SPECIES: Artemisia rigida
Dave Powell, USDA Forest Service, www.forestryimages.org
The most common associate of stiff sagebrush in Oregon is Sandberg bluegrass. Biscuitroots (Lomatium spp.) are also common. Cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) and other annual grasses and forbs become major increasers on disturbed sites of stiff sagebrush . Also in Oregon, in the Blue Mountains, Hall  describes the most common associates of stiff sagebrush in a western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis ssp. occidentalis)/stiff sagebrush/bluegrass (Poa spp.) plant community in good range condition as Sandberg bluegrass, onespike oatgrass (Danthonia unispicata), and often bighead clover (Trifolium macrocephalum). He states cheatgrass and western yarrow (Achillea millefolium) are absent from range sites in poor condition because of site limitations. Also in the Blue Mountains of Oregon, Hall  lists Sandberg bluegrass, wheatgrass (Triticeae), dwarf squirreltail (Elymus elymoides ssp. hordeoides), and bighead clover as vegetation dominants in stiff sagebrush stands.
In Idaho Hironaka and others  list a habitat type of stiff sagebrush/Sandberg bluegrass as occurring on shallow, basalt-derived soils. Other species associated with this habitat type include bottlebrush squirreltail (E. elymoides), crested wheatgrass (A. cristatum), tapertip onion (Allium acuminatum), bulbous woodland-star (Lithophragma glabrum), Bailey's buckwheat (Eriogonum baileyi), and low-growing biscuitroots. Cheatgrass and/or medusahead (Taeniatherum caput-medusae) occur sparsely in all stands, even when fully protected from all grazing.
Clary and others  describe a habitat type of stiff sagebrush/Sandberg bluegrass in the Pole Creek drainage in Oregon that is restricted to rocky, basalt sites with shallow soil. Agee  describes a scabland plant series in the Columbia Basin of stiff sagebrush/Sandberg bluegrass.
A plant association of stiff sagebrush/bluegrass (Poa spp.) in eastern Washington and northern Idaho is described as an edaphic climax community along the brows of hills on thin, stony soils . Similarly, Culver  describes an edaphic climax plant association of stiff sagebrush/Sandberg bluegrass in Oregon. In Washington Daubenmire  delineates a stiff sagebrush/Sandberg bluegrass habitat type where the soil is always thin and stony with balsaltic bedrock immediately below.
Other classification systems describing plant communities in which stiff sagebrush is a dominant species are listed below:
Wallowa-Whitman National Forest (Oregon) 
Meeks Table Research Natural Area (Washington) 
Canyon grasslands and associated shrublands of west-central Idaho and adjacent areas 
Stiff sagebrush is a native, deciduous shrub. It is low and spreading with a conspicuously woody base. The base is often heaved from the soil by frost action. The trunk is very irregular, spreading above the base in a dense cluster of short, rigid, and rather brittle branches up to 16 inches (40 cm) in length. Flowering stems elongate up to 1 foot (30 cm). Vegetative leaves are 0.4 to 1.6 inches (1-4 cm) long, with a narrow base and 3 conspicuous, narrowly linear lobes forming a trident. The fruit is a ribbed achene 1.5 mm long [8,38,59].
Most of the roots of stiff sagebrush are concentrated in rock fractures, and
80% of the roots of stiff sagebrush occur in the first 2 to 9 inches (5-23 cm)
of soil .
RAUNKIAER  LIFE FORM:
Very little information about regeneration processes of stiff sagebrush is available in the literature. Where information about sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) in general is applicable, it is included.
Breeding system: Pendleton and others  describe sagebrush as monoecious.
Pollination: Stiff sagebrush is wind pollinated .
Seed production: All sagebrushes produce achenes "in profusion" . No specific information about seed production of stiff sagebrush is available.
Seed dispersal: Sagebrush seed in general has very poor dispersal. It lacks appendages for airborne transport by wind or attachment to animals. Most seed falls beneath the plant and the plant community moves 3 feet (0.9 m) or less per generation . There are no specific references to dispersal of stiff sagebrush seeds in the literature.
Seed banking: No information on seed banking of stiff sagebrush is available. Mueggler  found that after fire, big sagebrush (A. tridentata) seedlings arose from seed stored in the soil. Beetle  states seed of mountain silver sagebrush (A. cana ssp. viscidula) stored for 4 years under ordinary room temperatures was still viable.
Germination: In a discussion of sagebrush seed in general, Beetle  states sagebrush seed can germinate in 48 hours. Seed exposed to light resulted in germination percentages 3 times higher than sagebrush seed germinated in the dark. There is no evidence that sagebrush seed that survives the summer germinates in the fall under field conditions. Under field conditions, fluctuating extremes of temperatures (which are the rule in early spring) may be of less importance than the duration of a high noon temperature.
Seedling establishment/growth: Germinated sagebrush seeds can have fully exposed cotyledons within 4 days . Shade from the canopy of mature sagebrush plants is a strong factor in seedling survival. Seedlings in direct sun have higher mortality.
Survival of sagebrush seedlings is directly related to the litter layer. With less litter there is a better likelihood of sagebrush seedlings establishing.
Stiff sagebrush is not known to rootsprout or to layer
Stiff sagebrush occurs on harsh, unproductive sites . It is restricted to shallow, stony sites over basaltic bedrock [21,22] with severe moisture saturation during winter and severe frost heaving [28,31]. Where subsoils exist they are strongly developed of clay and permeability is extremely low . In a stiff sagebrush/Sandberg bluegrass habitat type in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest in Washington and Idaho, average depth of the soil to bedrock is 4 to 9 inches (10-23 cm) .
Miller and Eddleman  describe annual precipitation at stiff sagebrush sites as 7.9 to 15.7 inches (200-400 mm). Precipitation on a habitat type of stiff sagebrush/Sandberg bluegrass in southern Idaho ranges from 12 to 20 inches (305-508 mm) .
Several elevational ranges for stiff sagebrush have been delineated:
Miller and Eddleman  describe the elevational
range of stiff sagebrush, in general, as 755 to 4,265 feet (230-1,300 m).
Beetle  gives the elevational range of stiff sagebrush on rocky scablands as between 3,000 to 5,000 feet (914-1,424 m).
Hall  describes the elevational range of stiff sagebrush in the Blue Mountains of Eastern Oregon and southeastern Washington as 4,000 to 5,600 feet (1,219-1,707 m).
In the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, stiff sagebrush sites occur from 3,300 to 5,500 feet (1,006-1,676 m) with a mean altitude of 4,600 feet (1,400 m) .
In Oregon, Winward  describes the elevational range of stiff sagebrush as 3,000 to 7,000 feet (914-2,134 m).
Stiff sagebrush is part of the climax vegetation on sites where it occurs. Johnson  describes stiff sagebrush as "clearly" the climax vegetation of very harsh, unproductive range sites.
On scabland sites on the Bridge Creek Wildlife Management Area in northeastern
Oregon, stiff sagebrush is part of a climax plant community
. In eastern Washington and northern Idaho
stiff sagebrush is described as part of an edaphic climax community along the
brows of hills on thin, stony soils . Culver  also describes an edaphic climax vegetation association in Oregon where
stiff sagebrush is the only shrub present.
Beetle  describes the phenology of stiff sagebrush as new growth beginning in June, young seedheads developing late July to August, flowering in October, and seed ripening in October. Blaisdell and others  and McArthur and others  state seed ripens in stiff sagebrush in November.
Fire regimes: There is no specific information in the literature concerning fire regimes for stiff sagebrush. Researchers agree the vegetation on stiff sagebrush sites is so depauperate, it won't support fire. Agee  describes a stiff sagebrush/Sandberg's bluegrass plant series in the Columbia River Basin and concludes it has such low biomass productivity (125-335 kg/ha ) that it would not carry fire and probably "rarely" burned. Bunting and others  classify stiff sagebrush as a "dwarf" sagebrush and state there is seldom sufficient fuel to carry a fire. Tisdale and Hironaka  report the sparse herbaceous understory of stiff sagebrush stands make them virtually immune to fire. Humphrey  states stiff sagebrush is small in stature and typically occurs on poorly drained sites with few grasses or other potentially flammable growth. These stands are often restricted in area and do not provide an opportunity for extensive burns.
Fire regimes for plant communities and ecosystems in which stiff sagebrush
occurs are summarized below. For further information regarding fire regimes and
fire ecology of communities and ecosystems where stiff sagebrush is found, see
the "Fire Ecology Adaptations" section of the FEIS species summary for the plant
community or ecosystem dominants listed below.
|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 [5,15,41]|
|Wyoming big sagebrush||Artemisia tridentata var. wyomingensis||10-70 (40**) [58,62]|
|curlleaf mountain-mahogany*||Cercocarpus ledifolius||13-1,000 [7,49]|
|western juniper||Juniperus occidentalis||20-70|
|Rocky Mountain juniper||Juniperus scopulorum||< 35|
|pinyon-juniper||Pinus-Juniperus spp.||< 35 |
|Jeffrey pine||Pinus jeffreyi||5-30|
|Pacific ponderosa pine*||Pinus ponderosa var. ponderosa||1-47 |
|mountain grasslands||Pseudoroegneria spicata||3-40 (10**) [3,4]|
|Rocky Mountain Douglas-fir*||Pseudotsuga menziesii var. glauca||25-100 [4,5,6]|
Since stiff sagebrush is a preferred browse plant for livestock and wildlife, prescribed burning in stiff sagebrush communities cannot be widely recommended . Johnson and Simon  state stiff sagebrush has a high value to wildlife and should not be eradicated.
Johnson and Simon  conclude the intershrub distances in stiff sagebrush stands coupled with discontinuous grass cover make fire a difficult tool to use.
Daubenmire  states stiff sagebrush is preferred browse for elk and that domestic livestock also consume stiff sagebrush readily when grass forage is not plentiful. Daubenmire  notes the angularity of the basaltic blocks which comprise so much of the surface in stiff sagebrush stands makes footing uncomfortable for livestock during the rainy grazing season in Washington. Consequently, grass-dominated communities in the vegetation mosaic are utilized "rather completely" before stiff sagebrush bushes are browsed to "compact mats."
Western sage-grouse in Washington use stiff sage-brush as food . Willis and others  state western sage-grouse in Oregon use stiff sagebrush; the authors don't delineate whether it is used for food, cover, or both.
Palatability/nutritional value: Both livestock and wildlife find stiff sagebrush palatable. Daubenmire  describes stiff sagebrush as "rather palatable" to livestock and Hall  states stiff sagebrush is highly palatable to big game and livestock. Seedheads of stiff sagebrush in August and September seem to be a prized forage. Hironaka and others  describe stiff sagebrush sites as heavily grazed, even in winter, when protein content of stiff sagebrush is "relatively low."
Bare ground and rock usually account for greater than 60% of the ground cover in stiff sagebrush
stands, so hiding cover is typically sparse . Dealy and others  state
the low stature and wide dispersion of stiff sagebrush stands in southeastern
Oregon do not provide cover of any consequence for animals larger than horned larks or
ground squirrels. Lack of leaves in winter severely reduces the little cover stiff sagebrush
offers. However, Tirhi  states western sage-grouse in Washington use stiff sagebrush for cover.
VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES:
Stiff sagebrush appears to have a wider potential distribution than is indicated by its present natural range of occurrence, giving it potential use in reclamation of some harsh disturbed sites . Seeds of stiff sagebrush number 550,000 per pound (1,210/g) .
Stiff sagebrush is an excellent indicator of scabland .
OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS:
Johnson  states establishment of introduced species in stiff sagebrush stands is very difficult. Because existing flora is generally superior to any introduced species, the best management strategy is to leave the native shrubs in place and to control present uses to maintain or improve the site's ecological condition. Hall  feels seeding of grasses is not possible in stiff sagebrush stands because shallow soils and waterlogging during winter are "inimical" to domestic grasses. He also states stiff sagebrush should not be sprayed because it is palatable to livestock and game animals and because it reduces wind speed over the soil surface.
Hironaka and others  discuss a habitat type of stiff sagebrush/Sandberg bluegrass in southern Idaho and conclude since this habitat type grows on extremely shallow, rocky soils, a stiff sagebrush control program would probably not be beneficial. Sandberg bluegrass is not able to take advantage of additional soil moisture that may result from removal of stiff sagebrush. Reseeding with introduced species of wheatgrass would not be economical because of the site's soils. Increase in forage yields by restoration practices may not justify treatment costs. Programs designed to manage stiff sagebrush sites should be designed to maintain an open stand of sagebrush with a scattered understory of native herbaceous species.
Range condition of stiff sagebrush sites in the Blue Mountains can be determined using a 9.6 ft2 (0.9 m2) plot to measure crown cover. Plants counted to determine range condition include stiff sagebrush, Sandberg bluegrass, wheatgrass, and bighead clover as counted plants is :
|Range condition||Percent crown cover||Number of plants|
|Good||40||12 or more|
|Fair||20 to 39||6 to 11|
|Poor||2 to 19||1 to 5|
|Very poor||none of plants listed|
A study by Dahl and Tisdale  concludes communities of stiff sagebrush/Sandberg bluegrass are susceptible to invasion by medusahead.
Belknap and others  state stiff sagebrush stands have a "high" relative biological crust cover.
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