SPECIES: Artemisia tridentata subsp. tridentata

INTRODUCTORY

SPECIES: Artemisia tridentata subsp. tridentata
Basin big sagebrush/Indian ricegrass community in Harney County, Oregon. Photo courtesy of the PRBO Conservation Science Shrubsteppe Monitoring Program.


AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION:

Tirmenstein, D. 1999. Artemisia tridentata spp. tridentata. 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:

ARTTRIT
ARTTRI

SYNONYMS:

Artemisia tridentata Nutt. var. tridentata (Beetle & Young) Welsh [28,113]
Seriphidium tridentatum (Nutt.) Weber [109]

NRCS PLANT CODE:

ARTRT

COMMON NAMES:

basin big sagebrush

TAXONOMY:

The scientific name of basin big sagebrush is Artemisia tridentata Nutt. subsp. tridentata (Asteraceae) [6,49,62]. Genotypic and phenotypic variation is common in basin big sagebrush. Both diploid and tetraploid plants occur, but diploids are most common [4]. At least 4 or 5 subspecies of big sagebrush (A. tridentata) have been identified [49,62]. Kartesz [62] recognizes the following subspecies:

A. tridentata subsp. tridentata - basin big sagebrush
A. tridentata subsp. spiciformis (Osterhout) Kartesz & Gandhi - snowfield big sagebrush
A. tridentata subsp. vaseyana (Rydb.) Beetle - mountain big sagebrush
A. tridentata subsp. wyomingensis Beetle & Young - Wyoming big sagebrush
A. tridentata subsp. xericensis Winward ex Rosentreter & R. Kelsey - big sagebrush

Freeman and others [39] suggest "each subspecies is distinct in pure stands, but at contact points introgression may blur the distinctions." Ecotypes occur in each subspecies [73].

Hybrids between basin big sagebrush and mountain big sagebrush have been confirmed [44,67]. "Hybrid zones" exist between these 2 subspecies in parts of Utah [39,40,106]. In southeastern Idaho, introgression between the 2 subspecies is common [94]. The "hybrid zone" which occurs across a narrow elevational band between the 2 parent taxa is believed to be stable. In Utah, it is generally less than 0.6 miles (1 km) wide and in some locations, less than 330 feet (100 m) wide [40]. Hybrids between basin big sagebrush and mountain big sagebrush are intermediate for all characters and exhibit considerable genetic variation [40,107].

LIFE FORM:

shrub

FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS:

No special status

OTHER STATUS:

no entry


DISTRIBUTION AND OCCURRENCE

SPECIES: Artemisia tridentata subsp. tridentata
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION:

Big sagebrush is one of the most widespread and economically important shrubs in western North America [39]. Basin big sagebrush is the most extensive in distribution and range of variation in the Great Basin and Columbia Plateau [108]. It is distributed from Washington east to the Dakotas and south to California, Arizona, and New Mexico [114]. Basin big sagebrush is found from the floor of the Great Basin to upper timberline, although it is not abundant in all zones [108]. It occurs in relatively small stands east of the Cascades in Oregon [117].

ECOSYSTEMS:

FRES21 Ponderosa pine
FRES29 Sagebrush
FRES30 Desert shrub
FRES34 Chaparral-mountain shrub
FRES35 Pinyon-juniper
FRES36 Mountain grasslands
FRES38 Plains grasslands
FRES40 Desert grasslands

STATES:
AZ CA CO ID MT NV ND NM OR SD UT WA WY
AB BC
MEXICO

BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS:

5 Columbia Plateau
6 Upper Basin and Range
7 Lower Basin and Range
8 Northern Rocky Mountains
9 Middle Rocky Mountains
10 Wyoming Basin
11 Southern Rocky Mountains
12 Colorado Plateau
16 Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands

KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS:

K022 Great Basin pine forest
K023 Juniper-pinyon woodland
K024 Juniper steppe woodland
K037 Mountain mahogany-oak scrub
K038 Great Basin sagebrush
K039 Blackbrush
K040 Saltbush-greasewood
K041 Creosotebush
K051 Wheatgrass-bluegrass
K055 Sagebrush steppe
K056 Wheatgrass-needlegrass shrubsteppe
K057 Galleta-three-awn shrubsteppe
K064 Grama-needlegrass-wheatgrass
K066 Wheatgrass-needlegrass

SAF COVER TYPES:

220 Rocky Mountain juniper
237 Interior ponderosa pine

SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES:

104 Antelope bitterbrush-bluebunch wheatgrass
107 Western juniper-big sagebrush-bluebunch wheatgrass
210 Bitterbrush
212 Blackbrush
302 Bluebunch wheatgrass-Sandberg bluegrass
303 Bunchgrass wheatgrass-western wheatgrass
304 Idaho fescue-bluebunch wheatgrass
314 Big sagebrush-bluebunch wheatgrass
316 Big sagebrush-rough fescue
320 Black sagebrush-bluebunch wheatgrass
321 Black sagebrush-Idaho fescue
322 Curlleaf mountain mahogany-bluebunch wheatgrass
324 Threetip sagebrush-Idaho fescue
401 Basin sagebrush
412 Juniper-pinyon woodland
415 Curlleaf mountain-mahogany
416 True mountain-mahogany
504 Juniper-pinyon woodlands
607 Wheatgrass-needlegrass
608 Wheatgrass-grama-needlegrass
611 Blue grama-buffalograss
612 Sagebrush-grass
615 Wheatgrass-saltgrass-grama

HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES:
 
Basin big sagebrush community in sandy soil, Washoe County, Nevada. An understory is mostly lacking. Photo courtesy of the PRBO Conservation Science Shrubsteppe Monitoring Program.

Basin big sagebrush commonly grows in association with cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum), bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata), Thurber needlegrass (Achnatherum thurberianum), needle-and-thread grass (Hesperostipa comata), Idaho fescue (Festuca idahoensis), and Sandberg bluegrass (Poa secunda) [51,117].

Common shrub associates include broom snakeweed (Gutierrezia sarothrae) and green rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus) [51]. Basin big sagebrush is a climax dominant on semiarid sites in the Pacific Northwest, Great Basin, and the Southwest. Publications describing community types dominated by basin big sagebrush are listed below.

A preliminary classification of the natural vegetation of Colorado [2]
Steppe vegetation of Washington [29]
Sagebrush-grass habitat types of southern Idaho [50]
Plant associations of the Crooked River National Grassland [52]
A sagebrush community type classification for mountainous northeastern Nevada rangeland [57]
Correlation between soils and sagebrush-dominated plant communities of northeastern Nevada [58]
Soil characteristics of mountainous northeastern Nevada sagebrush community types [59]
Grassland and shrubland habitat types of western Montana [76]
Shrub-steppe habitat types of Middle Park, Colorado [98]
Grassland and shrubland habitat types of the Shoshone National Forest [101]
A management-oriented classification of pinyon-juniper woodlands of the Great Basin [116]


MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS

SPECIES: Artemisia tridentata subsp. tridentata
Brewer's sparrow on nest and Brewer's sparrow perched on big sagebrush. Photos courtesy of the PRBO Conservation Science Shrubsteppe Monitoring Program.
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE:

Considerable quantities of big sagebrush are eaten by sage grouse, mule deer, and pronghorn [92]. In southwestern Montana, basin big sagebrush is browsed by elk and mule deer from autumn through early spring [104]. In parts of Montana, mule deer use, but do not prefer basin big sagebrush [82,105]. In Oregon, mule deer showed an intermediate preference for basin big sagebrush in winter feeding trials. In fall trials, mule deer used, but did not prefer basin big sagebrush. Mule deer use of basin big sagebrush in Oregon is, in general, described as "intermediate" [93]. For mule deer in Utah, basin big sagebrush is the least preferred of all subspecies of big sagebrush [111]. In some instances, mule deer preference of basin big sagebrush varies greatly by local population [112].

Pygmy rabbits forage extensively on big sagebrush [110]. Pygmy rabbits feed on basin big sagebrush but show preference for certain accessions [112].

Basin big sagebrush generally is not preferred by sage grouse; however, the birds do exhibit preferences for certain individual plants. Sage grouse readily feed on basin big sagebrush where mountain and Wyoming big sagebrush are absent [112].

In fall, domestic sheep in Oregon fed on basin big sagebrush to a limited degree. During the winter months, the sheep exhibited a "moderate preference for basin big sagebrush." In general, domestic sheep preference for basin big sagebrush in Oregon is described as "low" [93]. In Utah, some accessions (mostly tetraploid) of basin big sagebrush were preferred by domestic sheep [111].

Basin big sagebrush may serve as emergency food during severe winter weather, but it is not usually sought out by livestock or wildlife [7]. However, researchers emphasize that although basin big sagebrush is not preferred by wildlife, it is nevertheless, heavily used particularly during winter when preferred taxa are not available. In southwestern Montana, winter leader use by mule deer ranged from 4% to 71% [105].

PALATABILITY:

Palatability varies great among the subspecies of big sagebrush [92]. Basin big sagebrush is the least palatable of the three major subspecies of big sagebrush [82]. Both mountain big sagebrush and Wyoming big sagebrush are preferred [110]. Palatability of basin big sagebrush is in general "low" [66].

The palatability and degree of use shown by livestock and wildlife species for basin big sagebrush is rated as follows [33]:

                     MT        ND        WY
Cattle               poor      poor      poor
Domestic sheep       fair      good      fair
Horses               poor      poor      poor
Pronghorn            ----      good      poor
Elk                  ----      fair      poor
Mule deer            ----      good      poor
Small mammals        ----      fair      fair
Small nongame birds  ----      fair      fair
Upland game birds    ----      good      fair
Waterfowl            ----      poor      poor
NUTRITIONAL VALUE:

In general, big sagebrush is highly digestible and nutritious [105]. It has high levels of protein, carotene, and phosphorus [88]. Digestibility of big sagebrush is influenced by the total terpenoid content [105]. Basin big sagebrush has relatively high levels of crude terpenoids that can reduce palatability [96]. Basin big sagebrush has a higher winter crude protein content than mountain big sagebrush [89].

In-vitro digestibility (%, oven-dried) of basin big sagebrush in Montana has been rated as follows [96]:

                whole sagebrush      terpenoid-extracted sagebrush*
                1/1   2/15   4/1     1/1     2/15      4/1
mule deer       47.2  63.4   62.4    59.5    65.6      75.7
domestic sheep  54.0  55.3   59.6    71.8    72.3      75.2
steer           55.8  56.6   58.4    68.7    69.1      72.3 
*Leaf samples from which terpenoid compounds were removed prior to drying
COVER VALUE:

Big sagebrush provides some shade for domestic livestock and important cover for several upland game bird species [25]. In presettlement times, the range of the sage grouse paralleled the range of big sagebrush. Basin big sagebrush provides important cover for sage grouse [8]. Basin big sagebrush also provides cover for small mammals such as the pygmy rabbit [110].

The degree to which basin big sagebrush provides cover for wildlife species is as follows [33]:

                      
                         CO       UT       WY
Pronghorn                ----     fair     good
Elk                      ----     fair     good
Mule deer                ----     fair     good
White-tailed deer        good     ----     ----
Small mammals            ----     good     fair
Small nongame birds      ----     good     good
Upland game birds        ----     good     good
Waterfowl                ----     poor     good
VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES:

Basin big sagebrush shows high potential for range restoration and soil stabilization [66]. Big sagebrush grows rapidly and spreads readily from seed. Seed can be broadcast or drilled [92]. It is important to select basin big sagebrush seed adapted to the specific site [73]. Studies indicate that seedling survival is much higher for seed collections planted in a habitat similar to that of the parent population [75].

Transplant stock can also be used in rehabilitation projects [92]. Seedlings are easily transplanted and may be used to stabilize gullies and eroded hillsides. Transplants reproduce and begin to spread from seed in 3 to 7 years [86].

Sagebrush species are associated with mycorrhizal fungus in the genus Glomus. The presence of these fungi may be required for the successful establishment of seedlings. Areas that lose their sagebrush cover due to frequent fire and are dominated subsequently by nonmycorrhizal cheatgrass may no longer have the fungi in the soil. Sagebrush reestablishment may be inhibited on these sites [88].

OTHER USES AND VALUES:

Basin big sagebrush shows promise as a snow hedge [68].

Some Native American peoples used the bark of big sagebrush to make ropes and baskets [52].

OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS:

Management of sagebrush can include regulating animal numbers to levels the plants can tolerate [105]. Excessive fall use by domestic sheep can sometimes kill big sagebrush [82].

The shelter basin big sagebrush provides livestock and wildlife can be evaluated when management options are considered. Its usefulness as wind and sun protection may exceed any benefits gained by its removal. When basin big sagebrush is removed from drainages, soil erosion can become a problem [51].

Big sagebrush can be controlled by burning or with herbicides. Big sagebrush can be controlled with herbicides although variable results have been reported [1,26,27]. Tebuthiuron, 2,4-D, and 2,4,5-T have been effective in killing big sagebrush [53,54,56,69,80]. Success depends on such factors as rates of application, dates of spraying, and types of carriers used [27,53,56,69]. In eastern Oregon, mid-season applications (late May-early June) were most injurious to big sagebrush [56]. Similarly in California, best control was obtained when plants were treated from late May through mid-June [27]. In Wyoming, Hull and others [53] reported that diesel oil carriers were more effective than applications with water. Both aerial and ground applications are effective in controlling big sagebrush [27,53,54].

Length of big sagebrush control is highly variable. In Wyoming, Thilenius and Brown [97] observed some big sagebrush reinvasion within 10 years after herbicide applications. Deferment from cattle grazing for as long as 3 years after big sagebrush control had no effect on herbage production. However, Johnson [61] reported that it is important to manage grazing after sagebrush spraying. Caution should be used where big sagebrush provides habitat for sage grouse. Klebenow [63] found that herbicide application was detrimental to sage grouse populations.


BOTANICAL AND ECOLOGICAL CHARACTERISTICS

SPECIES: Artemisia tridentata subsp. tridentata

GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS:

Basin big sagebrush is an erect, rounded or somewhat spreading evergreen shrub which normally grows 3 to 10 feet (1-2 m) in height [110]. It occasionally occurs as a dwarf shrub or can be treelike in appearance, reaching a height of 16 feet (5 m). Maximum stature is reached on deep, well-drained soils in sheltered areas. Variability in plant height occurs along a moisture gradient, with larger plants occurring on more mesic sites [6].

Basin big sagebrush has a multistemmed form with a relatively thick trunk and an irregular crown. It is often characterized by a discernible main trunk [44]. It commonly reaches 40 to 50 years of age, and some plants may exceed 100 years. Slow-growing individuals on unfavorable sites attain the greatest age.

The root systems of all subspecies of big sagebrush are well adapted to extract moisture from both shallow and deep portions of the soil profile. This makes them highly competitive with associated grasses and forbs [19,101].

Basin big sagebrush exhibits greater plant height, crown cover, production, and annual leader growth than Wyoming big sagebrush

RAUNKIAER [87] LIFE FORM:

Phanerophyte

REGENERATION PROCESSES:

Basin big sagebrush reproduces from seed. None of the subspecies of big sagebrush resprout after fire or other disturbance [93]. Flowers are self- or wind-pollinated [42,94,121]. Plants 2 to 3 years of age are capable of producing viable seed. Approximately 90% of big sagebrush seed is dispersed within 30 feet (9 m) of the parent shrub [42]. Few seeds are carried more than 100 feet (30 m) [94]. Density falls off rapidly away from the parent shrub, with maximum seed dispersal at approximately 108 feet (33 m) [42,94]. The rate of seed dispersal depends on wind and storm activity after seeds reach maturity [94].

Wind is the primary dispersal agent, although animal and water dispersal can also occur. Animals can serve as a minor dispersal agent when seeds are dislodged as the animals brush against branches. Seeds of big sagebrush contain a small air space which permits floatation in water. Rates of seed dispersal are slower in basin big sagebrush than in other subspecies. Seed dispersal takes approximately 8 weeks [94]. Seed of basin big sagebrush is short-lived and lasts less than 5 years when stored in a warehouse [77]. Some seedbanking occurs in other subspecies of big sagebrush [74], so seedbanking in basin big sagebrush is probable. Some basin big sagebrush seeds remained viable after prescribed burning in Utah. Emergence of basin big sagebrush seedlings on burned soil was reduced, however, compared to emergence of Wyoming and mountain big sagebrush. It was also reduced compared to emergence of basin big sagebrush on unburned control soil [26].

Germination may occur during winter or even late fall at mild winter sites such as the Mojave Desert, but at cold winter sites, it may be delayed until snowmelt [75,77].

Big sagebrush seeds germinate within a wide range of temperature. Rates of germination of unstratified seed vary according to temperature, with basin big sagebrush requiring 2 to 3 days at all temperatures [72]. According to Meyer and others [77], big basin sagebrush seed from cold winter populations germinate much more slowly at near-freezing temperatures than do seeds from warm winter populations and also exhibit dormancy under autumn temperature regimes. Basin big sagebrush also shows annual variation in germination [48]. Basin big sagebrush is a more prolific seed producer than is Wyoming big sagebrush [76]. Studies suggest that sufficient basin big sagebrush seed was present for adequate germination each year even at the lowest germination rates observed [48]. Specific details on germination rates are available [75,77].

Seedlings emerge in early spring soon after snowmelt [75]. Seedling survival often depends on precipitation. Seedlings under mature sagebrush plants are more likely to survive [83]. Seedling survival tends to be lower in grazed, unsheltered areas [85].

SITE CHARACTERISTICS:

Basin big sagebrush grows in relatively more mesic habitats than other subspecies of big sagebrush [6,72]. It commonly grows on well-drained soils in valley bottoms, lower foothill areas or in areas adjacent to drainages. Basin big sagebrush is associated with deep, seasonally dry, well-drained soils on plains, valleys, and foothills [5]. It frequently coincides with high water tables or deep moisture accumulations [96].

Basin big sagebrush occurs on stratified sandy loam soils on floodplains or on low stream terraces [53]. In southeastern Idaho, basin big sagebrush is most abundant on sandy soils or at the sandy end of a soil texture gradient [96].

Because it tends to grow in deep, fertile soils, basin big sagebrush is an indicator of productive sites. Many sites once dominated by basin big sagebrush are now farmland [84,118]. In farmlands, it is now restricted primarily to field edges, swales, and along drainage ways [24].

Precipitation on basin big sagebrush sites ranges from 10 to 18 inches (250-460 mm) per year [24]. Basin big sagebrush is considered intolerant of alkaline conditions, but some ecotypes do grow in association with salt-tolerant plants such as shadscale (Atriplex confertifolia), black greasewood (Sarcobatus vermiculatus), and saltgrass (Distichlis spp.) [9,52]. In Utah sites occupied by basin big sagebrush tend to be slightly alkaline whereas those occupied by mountain big sagebrush tend to be slightly acidic [108].

Elevational ranges are as follows [5,53,118]:

4,800-5,800 feet (1463-1768 m) in Arizona
100-7,000 feet (30-2134 m) in Oregon
2,001-7,019 feet (610-2140 m) in northeastern Utah

SUCCESSIONAL STATUS:

Big sagebrush is the climax species on most of its present day range [23]. Research suggests that invasion into other vegetation types was uncommon [23,31,50,52,78,101,124]. Humphrey [57] describes big sagebrush as a "late successional" species in southeastern Idaho.

Basin big sagebrush may increase in disturbed pastures which have been seeded to grasses such as crested wheatgrass (Agropyron cristatum) [85]. In many instances, basin big sagebrush shows only a moderate increase in density on disturbed sites, but may exhibit large increases in crown density [118]. Seedling establishment may begin immediately following a disturbance, but it usually takes a decade or more before big sagebrush dominates the site.

Many basin big sagebrush sites are now depleted of "normal" perennial grasses and are now dominated by cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) [24].

SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT:

Primary new leaves develop along the main stem in spring. As vegetative growth continues, new short lateral branches form from the existing stem and support smaller leaves which persist throughout the next winter, long after the initial leaves are shed. In Utah, accentuated stem growth begins in early June, with maximum longitudinal stem growth occurring in early June. By the end of June, vegetative stem growth begins to decline as reproductive buds and shoots begin expansion [34].

The reproductive shoots form, mature, and bear seed within the span of a single growing season [34]. Basin big sagebrush flowers from late August to October [94]. In Utah, reproductive shoots reach maximum size and flowerbuds first appear in late July [34]. Basin big sagebrush tends to flower later than Wyoming big sagebrush [6]. High-elevation ecotypes flower and set seed earlier than do valley ecotypes [77]. The inflorescence may persist until the following season [120].

Seed production occurs from October to December [77]. Most seed is shed in the fall, although some may remain on the plant through the winter. Seeds germinate in the spring as early as April.

Seasonal development in the valley of Alpowa Creek near Clarkston, Washington, was as follows [32]:

Approx. Date   Phenological Event
------------   ------------------
Mar. 4         No evidence of new shoot growth
Apr. 1         1.5-2 in (4-5 cm) of new shoot growth
Apr. 30        4-5 in (10-13 cm) of new shoot growth
Jun. 2         4-10 in (10-25 cm) of new shoot growth 
Jul. 1         18 in (45 cm) of new shoot growth
Aug. 1         Remaining leaves mainly in panicle or at branch tips
Sep. 1         Flower buds formed
Oct. 3         Pollination starting
Oct. 31        Fruits immature
Feb. 27        Dissemination ended, inflorescence brittle
Mar. 15        Buds swelling

FIRE ECOLOGY

SPECIES: Artemisia tridentata subsp. tridentata
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS:

Big sagebrush plants are killed by most fires. Prolific seed production from nearby unburned plants coupled with high germination rates enables seedlings to establish rapidly following fire. Wind-, water-, and animal-carried seed contribute to regeneration on a site [43,60,99].

Few if any fire history studies have been conducted on basin big sagebrush. Sapsis [90] suggests that fire return intervals in basin big sagebrush are intermediate between mountain big sagebrush (5 to 15 years) and Wyoming big sagebrush (10 to 70 years) [90,118]. It is important to note that "given the wide range of fuel situations and our understanding of yearly climatic variation in the sagebrush ecosystem, a naturally wide variation in fire frequency in this system should be expected" [90].

In many basin big sagebrush communities, changes in fire occurrence have occurred along with fire suppression and livestock grazing. Prior to the introduction of annuals, insufficient fuels may have limited fire spread in big sagebrush communities. Introduction of annuals has increased fuel loads so that fire can easily carry. Burning in some big sagebrush communities can set the stage for repeated fires. Fire frequency can be as little as 5 years, not sufficient time for the establishment and reproduction of big sagebrush. Repeated fires have removed big sagebrush from extensive areas in the Great Basin and Columbia River drainages [20].

Fire severity in big sagebrush communities is described as "variable" depending on weather, fuels, and topography. However, fire in basin big sagebrush communities are typically stand replacing [91].

For further information on fire regimes in forest and woodland communities, see the FEIS species summaries on dominant tree species including:

Species                           Fire return interval
interior ponderosa pine           2-45 years
   (P. ponderosa var. scopulorum)
western juniper                   7-100 years
   (J. occidentalis)
Rocky Mountain juniper            ----
   (J. scopulorum)
POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY:

Initial-offsite colonizer (off-site, initial community)
Initial-onsite colonizer (on-site, initial community)


FIRE EFFECTS

SPECIES: Artemisia tridentata subsp. tridentata
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT:

Big sagebrush is readily killed when aboveground plant parts are charred by fire [55]. If sagebrush foliage is exposed to temperatures above 195 degrees Fahrenheit (90oC) for longer than 30 seconds, the plant dies [18]. In some areas, scattered unburned basin big sagebrush may survive, particularly where the soil is thin and rocky and where sparse herbaceous biomass limits the fire's spread [22].

DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT:

Site productivity affects the ease with which big sagebrush communities will burn. Highly productive sites have greater plant density and more biomass which, in turn, are likely to provide more fuel to carry a fire.

Among the three major subspecies of big sagebrush, basin big sagebrush is considered intermediate in flammability. Mountain big sagebrush is most flammable, and Wyoming big sagebrush is least flammable [18].

PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE:

Basin big sagebrush does not sprout after fire. Because of the time needed to produce seed, it is eliminated by frequent fires [21]. Basin big sagebrush reinvades a site primarily by off-site seed or seed from plants that survive in unburned patches. The rate of stand recovery depends on the season of burn, as season affects the availability of seed, postfire precipitation patterns, and the amount of interference offered by other regenerating plant species [18,30,124]. Establishment may be delayed until favorable moisture conditions occur [55].

Sagebrush seed is not disseminated for great distances so off-site sources are probably less important than on-site seed [43]. Shrubs surviving within the perimeter of a disturbed area provide a more important seed source than those on the perimeter [60]. The vast majority of big sagebrush seed produced during fall is gone by spring and very few seeds persist. Seed of some subspecies of big sagebrush may persist in a seed bank [72]. However, unlike many of the other subspecies, emergence of basin big sagebrush seed appears to be reduced by exposure to heat [23].

Prescribed fire may favor big sagebrush on some sites by reducing the relative densities of other woody species. Fall and spring prescribed burning in a basin big sagebrush community in east-central Oregon reduced overall densities of woody species, including basin big sagebrush, in postfire year 1 or 2 compared to prefire densities. However, frequency of basin big sagebrush increased after spring burning due to postfire seedling establishment, with basin big sagebrush showing best postfire seedling establishment of 5 woody species [90]. See the Fire Case Studies and Research Project Summary of this study for more information on fire effects on basin big sagebrush and 60 additional woody plant, grass, and forb species.

DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE:

In Wyoming, where big sagebrush has been removed by chemical means, it regained its pretreatment cover in 17 years on stands where grazing was not controlled [61].

FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS:

Sapsis [90] reports "investigations of prescribed burning as an ecological agent in basin big sagebrush dominated systems are lacking." However, a number of studies have focused on big sagebrush in general. Fire as a management tool has primarily been used to reduce big sagebrush. Where sagebrush reduction is a desired goal, prescribed burns in basin big sagebrush communities tend to be more successful than those in Wyoming big sagebrush, but less successful than those in mountain big sagebrush [19]. In Nevada where "range improvements" were desired, best results have been obtained after spring or late fall burns [5]. Summer burns in big sagebrush communities can leave the soil bare and subject to erosion. Favorable results are often obtained after fire in basin big sagebrush is an adequate understory is present prior to the burn [21].

Britton and others [19] report that as a general rule for a successful prescribed burn in big sagebrush at least 20% canopy cover of big sagebrush should be present, with at least 200 to 300 lb. per acre of herbaceous fuel. Beardall and Sylvester [5] suggest that for prescribed burns to succeed in big sagebrush communities in Nevada, the following conditions should be met: 600 to 700 lb./acre fine fuels; ignition should occur when relative humidity is 60% or less; soil must be wet, winds must be 8 miles per hour or greater; and burning should stop when spring growth of grasses reaches 2 inches. Big sagebrush should be at least 1/3rd of total plant cover [84]. The presence of weedy annuals may prevent establishment of desirable perennial grasses and can increase future fire hazards [20].

Success of winter broadcast burning (n=5) in big sagebrush communities in southern Idaho was as follows [78]:

Conditions            Fire carried    Fire did not carry
Canopy cover (%)      72.1            60.0
Density (plants/ha)   114,296         121,020
Biomass (g/plant)     1,634           1,496
Shrub height (cm)     103.8           108.3
Basal diameter (cm)   3.8             3.2
Distance between
  plants (cm)         15.4            37.5
Temperature (C)       9.0             9.0
Relative humidity (%) 49.3            46.6
Windspeed (km/h)      8.3             6.6
Fuel moisture (%)     37.0            38.0
In Idaho, wildfires in basin big sagebrush-needle and thread grass communities may create unstable soil conditions leading to wind erosion and "difficulty in seedling establishment" [25].

Removing sagebrush by fire or chemical treatment may release desirable undergrowth if the site is in good condition. However, many basin big sagebrush sites today are limited in extent and do not have a high density of undergrowth to respond if the overstory is reduced. Animals are attracted to burned areas and may damage low-vigor plants if the animals concentrate in a small area. In some cases, prescribed fire in big sagebrush communities can create mosaics that are beneficial to wildlife [21].

Several studies have examined big sagebrush as a fuel. Average fuel load for basin big sagebrush is reported as follows [38]:

 
                     fuel load (kg/m2)
                     leaves   1 hr  10 hr  100 hr
basin big sagebrush  0.084    0.12  0.14   0.16     
In general, burning in cheatgrass-infested big sagebrush types is not recommended if cheatgrass cover exceeds 50% or if cover of fire-resistant native grasses is less than 20%. Cheatgrass is more likely to invade after fire if the dominant native grass is not a fire-resistant species (for example, Thurber needlegrass or Idaho fescue) or if native grasses were in poor condition prior to fire [84,115]. Artificial seeding with native grasses is recommended after fire if cheatgrass was a major component of the prefire community or if it was a minor component and native grasses were in poor condition [115,121]. Communities in good condition may at least partially recover from temporary postfire increases in cheatgrass, especially when fire is followed by favorable precipitation.

FIRE CASE STUDIES

SPECIES: Artemisia tridentata spp. tridentata

1st CASE STUDY:
FIRE CASE STUDY CITATION:

Tirmenstein, D., compiler. 1999. Spring and fall prescribed burning in basin big sagebrush in east-central Oregon. I. In: Artemisia tridentata spp. tridentata. 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/ [ ].

REFERENCE:

Sapsis, David B. 1990. Ecological effects of spring and fall prescribed burning on basin big sagebrush/Idaho fescue--bluebunch wheatgrass communities. Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University. 105 p. Thesis. [90].

SEASON/SEVERITY CLASSIFICATION:

Fall (9/25/87)/not specified
Spring (5/24/88)/not specified

STUDY LOCATION:

The study was located approximately 5 miles (10 km) west of Dayville in east-central Oregon. The site was located in John Day Fossil Bed National Monument in T 11 S R 26 E , sections 31 and 32.

PREFIRE VEGETATIVE COMMUNITY:

Prefire vegetation was a basin big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata subsp. tridentata)/Idaho fescue (Festuca idahoensis)-bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata). Understory species included Idaho fescue, bluebunch wheatgrass, western yarrow (Achillea millefolium) and threadstalk milkvetch (Astragalus fillipes).

TARGET SPECIES PHENOLOGICAL STATE:

Not specified

SITE DESCRIPTION:

Aspect - north
Slope - 20-65%
Elevation - 2,297-2,625 feet (700-860 m)
Soils - very stony, clay-loams
Annual precipitation - 10-14 inches (250-360 mm)

FIRE DESCRIPTION:

The objectives of this study were "to quantify fuel loads, environmental conditions, fire behavior, and vegetative response corresponding to these 2 (spring and fall burn) fire treatments."

Both burns were ignited with drip torches using a strip head firing pattern. Pretreatment fuel loads ranged from 5-12 Mg/ha. Fuel loads in fall treatment units averaged 10.5 Mg/ha and in spring treatment units, fuel loads averaged 6.2 Mg/ha. Large amounts of herbaceous fuels (> 3 Mg/ha) were present.

Burning Conditions:
                                        Fall          Spring
Time of burn                            9:35-13:45    12:35-15:26
Temperature oC                          15-18         23-25
Relative humidity                       41-48         21-24
Windspeed (k/h)                         0-15          0-17
Soil M.C. (moisture content, %)         2.90          3.21
Dead grass/herb. M.C.*                  8.88          7.36
10-hr Timelag M.C.                      4.59          4.99
Sagebrush foliage M.C.*                 97.19         186.02
Live grass M.C.                         N/A           142.60

Fire Behavior:
                                        Fall          Spring
Flame length (m)*                       4.14          1.74
Fireline intensity (kW/m)*              6,441         883
Reaction intensity  (heat release rate)
     (kW/m2)                            591           346             
Flame height (m)*                       2.17          1.12
Rate of spread (m/s)*                   1.57          0.23
Heat/area in flaming front 
     (kJ/m2)                            3,253         3,935
Total energy (flaming & smoldering)
     (kJ/m2)*                           18,119        9,267
Residence time (s)                      6.92          11.66
Fuel consumption (Mg/ha)*               9.80          5.23
        N/A = not available
        * = significant at p <.05 
FIRE EFFECTS ON TARGET SPECIES:

The frequency of basin big sagebrush increased in spring burns one year after treatment due to postfire seedling establishment. No increases were noted 2 years after fire in fall-burned units. According to Sapsis [90], "factors relating to the greater fire severity (e.g. consumption, total energy) in the fall burns reduced the rate and degree of reinvasion in the fall burn plots." Density of basin big sagebrush was significantly reduced by the fall burn (p<0.1). Spring burning resulted in an 84% decrease in density.

Aboveground biomass (Mg/ha) for spring and fall burn units was as follows:

Fuel Category                      Treatment
Live basin big sagebrush      fall        spring
  attached dead*              1.06(0.12)   0.42(0.16)
  foliage*                    4.11(0.48)   1.67(0.63)
  1-hour TL*                  1.16(0.19)   0.44(0.16)
  10-hour TL*                 1.35(0.22)   0.52(0.19)
  100-hour TL*                2.18(0.25)   0.89(0.33)
   
*significant difference between treatments at p less than 0.05%
(numbers in parenthesis are the standard error of the group mean)
TL=time-lag fuels
FIRE MANAGEMENT IMPLICATIONS:

Results suggest that fall burns which exhibited greater fire severity were most effective in reducing basin big sagebrush.


2nd CASE STUDY:
FIRE CASE STUDY CITATION:

Tirmenstein, D., compiler. 1999. Spring and fall prescribed burning in basin big sagebrush in east-central Oregon. II. In: Artemisia tridentata spp. tridentata. 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/ [ ].

REFERENCE:

Sapsis, David B.; Kauffman, J. Boone. 1991. Fuel consumption and fire behavior associated with prescribed fires in sagebrush ecosystems. Northwest Science. 65(4): 173-179. [91].

SEASON/SEVERITY CLASSIFICATION:

fall (9/25/87)/moderate
spring (5/24/88)/light

STUDY LOCATION:

The study was located in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in eastern Oregon. Specific location was T 11 S; R 26 E; sections 31 and 32.

PREFIRE VEGETATIVE COMMUNITY:

The prefire vegetation consisted of a basin big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata subsp. tridentata)/perennial bunchgrass community. The understory was dominated by Idaho fescue (Festuca idahoensis) and bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata).

TARGET SPECIES PHENOLOGICAL STATE:

Based on seasonal development reported for basin big sagebrush in eastern Washington, new shoots of basin big sagebrush would have been developing at the time of this spring burn, and flowering would have been occurring at the time of the fall burn.

SITE DESCRIPTION:

Site characteristics were as follows:

slope         north slopes of 20-60%
elevation     2,296-2,821 feet (700-860 m)
soils         clay loam
mean annual 
precipitation 
(1978-1988)   approximately 11 inches (290 mm)
Preburn fuel loadings were as follows:
fuel		  fall   spring
live sagebrush  
   attached dead* 1.06   0.42
   Total live*    4.11   1.67
   foliage*       0.84   0.32
   1-hr TL*       1.16   0.44
   10-hr TL*      1.35   0.52
   100-hr TL*     2.18   0.89
dead sagebrush  
   1-hr TL        0.11   0.11
   10-hr TL       0.23   0.26
   100-hr TL      0.50   0.46
Totals
   standing live* 4.11   1.67
   standing dead* 1.96   1.26
   grass/herbs    3.01   2.67
   1-hr TL*       1.80   0.86
   10-hr TL*      2.22   1.03
   100-hr TL*     2.72   1.35

*difference significant at P < 0.05  
TL= time-lag fuels
FIRE DESCRIPTION:

"The objective of this study was to quantify total aboveground biomass and to investigate the variable nature of fuel consumption and fire behavior in basin big sagebrush-dominated ecosystems resulting from burning under different levels of fuel moisture and plant phenology."

Burns were ignited with a drip torch in a strip head firing pattern. Specific characteristics were as follows:

                             fall    spring
flame length* (m)            4.14    1.74
fireline
intensity (IFL)* (kW/m)       6441    883
reaction
intensity (IR)(kW/m2)         591     346
flame height* (m)            2.17    1.12
flame depth* (m)             10.35   2.56
rate of spread* (m/s)        1.57    0.23
heat per unit area (kJ/m2)   3253    3935**   
total energy* (kJ/m2)        18,119  9,267***    
residence time (s)           6.92    11.66                      
fuel consumption* (Mg/ha)    9.80    5.231        
*significant difference at P less than 0.05%
**Heat per unit area measured only during flaming phase of combustion
***Total energy is heat release per unit area during both flaming and smoldering combustion

Weather conditions were as follows:
date              fall        spring
time of burn      9:35-13:45  12:35-15:26
temperature C     15-18       23-35
rel. humidity%    41-48       21-34
windspeed (kph)   0-15        0-17
fuel moisture content%
  soil surface    2.90        3.21
  dead grass/herb 8.88        7.36
  live grass      --          142.60
  sagebrush 
  foliage         97.19       186.02
  10-hr TL        4.59        4.99
Flame length in fall averaged more than 13 feet (4 m); in spring burns flame length averaged less than 7 feet (2 m). The rate of spread was 6 times faster in fall burns although the temperature was lower and relative humidity higher.

 

FIRE EFFECTS ON TARGET SPECIES:

Virtually all aboveground biomass was consumed by fire. Fuel consumption was twice as much in the fall burns as in the spring burns. Approximately 85% of 10-hour fuels were consumed by the fall burn and 52% were consumed by spring burns. Fuel consumption was as follows:

                             fall          spring
fine fuels (Mg/ha)           3.64           2.76
           (%)              94.54          92.31
1-hr TL (Mg/ha)              1.65           0.66
           (%)              91.66          76.74
10-hr TL (Mg/ha)*            1.90           0.54
           (%)              85.59          52.43
100-hr TL (Mg/ha)*           2.63           1.27
           (%)              96.69          94.07
total* (Mg/ha)               9.80           5.23
           (%)              92.54          83.95
*significant difference at P less than 0.05%
FIRE MANAGEMENT IMPLICATIONS:

Fire in basin big sagebrush communities is described as "stand-replacing." Fires in sagebrush are variable in terms of fuel consumption and fire behavior. Many factors contribute to variability including fuel characteristics, weather, and topography.


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