infrequently [71,73,95,112]. Alkali sagebrush layers more frequently than the typical variety . In Sublette County, Wyoming an undescribed form of sagebrush thought to be a stable hybrid of alkali sagebrush and Wyoming big sagebrush is characterized by more frequent layering . In laboratory tests, stem cuttings of gray low sagebrush failed to root .SITE CHARACTERISTICS:
|California||gray low sagebrush: 4,900 to 12,400 feet; hotsprings sagebrush: 7,200 to 8,200 feet|||
|Colorado||low sagebrush: 7,000 to 8,000 feet||[81,114,117,124]|
|Idaho||low sagebrush: 6,000 to 9,800 feet||[94,117]|
|Montana||Gray low sagebrush and alkali sagebrush: 7,000 to 8,000 feet|||
|New Mexico||gray low sagebrush: 7,000 to 8,000 feet|||
|Nevada||Low sagebrush: 2,300 to 11,500 feet; hotsprings sagebrush: 5,900 to 8,000 feet|||
|Oregon||gray low sagebrush: 3,000 to 9,000 feet; hotsprings sagebrush: 5,000 to 9,000 feet; Lahontan sagebrush: 4,300 to 6,400 feet.||[116,117]|
|Utah||gray low sagebrush: 4,500 to 8,400 feet; alkali sagebrush: 5,500 to 8,000 feet|||
|Wyoming||gray low sagebrush: 5,000 to 7,000 feet; alkali sagebrush: 6,000 to 8,000 feet|||
Soils: The distribution of low sagebrush is greatly influenced by edaphic factors: generally low sagebrush grows where soil has a clay pan, cobble layer, or bedrock within about 8 to 13 inches (20-33 cm) of the surface [9,43,47,48,96,105,124]. Gray low sagebrush and hotsprings sagebrush typically grow on soils with less than 13 inches (33 cm) to a B horizon of impermeable clay or 30% or more gravel and cobbles [96,124]. Alkali sagebrush occurs on shallow, poorly-drained soils with dense clay B horizons at depths averaging 8 inches (20 cm) [104,105].
Gray low sagebrush sites are characterized by large amounts of bare ground and exposed surface rock . Root-zone aeration is poor in many areas because claypans allow development of a perched water table in spring and winter . Low sagebrush sites often flood in spring and dry with a hard veneer crust by mid- to late summer .
Ecotones between big sagebrush (A. tridentata) and low sagebrush communities are often defined by soil properties [43,105]. On sites with shallow soils underlain by a dense clay layer or bedrock, low productivity low sagebrush communities occur; big sagebrush, with higher productivity, is dominant on deeper soils [9,48,103,124]. In Elko County, Nevada, big sagebrush communities with herbage production between 800 to 970 pounds per acre (900-1,100 kg/ha) grew where the subsurface horizons were penetrable; alkali sagebrush communities with herbage production ranging from 620 to 800 pounds per acre (700-900 kg/ha) occurred where subsurface was less penetrated by roots .
Low sagebrush communities have been described on soils derived from basalt, andesite, sandstone, limestone, granite, and pumice [47,51,110,117]. Gray low sagebrush grows on soils derived from dolomite, sandstone, and granite in California's White Mountains, although growth is relatively poor on the dolomitic soils . Gray low sagebrush occupies dry, infertile, or alkaline sites in the Great Basin; in Wyoming it is confined to glacial alluvium and gravels [17,100,114]. Hotsprings sagebrush is very much favored by impermeable soils derived from alkaline shale but also occurs on more neutral sites . In central Idaho, hotsprings sagebrush grows on glacial outwash, dry alluvium, terraces, or on poorly-drained mountainous sites .
Gray low sagebrush occurs in late succession in a number of drier sagebrush grassland and forest habitat types. Gray low sagebrush is also well represented in early successional stages of many big sagebrush communities and is an early pioneer species in some old stream bottoms . Where dry, rocky, or otherwise restrictive soils of some sites prevent the establishment of big sagebrush, gray low sagebrush persists as a dominant .
Though not tolerant of fire damage, low sagebrush tolerates (or increases) with disturbance by grazing. Low sagebrush has increased where present in grazed areas, and low sagebrush has invaded adjacent short grasslands where grazing reduces competition . In Nevada, the community composition of almost all gray low sagebrush and hotsprings sagebrush shrubsteppes have been "greatly altered" by grazing . The increase in low sagebrush may not be striking: on the Craters of the Moon National Monument low sagebrush cover seldom exceeds 13%, even with grazing and fire exclusion . Even where an increase in low sagebrush is not caused by grazing, low sagebrush becomes more prominent as trampling restricts desirable grasses to growth only under shrub canopies [48,110]. Though moderate use may lead to increase, gray low sagebrush may decrease in cover if severely overbrowsed .
Pinyons and junipers invade or have invaded some communities historically dominated low sagebrush and big sagebrush. Whether in a low sagebrush community being invaded or in a mid-successional-species community historically dominated by pinyons and junipers, low sagebrush aids the establishment of juniper and pinyon by ameliorating conditions for seedlings . Western juniper is the most common invader of low sagebrush steppes; its increase is thought to be a result of livestock introduction, and, to a lesser extent, fire exclusion. Wet periods of a few years also aid western juniper seedling establishment. Much of the increase occurred with grazing that took place before this century and it is therefore difficult to find quantitative support for the modalities of western juniper increase . In Lassen County, California, a study of western juniper increase on sagebrush steppe showed that since approximately 1600, western juniper density increased from 0 to 28 trees/hectare on low sagebrush sites, and 0 to 150 trees/ha on big sagebrush sites. Establishment, measured as time required for doubling of canopy cover, slowed after 1800 .
After stand-replacement fire in juniper or pinyon/juniper stands in
Colorado and Utah succession begins with an annual grass stage. This is followed
grass and forb development. Low sagebrush and other shrubs develop after perennial grasses have
established; pinyons and junipers establish after low sagebrush and other
shrubs, often beneath their canopies. Pinyon and juniper may eventually grow closed canopy and restrict
understory production .
In low sagebrush new growth starts in May, young flower heads develop in July, and flowers open in August and September with seed ripening in October and November [13,73,93,95]. Alkali sagebrush has an earlier phenology than gray low sagebrush or other sagebrushes . New growth of alkali sagebrush begins in May, young heads appear in June, and flowering and seed ripening occur in July and August; this is about 1 month earlier than for other low sagebrushes [13,71,93]. Alkali sagebrush is the only sagebrush that blooms this early .
Seasonal development of hotsprings sagebrush is poorly known. Some maintain that hotsprings sagebrush exhibits earlier phenological development , but Shultz  reports that hotsprings sagebrush blooms in late summer and fall. Seed matures from late August through October, and ripens by October or November [13,117].
In all subspecies, early season growth is generally terminal bud growth; as soil moisture declines over summer, axillary growth becomes more important. If fall moisture is present, any late season growth is axillary. Leaves persist through winter and up to mid-season the following year; leaves from the previous year are shed during moisture stress .
Phenology may vary by phenotype as well as by geographic area. Eckert  reported that in Oregon, a small-headed ecotype of low sagebrush blooms from August to September, whereas a large-headed form flowers during July and August.
Fire regimes: Where dwarf sagebrush species are ecosystem dominants, grass productivity is often limited by adverse soil physical properties: stands generally lack enough fuels to carry a fire [12,20,27]. In addition to low fine fuel loading, wide shrub spacing makes fire infrequent or difficult to prescribe in dwarf sagebrush types [25,27,31,84,86,123]. On the Modoc plateau of northeastern California, low sagebrush burned less frequently than big sagebrush because of wide shrub spacing in low sagebrush types and possibly because of a less flammable herbaceous composition . The case is similar in Craters of the Moon National Monument, where low productivity and sparse herbaceous cover in ridgetop low sagebrush communities make them an effective firebreak except in particularly productive years or microsites . Even in late August low sagebrush communities on the Humboldt National Forest lacked sufficient fine fuels to carry a fire . These communities surrounded big sagebrush communities that were prescribed burned in spring; construction of firelines was not required [12,25]. Mountain big sagebrush communities grew in draws or other areas with deeper soil to support more herbaceous growth while low sagebrush communities were generally confined to areas with shallow soils .
Fire in low sagebrush habitat types is restricted to more mesic sites or above average productivity years . Where low sagebrush occurs as dominant or component of Colorado pinyon and/or western juniper stands, about 600 to 700 pounds per acre (680-800 kg/ha) of fine fuels are required to carry fire [23,118]. Fine fuel loads generally average 100 to 400 pounds per acre (110-450 kg/ha) but are occasionally as high as 600 pounds per acre (680 kg/ha) in low sagebrush habitat types [67,94].
Where low sagebrush occurs in the understory of Colorado pinyon-western juniper stands (or where Colorado pinyon and/or western juniper have increased on low sagebrush communities) surface fine fuel loadings of 600 to 1000 pounds per acre (530-880 kg/ha) are common, particularly in younger or more open stands that allow greater understory development. These early-successional, open stands support fire that kills non-sprouting shrubs, including low sagebrush, particularly when cheatgrass and/or medusahead are present. Low sagebrush recovers from these fires via seedling establishment. Establishment of sagebrush generally occurs after annual and perennial grass and forb development; pinyon and juniper either survive low-severity fire or, after crown fire, grow from seed after shrubs and grasses have established . Surface fire is not common in later-successional pinyon-juniper stands as fine fuels are generally too sparse; closed-canopy stands, however, may carry a crown fire if adjacent sites have enough fuel to support one.
Invasion and increase of western juniper and Colorado pinyon on low sagebrush sites has been a result of livestock grazing and decreasing fire frequency . Burkhardt and Tisdale  investigated the fire history of a big sagebrush/gray low sagebrush mosaic habitat on the Owyhee plateau of Idaho. Between 1840 and 1910 mean fire interval was about 4 years (the authors did not separate the 2 habitats in analysis). Of the 4 sites studied, 2 had not burned since 1910, and 2 had burned once. Western juniper invasion of these habitats began in about 1870, increased with fire cessation, and peaked in about 1940. Though fire is not the only control over invasion, it is estimated that in northern California in low sagebrush habitats a fire interval of 50 years would stop encroachment .
Low sagebrush fire intervals declined as native perennial grasses were grazed [23,121]. In some overgrazed stands grasses are almost entirely confined to areas with shrub canopies . In some cases grazing has increased less palatable annual cheatgrass and medusahead invasion, making fire more frequent rather than less. There is a positive feedback system in that fire reduces sagebrush cover and allows further increase of annuals and subsequent increased risk of fire. Herbaceous production, including desirable and undesirable species, may increase 100% following fire . The possibility of fire is increased during years of above-average precipitation and increased herbaceous growth [27,120].
Fire history information of sagebrush habitats is often limited . Miller and Rose  described fire history of a low sagebrush steppe in south-central Oregon by determining the years in which western juniper had died from fire injury. Before 1897 mean fire intervals ranged from 12 to 15 years with intervals ranging from 3 to 28 years. Fire generally occurred after years of high radial growth rates (measured in western juniper), indicating that fires occurred during wet years with high forage production, and the most recent fire was 1897. In Lassen County, California, fire history was constructed by observing scar analysis on invading western juniper. The western junipers observed had established in a low sagebrush community between 1600 and 1800 and persist now with a density of 69 trees per acre (28 trees/ha). Fire was evidently sporadic temporally and spatially: only 0.4% of western juniper had fire scars. Some had multiple scars indicating that fires were very small and/or patchy with return intervals that ranged from 10 to 90 years . Fire regimes for ecosystems and communities of which low sagebrush is a component are listed below. See the FEIS species summaries of the ecosystem dominants listed below for more information.
|Community or Ecosystem||Dominant Species||Fire Return Interval Range (years)|
|sagebrush steppe||Artemisia tridentata/Pseudoroegneria spicata||20-70 |
|basin big sagebrush||Artemisia tridentata var. tridentata||12-43 |
|mountain big sagebrush||Artemisia tridentata var. vaseyana||15-40 [29,44,74]|
|Wyoming big sagebrush||Artemisia tridentata var. wyomingensis||10-70 (40**) [109,121]|
|saltbush-greasewood||Atriplex confertifolia-Sarcobatus vermiculatus||< 35 to < 100|
|cheatgrass||Bromus tectorum||< 10 |
|curlleaf mountain-mahogany*||Cercocarpus ledifolius||13-1000 [5,98]|
|mountain-mahogany-Gambel oak scrub||Cercocarpus ledifolius-Quercus gambelii||< 35 to < 100|
|blackbrush||Coleogyne ramosissima||< 35 to < 100|
|California steppe||Festuca-Danthonia spp.||< 35|
|western juniper||Juniperus occidentalis||20-70|
|Rocky Mountain juniper||Juniperus scopulorum||< 35|
|pinyon-juniper||Pinus-Juniperus spp.||< 35|
|Colorado pinyon||Pinus edulis||10-49 |
|Pacific ponderosa pine*||Pinus ponderosa var. ponderosa||1-47 |
|interior ponderosa pine*||Pinus ponderosa var. scopulorum||2-30 [3,8,64]|
|mountain grasslands||Pseudoroegneria spicata||3-40 (10**) [2,3]|
Blaisdell and others  state that prescribed burning of sagebrush range to improve forage production is useful only when: 1) soils are stable and slopes less than 30%, 2) sagebrush is dense and is more than 33% of plant cover (scattered brush does not limit range productivity), 3) Fire resistant grasses and forbs are more than 20% of cover, and 4) wildlife issues have been taken into consideration as sagebrush is an important part of diets in some areas. They also recommend that burned sagebrush sites (accidental or prescribed) be protected from grazing for 1 or 2 growing seasons. To minimize impacts to wildlife, particularly sage-grouse, burning in patches rather than large areas is recommended . Fall burning is most advantageous from the perspective of conserving desirable grasses for forage, but if weather is conducive, spring burning also kills sagebrush with minimal damage to other species .
Generally sagebrush grasslands carry fire only when herbaceous fuels exceed 600 to 700 pounds per acre (674-786 kg/ha) . Because forage production is often much lower in low sagebrush habitat types, these types have been used successfully as a firelines where they are adjacent to big sagebrush or other communities where fire is prescribed [12,118,120].
Big, threetip, silver, low, and black sagebrushes are important foods of sage-grouse throughout the year; between October and April sage-grouse depend completely on sagebrushes for food [10,20,90,124]. Alkali sagebrush is less used than other subspecies . The Columbian sharp-tailed grouse also uses low sagebrush for cover but prefers that of big sagebrush . Most species of songbirds using sagebrush grasslands depend on the sagebrush component .
Big game: Mule deer utilize and sometimes prefer low sagebrush, particularly in winter and early spring [20,107,124]. In Wyoming, low sagebrush is of moderate value to big game; it is favored over tall threetip sagebrush, broom snakeweed, common juniper (Juniperus communis), shrubby cinquefoil (Dasiphora floribunda), red elderberry (Sambucus racemosum var. pubens), russet buffaloberry (Shepherdia canadensis), and snowberry . Hotsprings sagebrush in Wyoming is generally used in the spring. During summer other more palatable forage is available, and in the winter it is generally under snow .
In some areas pronghorn prefer big sagebrush to black, low, alkali, and silver sagebrushes [20,124]. In the Great Basin, big sagebrush is less important. Pronghorn use low sagebrush communities very heavily in summer; shadscale, black sagebrush, and winterfat communities are used in winter . Low shrublands, particularly those with low sagebrush, are important summer range for pronghorn in southeastern Oregon, particularly when introduced grasses like alfalfa (Medicago sativa) and crested wheatgrass (Agropyron cristatum) are also used . Low sagebrush/bunchgrass habitats in southern Oregon are used by bighorn sheep, particularly in spring .
Domestic sheep and, to a much lesser degree, cattle consume gray low sagebrush, particularly during the spring, fall, and winter . Productivity of low sagebrush communities is generally considerably less than that of big sagebrush. In the Ruby Mountains of Nevada, forage production of 400 to 600 pounds per acre (450-680 kg/ha) is common (much of which is in sagebrush herbage) . The hotsprings sagebrush/Idaho fescue type in Idaho averages between 100 and 400 pounds per acre (110-450 kg/ha) of which 25 to 33% is from forb species. On low sagebrush/bluebunch wheatgrass habitat types in Idaho forage production is seldom greater than 400 pounds per acre (450 kg/ha); it usually averages 100 to 300 pounds per acre (110-340 kg/ha). The low sagebrush/Idaho fescue habitat type in Idaho produces between 100 and 400 pounds (110-450 kg/ha) of forage per year .PALATABILITY:
|small nongame birds||good||----||----||fair||good|
|upland game birds||good||----||----||fair||good|
Energy and protein values of low sagebrush are rated fair [34,44]. Crude protein, fat, and fiber contents of hotsprings sagebrush leaves and stems are 6.40%, 4.40%, and 34.54%, respectively . Percent crude protein varied from 10 to 13% in low sagebrush in central Oregon, peaking in April when use by mule deer is highest . Alkali sagebrush has a more rapid seasonal drop in percent crude protein than other, later blooming sagebrushes . Nutrient values were measured as follows :
|leaves||stems||leaves and stems|
|crude protein (%)||10.41||3.67||10.69|
|crude fat (%)||9.11||1.21||7.73|
|crude fiber (%)||18.26||26.79||56.79|
Low sagebrush and big sagebrush are important cover for sage-grouse throughout its range [10,20]. Gray low sagebrush has some value as cover, especially for small birds and mammals. Sage-grouse use low sagebrush communities for nesting, roosting, and resting sites , as well as for escape cover. Mule deer use gray low sagebrush communities in Oregon as fawning and fawn-rearing areas . Cover values for various wildlife species have been rated as follows [34,66]:
|small nongame birds||poor||poor||----||fair||good|
|upland game birds||----||poor||----||fair||good|
VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES:
Low sagebrush can be successfully transplanted or seeded in restoration . Low sagebrush reproduces via layering but this has not been extensively studied with respect to revegetation purposes . Transplanting is commonly successful, either in spring or fall [73,87]. Broadcast seeding is also used . Low sagebrush establishment from seed has been rated as "medium," and establishment from transplants as "very good." Seed production and handling are rated as "medium" because seeds are small. Natural spread by seed and vegetatively is "good." Gray low sagebrush and hotsprings sagebrush are well-adapted to disturbance and are able to stabilize soil . Alkali sagebrush has been useful in rehabilitating basic mine spoils produced from oil shale works .
OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS:
There have historically been extensive efforts including burning, disking, chaining, and herbicide spraying aimed at reducing sagebrush cover in favor of more desirable forage [77,95]. Much of this has harmed sage-grouse habitat . Additionally, grasses have generally not responded favorably to sagebrush removal. Revegetation of drier sites may be extremely difficult because of moisture stress and a short growing season. This was especially true where poor condition low sagebrush/bottlebrush squirreltail range was treated in northern Nevada; these sites showed little increase in forage production for 2 to 4 years even with grazing practices conducive to grass establishment . Severely disturbed gray low sagebrush communities, particularly those on heavy clay soils, are susceptible to invasion by medusahead [32,120,122]. There are some reports of low sagebrush removal improving the productivity of grasses such as Idaho fescue, bluebunch wheatgrass, and Thurber neeedlegrass , but in most cases the low potential gain in forage is offset by negative consequences [20,27,123]. Shrub removal may also increase erosion to further reduce grass establishment . In addition, even when control is successful, sagebrush reinvasion cannot be prevented by good grazing management (but is hastened by poor management) .
The shallow, claypan soils in low sagebrush stands restrict drainage and root growth, resulting in low productivity and limited use. Severe trampling damage to supersaturated soils could occur if sites are used in early spring when there is abundant snowmelt. Trampling damage in low sagebrush habitat types is greatest when high clay content soils are wet. In drier areas with more gravelly soils, no serious trampling damage occurs, even when the soils are wet . Light spring grazing is recommended . Also during early spring, frost heaving, due to the saturated conditions, may adversely affect seedling establishment .
Weeds: Medusahead, an annual grass native to Asia, is of concern in low sagebrush communities because it decreases forage for livestock and wild game and increases fire frequency . Like low sagebrush, medusahead exhibits a strong preference for clay soils . In northeastern California and northwestern Nevada, clayey soils have supported Lahontan sagebrush. Establishment of Lahontan sagebrush increased the deposition and residence time of aeolian dust. The veneer and cryptobiotic soil crust on aeolian dust are more hardy than those on clay soils without aeolian deposition. The crust protecting the aeolian dust has been disturbed by grazing. This process has facilitated invasion and growth of medusahead .
Herbicides: All varieties are susceptible to 2,4-D, particularly in spring . Spraying is more effective if it is done before vegetative growth is completed. Early season spraying also causes less damage to broadleaf herbs in the understory. Chemical removal of gray low sagebrush can increase herbaceous production on some sites but on most sites it is counterproductive [17,120]. Treatment of smaller blocks can minimize adverse impacts on wildlife. Alkali sagebrush has an earlier phenology than most other sagebrush species, and this could affect effectiveness of herbicidal control where it is mixed with other species of sagebrush .
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