SPECIES: Artemisia tridentata subsp. wyomingensis

INTRODUCTORY

SPECIES: Artemisia tridentata subsp. wyomingensis
Photo by Gary A. Monroe @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database


AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION:

Howard, Janet L. 1999. Artemisia tridentata subsp. wyomingensis. 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:

ARTTRIW
ARTTRI

SYNONYMS:

Artemisia tridentata var. wyomingensis (Beetle & Young) Welsh [34,39,144]
Seriphidum tridentatum subsp. wyomingense (Beetle & Young) Weber [139]

NRCS PLANT CODE:

ARTRW8

COMMON NAMES:

Wyoming big sagebrush

 

TAXONOMY:

The currently accepted scientific name of Wyoming big sagebrush is Artemisia tridentata Nutt. subsp. wyomingensis Beetle & Young (Asteraceae). There are 2 other widely distributed subspecies of big sagebrush (A. tridentata): basin big sagebrush (A. t. subsp. tridentata) and mountain big sagebrush (A. t. subsp. vaseyana) [12,64,77]. It is impossible to distinguish Wyoming big sagebrush from basin or mountain big sagebrush without molecular analysis [12,139].

Besides the 3 major subspecies mentioned above, at least 2 other subspecies of big sagebrush with limited distributions are recognized: A. t. subsp. parishii [64] and A. t. subsp. xericensis [77]. Snowfield big sagebrush has been classified both within in the big sagebrush complex (A. t. subsp. spiciformis) [59,77] and as a distinct species (A. spiciformis) [64].

In this report, the name "big sagebrush" is used when discussing the big sagebrush species complex. Infrataxa including Wyoming big sagebrush are referred to by the subspecific common names used above.

Wyoming big sagebrush hybridizes with other subspecies of big sagebrush [33,56,89] and with silver sagebrush (A. cana) [89] .

LIFE FORM:

Shrub

FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS:

No special status

OTHER STATUS:

No entry


DISTRIBUTION AND OCCURRENCE

SPECIES: Artemisia tridentata subsp. wyomingensis
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION:

Wyoming big sagebrush occurs from Montana and North Dakota south to California, New Mexico, Colorado, and Nebraska [64,133,144]. Its population distribution is poorly understood in areas where it overlaps with other big sagebrush subspecies [139,144].

ECOSYSTEMS:

FRES21   Ponderosa pine
FRES29   Sagebrush
FRES30   Desert shrub
FRES34   Chaparral-mountain shrub
FRES35   Pinyon-juniper

STATES:

AZ CA CO ID MT NE NM NV ND OR SD UT WY

BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS:

 5  Columbia Plateau
 6  Upper Basin and Range
10  Wyoming Basin
11  Southern Rocky Mountains
12  Colorado Plateau

KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS:

K005 Mixed conifer forest
K010 Ponderosa shrub forest
K011 Western ponderosa forest
K016 Eastern ponderosa forest
K023 Juniper-pinyon woodland
K024 Juniper steppe woodlands
K037 Mountain mahogany-oak scrub
K038 Great Basin sagebrush
K039 Blackbrush
K040 Saltbush-greasewood
K055 Sagebrush steppe
K056 Wheatgrass-needlegrass shrubsteppe
K057 Galleta-three-awn shrubsteppe

SAF COVER TYPES:

209 Bristlecone pine
219 Limber pine
220 Rocky Mountain juniper
237 Interior ponderosa pine
238 Western juniper
239 Pinyon-juniper
243 Sierra Nevada mixed conifer
245 Pacific ponderosa pine
247 Jeffrey pine

SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES:

107 Western juniper/big sagebrush/bluebunch wheatgrass
212 Blackbush
314 Big sagebrush-bluebunch wheatgrass
315 Big sagebrush-Idaho fescue
317 Bitterbrush-bluebunch wheatgrass
318 Bitterbrush-Idaho fescue
320 Black sagebrush-bluebunch wheatgrass
321 Black sagebrush-Idaho fescue
322 Curlleaf mountain-mahogany-bluebunch wheatgrass
324 Threetip sagebrush-Idaho fescue
401 Basin big sagebrush
402 Mountain big sagebrush
403 Wyoming big sagebrush
404 Threetip sagebrush
405 Black sagebrush
406 Low sagebrush
412 Juniper-pinyon woodland
413 Gambel oak
414 Salt desert shrub
420 Snowbrush
501 Saltbush-greasewood
504 Juniper-pinyon pine woodland
612 Sagebrush-grass

HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES:

Wyoming big sagebrush steppe communities are prevalent in the West. Wyoming big sagebrush/bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata) is the most common of the big sagebrush/bluebunch wheatgrass types [95]. Other codominants in Wyoming big sagebrush steppe include western wheatgrass (Pascopyrum smithii), Sandberg bluegrass (Poa secunda), bottlebrush squirreltail (Elymus elymoides), Idaho fescue (Festuca idahoensis), Thurber needlegrass (Achnatherum thurberianum), and needle-and-thread grass (Hesperostipa comata) [37,54,67,86]. Although not often used in vegetation classifications, cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) is also a dominant species in some Wyoming big sagebrush steppe communities [37]. Evenden [46] described a Wyoming big sagebrush/cheatgrass community in the Trout Creek Mountains of southeastern Oregon where Wyoming big sagebrush and cheatgrass comprised 40 and 28% cover, respectively.

Wyoming big sagebrush occurs in pinyon-juniper (Pinus-Juniperus spp.) woodlands and ponderosa pine (P. ponderosa) forests, often as a dominant shrub [42,109,127,147]. It is the most abundant big sagebrush subspecies in singleleaf pinyon (P. monophylla)-Utah juniper (J. osteosperma) communities of northern Arizona [69]. It is also common in singleleaf pinyon-Utah juniper communities of the northern Great Basin [147].

Species diversity is lower in Wyoming big sagebrush communities than in other big sagebrush types. A few perennial forb species are usually present in low numbers [27]. Common associates of Wyoming big sagebrush are listed below by state.

AZ: Associates in singleleaf pinyon-Utah juniper/Wyoming big sagebrush of northern Arizona include blue grama, bottlebrush squirreltail, Indian ricegrass, mutton grass (Poa fendleriana), broom snakeweed (Gutierrezia sarothrae), and green rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus) [69].

CA/NV: In Humboldt National Forest, Nevada, Wyoming big sagebrush codominates with bluebunch wheatgrass and bottlebrush squirreltail [72,73]. Other associates common in Wyoming big sagebrush communities of eastern California and western Nevada include fourwing saltbush (Atriplex canescens), rubber rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus nauseosus), blackbrush (Coleogyne ramosissima), California brome (Bromus carinatus), needle-and-thread grass, Thurber needlegrass, and Idaho fescue [70].

Associates in singleleaf pinyon/Wyoming big sagebrush community in Nevada include Sandberg bluegrass and slender false phlox (Microsteris gracilis). Annuals, especially blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia parviflora), are important in wet years [47].

CO: Associates of Wyoming big sagebrush in northern Colorado include black greasewood (Sarcobatus vermiculatus), green rabbitbrush, Sandberg bluegrass, bottlebrush squirreltail, blue grama, pine needlegrass (A. pinetorum), mutton grass, Hood's phlox (Phlox hoodii), and Engelmann's fleabane (Erigeron engelmannii) [75,128].

ID: Wyoming big sagebrush communities are common in southern Idaho [76]. On the Snake River Plain, community associates include budsage (Artemisia spinescens), shadscale (Atriplex confertifolia), littleleaf horsebrush (Tetradymia glabrata), green rabbitbrush, winterfat (Krascheninnikovia lanata), Indian ricegrass, bottlebrush squirreltail, Sandberg bluegrass, and cheatgrass [26]. Soil crusts of cyanobacteria, lichens, and mosses including twisted moss (Tortula ruralis), fire moss (Ceratodaon purpureus), Bryum argenteum, and Funaria hygrometrica may be well represented. Thick stands of cheatgrass usually exclude soil crust biota [76].

MT: Important associates in a Wyoming big sagebrush/western wheatgrass community near Miles City include needle-and-thread grass, blue grama, Japanese brome (Bromus japonicus), cheatgrass, threadleaf sedge (Carex filifolia), fringed sagewort (A. frigida), and western salsify (Tragopogon dubius) [63].

Associated species in Wyoming big sagebrush/bluebunch wheatgrass of western Montana include Indian ricegrass, bottlebrush squirreltail, Sandberg bluegrass, cheatgrass, Hood's phlox, low fleabane (Erigeron pumilis), and green rabbitbrush [113].

OR: Associates in a western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis)/Wyoming big sagebrush community on the Northern Great Basin Experimental Range include Idaho fescue, bluebunch wheatgrass, Sandberg bluegrass, prairie junegrass (Koeleria macrantha), bushy bird's beak (Cordylanthus ramosus), scabland fleabane (Eriogonum bloomeri), desert yellow fleabane (E. linearis), and green rabbitbrush [49].

In ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa var. ponderosa) forest, associates include western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis), mountain big sagebrush, wax currant (Ribes cereum), low sagebrush (Artemisia arbuscula), green rabbitbrush, common snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus), and Saskatoon serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia) [109].

WY: On Shoshone National Forest, associates of Wyoming big sagebrush include mountain big sagebrush, fringed sagebrush, broom snakeweed, bluebunch wheatgrass, prairie junegrass, Sandberg bluegrass, and needle-and-thread grass. Phlox and Antennaria species are common [131].

Classifications describing plant communities dominated by Wyoming big sagebrush are as follows:

Presettlement vegetation of part of northwestern Moffat County, Colorado, described from remnants [5]
Seral stage classification and monitoring model for big sagebrush/western wheatgrass/blue grama habitat [13]
Identification of the Artemisia tridentata subsp. wyomingensis/Festuca idahoensis habitat type in eastern Oregon [37]
Pinyon-Juniper woodland understory distribution patterns and species associations [47]
Sagebrush-steppe habitat types in northern Colorado: a first approximation [54]
Preliminary descriptions of the terrestrial natural communities of California [70]
Sagebrush-grass habitat types of southern Idaho [67]
A sagebrush community type classification for mountainous northeastern Nevada rangelands [72]
Plant associations of Region Two: potential plant communities of Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado, and Kansas [75]
A preliminary description of plant communities found on the Sawtooth, White Cloud, Boulder, and Pioneer Mountains [113]
Shrub-steppe habitat types of Middle Park, Colorado [128]
Grassland and shrubland habitat types of the Shoshone National Forest [131]
A management-oriented classification of pinyon-juniper woodlands of the Great Basin [147]

Collins and Harper [33] describe a common habitat type on the Curlew National Grasslands, Idaho, that is dominated by a Wyoming big sagebrush × mountain big sagebrush hybrid.


MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS

SPECIES: Artemisia tridentata subsp. wyomingensis
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:

Wyoming big sagebrush is preferred browse for wild ungulates [22,105,116,141], and Wyoming big sagebrush communities are important winter ranges for big game [67,90,99,131]. Pronghorn usually browse Wyoming big sagebrush heavily [2]. On the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory, for example, the shrub comprised 90% of the diet of pronghorn from fall through spring. Lagomorphs may browse Wyoming big sagebrush heavily in winter [58]. Wyoming big sagebrush is a crucial food item of sage grouse, and Wyoming big sagebrush communities are critical habitat for the birds [4,31,52,53,131,143].

Livestock browse Wyoming big sagebrush, but may use it only lightly when palatable herbaceous species are available [102,117]. In south-central Wyoming, Wyoming big sagebrush formed about 10% of the spring and summer diet of domestic sheep. Cattle use was negligible. In contrast, it formed 85% of the spring diet of pronghorn on the same range [102]. In a Gambel oak (Quercus gambelii) community in northern Utah, domestic goats preferred almost any other browse to Wyoming big sagebrush [108].

PALATABILITY:

Wyoming big sagebrush is generally the most palatable of the big sagebrush subspecies, and big game species use it heavily, especially in winter [112,131]. In a trial using captive mule deer, it was the most preferred among the 3 major subspecies of big sagebrush [22]. It is moderately palatable to cattle and domestic sheep [131].

Coumarin, a compound present in big sagebrush leaves, imparts a bitter taste that affects animal use. There are regional differences in ungulate use of Wyoming big sagebrush relative to other big sagebrush subspecies, which may be at least partially due to between-population differences in coumarin concentration in Wyoming big sagebrush leaves [136,141]. For example, domestic sheep on the Kaibab Plateau of Arizona preferred Wyoming big sagebrush over either mountain or basin big sagebrush. Mule deer selected Wyoming big sagebrush as their 2nd choice among the 3 subspecies, but preferred mountain big sagebrush [142]. In eastern Oregon, however, Wyoming big sagebrush was the least palatable of 7 sagebrush taxa to domestic sheep but was moderately palatable to mule deer [117].

NUTRITIONAL VALUE:

Wyoming big sagebrush contains volatile oils, but is otherwise a highly nutritious shrub. The leaves equal alfalfa (Medicago sativa) in protein content, with slightly more carbohydrates and 12 times more lipids. Mule deer apparently avoid some of the effects of the volatile compounds by belching the compounds as they chew their cuds [98].

Nutritional content (%) of fresh big sagebrush browse is as follows [100]:                                        

Ash              3.1                 Protein (N x 6.25)     
Crude fiber  13.2                   cattle                 3.3
Carotene (mg/kg) 10.             domestic goats  3.0
Ca                0.37                   horses               3.1
Mg              0.11                    rabbits              3.2
P                 0.09                    domestic sheep 3.2
                             

COVER VALUE:

Wyoming big sagebrush provides cover for a variety of wildlife including pronghorn [126,130], bighorn sheep [83], lagomorphs [80,140], shrub-nesting birds, and some ground-nesting birds including sage grouse [71,80]. Cover of mature shrubs is especially important to pronghorn fawns and sage grouse brood [80,130]. Early to mid-seral communities are important black-tailed jackrabbit and pygmy rabbit habitats [80,88,140]. In contrast, Townsend's ground squirrels, and raptors that rely on them as prey species, prefer open and grassy, early seral Wyoming big sagebrush communities such as burns. Their numbers decline as plant succession advances [80].

VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES:

Wyoming big sagebrush is used for stabilizing slopes and gullies and for restoring degraded wildlife habitat, rangelands, mine spoils, and other disturbed sites [90,116]. It is particularly recommended on dry upland sites where other shrubs are difficult to establish [94]. It can be established by direct seeding [94,116] and by transplanting greenhouse seedlings or wildings. Wild plants are best moved while dormant in winter [90,119]. Commercial seed is available [35].

Wyoming big sagebrush has been recommended for seeding on coal-mined lands based upon tolerance of germinants to droughty and saline soils [41].

OTHER USES AND VALUES:

Native Americans made tea from big sagebrush leaves. They used the tea as a tonic, an antiseptic, for treating colds, diarrhea, and sore eyes, and as a rinse to ward off ticks. Big sagebrush seeds were eaten raw or made into meal [98]. The wood is extremely aromatic when burned, and the wood smoke was used to mask the effects of an encounter with a skunk [45].

Big sagebrush was little used by European-American settlers. They occasionally used the branches for thatching [135]. The wood produces a very hot fire, and was used in mine smelters [98].

Big sagebrush has little current commercial use. It is sometimes used for xeriscaping [64,98].

OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS:

Grazing: Wyoming big sagebrush normally appears in mid-seral steppes, and good grazing management will not prevent its reinvasion [62]. It may increase moderately under heavy grazing; however, because of its relatively high palatability it does not increase as much as other big sagebrush subspecies usually do [112,131]. Schlatterer [113] reported that in northern Idaho, Wyoming big sagebrush increased slightly with overgrazing. On some overgrazed sites, Wyoming big sagebrush has declined nearly as much as associated bunchgrasses, and its coverage has actually increased with cessation of grazing. On the Upper Snake River Plains of southeastern Idaho, Wyoming big sagebrush and associated bunchgrasses were depressed from approximately 50 years of heavy domestic sheep and cattle grazing. When grazing was stopped in 1950, Wyoming big sagebrush cover increased significantly (p=0.05), from 15% in 1950 to 22% by 1965 [3].

Total productivity in Wyoming big sagebrush communities is low, from less than 400 lbs/acre (450 kg/ha) on poor sites to 900 lbs/acre (1013 kg/ha) on the most productive sites [112].

Control: Wyoming big sagebrush can be controlled by burning or with herbicides. Because Wyoming big sagebrush provides palatable browse for livestock and big game animals, even on poor soils, Beetle and Johnson [11] recommend caution when reducing it. Among control methods, fire is the most effective [8,32,137,138] (see Fire Effects). It is also the least expensive [138]. Bastian and others [8] present an economic threshold analysis integrating cost-effectiveness of fire or 2,4-D control on Wyoming big sagebrush rangelands, projected over 15 to 25 years, with breakeven return per AUM. Their model predicts that chemical control is generally about twice as costly as fire control.

Phenoxy herbicides generally control Wyoming big sagebrush [4,32,79,85,137]. In central Nevada, 2,4-D caused a 75% reduction in Wyoming big sagebrush [32]. Winter or early spring spraying reduces Wyoming big sagebrush at a time when most herbaceous species are dormant and less harmed by herbicides [4].

2,4-D does not effectively control Wyoming big sagebrush in New Mexico (35-50% mortality) [6,91]. Teuthiuron application resulted in 80% mortality of Wyoming big sagebrush in northern New Mexico [6].


BOTANICAL AND ECOLOGICAL CHARACTERISTICS

SPECIES: Artemisia tridentata subsp. wyomingensis
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS:

Wyoming big sagebrush is a native shrub [6,34,39,64]. It is the most drought tolerant of the 3 major big sagebrush subspecies [94]. Plants are generally 18 to 30 inches (46-76 cm) tall, with rounded, uneven crowns. The main stem is usually branched at or near ground level into 2 or more substems [11,112]. Wyoming big sagebrush is technically an evergreen but is semideciduous in habit. It develops 2 types of leaves: large ephemeral leaves and smaller, perennial leaves produced from ephemeral leaf axes [96]. The inflorescence is an open, many-flowered spike [11]. The fruit is a small, easily shattered cypsela [116].

The root system is deep and well developed, with many laterals and one or more taproots. The majority of roots (about 35% of the total root system) are in the upper 1 foot (30.5 cm) of soil. Some roots may penetrate as far as 6 feet (1.8 m) [51,85,124]. Roots are infected with the vesicular-arbuscular mycorrhizae (VAM) Glomus microcarpus and Gigaspora spp. [16,36,71].

Wyoming big sagebrush is a long-lived species. In an undisturbed Wyoming big sagebrush community in southern Wyoming, plants ranged from 26 to 57 years of age; average age was 42 years [124]. Plants in long-undisturbed communities of New Mexico typically reach 50 years of age [135]. Maximum life span may exceed 150 years [50].

Identification of big sagebrush subspecies based upon morphology is difficult and often faulty. This is especially true for Wyoming big sagebrush, which is intermediate in several characteristics used to distinguish basin and mountain big sagebrush [67,129,132,139,149]. Chemical analyses are more reliable, but they cannot be conducted in the field and sometimes give indeterminate results [140]. Combining field identification with chemical analysis produces the most positive identification of subspecies. Laboratory techniques used to identify Wyoming and other big sagebrush subspecies include paper chromatography [78,115], UV absorption [120,121], and DNA analysis [89].

RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM:

Phanerophyte

REGENERATION PROCESSES:

Wyoming big sagebrush reproduces from seed; it does not sprout or layer [12,90,112]. Pollination is mostly by outcrossing, but plants can also self pollinate [56]. Shrubs produce large quantities of small seeds beginning at 3 to 4 years of age [90,129]. Goodwin [60] estimated that a moderate-sized plant produces about 350,000 seeds in a season, and a large one produces over a million. Big sagebrush seed is disseminated mostly by wind, with some seed spread by animals and water [60,116]. The seed floats, so seedlings may establish along watercourses [60,98]. Most seed shatters within a week of maturation [60] and travels less than 100 feet (30 m) from the parent plant [10,129]. Some viable seed is retained on the parent and disseminates slowly over the winter [98]. Establishment occurs mostly from the seedbank [67]. Wyoming big sagebrush seed stored in the warehouse has retained viability for at least 6 years [116]; viability in the field is unknown. On burns, Wyoming big sagebrush that escape fire are an important seed source [29]. If the seedbank is destroyed over a large area by repeated fires or other means, Wyoming big sagebrush eventually seeds in from adjacent areas, but such a strategy may take several decades [129].

Seeds are nondormant, but a short (< 4 week) stratification period and light improve germination [92,93,98]. Germination rates in the laboratory are high over a broad range of temperatures (50-95 oF (10-35 oC)) [40,116]. Fresh seed collected over 5 western states showed germination rates of 69 to 100% [93]. Year-to-year seed viability seems more than adequate; germination rates of fresh seed collected in 3 successive years near Dubois, Idaho, ranged from 43 to 70% (mean=54%) [61].

A light litter layer favors seedling establishment; heavy litter retards establishment. Drought conditions favor establishment of Wyoming big sagebrush over perennial bunchgrasses [10]. Seedling growth is slow compared to growth of other subspecies and is probably under genetic control. Wyoming big sagebrush seedlings grow slowly even when water and nutrients are not limiting [17,20]. In the greenhouse, well-watered Wyoming big sagebrush seedlings stopped growth earlier in the growing season and attained less height than mountain and basin big sagebrush seedlings. Under drought conditions, Wyoming big sagebrush seedlings were not only shorter in stature, but also had smaller aboveground parts, than the other 2 major subspecies [20]. Seedling mortality can be high under drought conditions [40]

Although Wyoming big sagebrush seedlings outcompete mature bluebunch wheatgrass for water, mature crested or desert wheatgrass (Agropyron cristatum, A. desertorum) outcompetes Wyoming big sagebrush seedlings. In northwestern Utah, mortality of Wyoming big sagebrush seedlings was 8 times greater when transplanted into desert wheatgrass than when transplanted into bluebunch wheatgrass. Growth was best when Wyoming big sagebrush was planted alone [44].

SITE CHARACTERISTICS:

Wyoming big sagebrush is most common on foothills, undulating terraces, slopes, and plateaus, but also occurs in basins and valley bottoms [34,39,54,69,128]. Aspect varies, but shrubs are most common on south- to west-facing slopes [28,128,131].

Soils: Wyoming big sagebrush occurs on frigid, mesic, and xeric soils of silty, clayey, skeletal, and mixed textures [54,69,70,103,150]. Soil parent material is highly variable [131]. Soil pH ranges from moderately acidic to moderately basic [70,75]. In riparian zones, Wyoming big sagebrush communities usually develop on gravelly outwashes and high floodplains [46,54]. Where Wyoming, basin, and mountain big sagebrush ranges overlap, Wyoming big sagebrush tends to grow on shallowest, most well-drained, and hottest soils relative to the other 2 subspecies. Basin big sagebrush tends to occupy the deepest, most fertile soils, and mountain big sagebrush tends to occupy moderately deep soils that are wetter and cooler than those occupied by Wyoming big sagebrush [7,19,150].

When Wyoming big sagebrush occurs with smaller sagebrush species, Wyoming big sagebrush often occupies the relatively deeper soils. In Wyoming, black (A. nova), low (A. longiloba), and three-tip (A. tripartitia) sagebrush communities interface with Wyoming big sagebrush, with the dwarf sagebrush communities occupying the shallower soils [131]. On the Humboldt National Forest, Nevada, sites dominated by Wyoming big sagebrush tend to be Mollisols with intermediate surface soil thickness, while black sagebrush dominates sites with little to no upper soil horizon, and mountain or basin big sagebrush dominates sites with deep surface soil horizons [72].

Precipitation: In the Snake River Plains of southern Idaho, Wyoming big sagebrush communities occur on sites with greater than 7 inches (200 mm) of annual precipitation. Sites receiving less precipitation are dominated by shadscale and/or winterfat [66]. Where the ranges of Wyoming and mountain big sagebrush overlap, Wyoming big sagebrush generally occurs where precipitation is less than 12 inches (300 mm), whereas mountain big sagebrush occurs on wetter sites [26,27,65,67]. In the southern Rocky Mountains, Wyoming big sagebrush occurs on low- to mid-elevation sites receiving most precipitation as rain, whereas mountain big sagebrush occurs above 7,000 feet (2100 m), and most precipitation is snow [85].

Elevational ranges of Wyoming big sagebrush are as follows:

California: up to 7,260 feet (2200 m) [64]
Idaho: 2,500 to 6,500 feet (700-1980 m) [149]
Utah: 5,030 to 6,530 feet (1525-1980 m) [144]
Wyoming: 5,000 to 7,000 feet (1500-2100 m) [11]
East of the Continental Divide: below 7,000 feet (2100 m) [112]

SUCCESSIONAL STATUS:

Wyoming big sagebrush is a mid- to late-seral species [41,54,125]. Period of Wyoming big sagebrush establishment after a stand-replacing event such as fire is typically about a decade but varies with site [125]. Prior to re-establishment of Wyoming big sagebrush, disturbed Wyoming big sagebrush communities are mostly populated with associated grasses. Principal component analysis of Wyoming big sagebrush steppe on the Thunder Basin National Grassland of Wyoming produced this successional model (intervals between seres were not quantified) [13]:

early: forbs
early intermediate: blue grama
late intermediate: western wheatgrass
late seral: Wyoming big sagebrush

Wyoming big sagebrush/cheatgrass associations are most common on frequently disturbed sites. In the Trout Creek Mountains of Oregon, the type occurs on floodplains with large amounts of bare ground cover [46].

Wyoming big sagebrush may lose dominance on some steppe that have not experienced fire or other stand-replacing events for half a century or more. Kindschy [81] noted that in pristine Wyoming big sagebrush/bluebunch wheatgrass on Oregon's Jordan Crater Natural Research Area, most sites with a preponderance of dead Wyoming big sagebrush were the oldest seres. Old seres were primarily populated with long-established perennial herbs, with a few decadent Wyoming big sagebrush.

VAM associated with Wyoming big sagebrush are killed by heating or chemical alteration of the soil, and they may take several years to recolonize after fire or other soil-altering disturbance [148]. Absence of VAM probably inhibits Wyoming big sagebrush establishment on disturbed soils. For example, 2.5 years after restoration work, VAM had not yet colonized a coal-mined site in south-central Wyoming even though stockpiled topsoil was replaced. When VAM-infected and noninfected Wyoming big sagebrush seedlings were transplanted on the site, there was no significant difference in growth between the 2 groups: both showed poor establishment. In the greenhouse, however, biomass gain of the infected group was significantly greater (about 1.5 times more, p=0.05) compared to the uninfected group. This suggests that on the disturbed site, VAM were unable to survive anywhere but inside Wyoming big sagebrush roots, and establishment of VAM and host Wyoming big sagebrush probably will not occur until the chemistry of lower soil horizons changes [122].

SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT:

Wyoming big sagebrush develops ephemeral leaves in early spring and retains them until onset of summer drought. Perennial leaves develop slowly, from late spring until July. Perennial leaves are generally retained until their 2nd year, when they are shed during summer drought. By retaining about 1/3rd of its perennial leaves over winter and then developing ephemeral leaves early in the growing season, Wyoming big sagebrush begins photosynthesis and height growth earlier than most herbaceous associates [38,96]. Relatively more leaves are shed in dry years compared to wet ones, and new leaves tend to be smaller in dry years [85]. Flowering begins in late summer (Aug. or Sept.), and fruits ripen in fall (mid-Oct. to mid-Nov.) [116,149]. Flowering continues until the onset of cold weather. Most seed is shed in fall, but some seed shed may continue until early winter [98].

Phenology of Wyoming big sagebrush in the Curlew Valley of northern Utah was as follows [51]:

root elongation    April - mid-May
shoot elongation   May - mid-Aug.
flowering          mid-July - Sept.
fruiting           mid-Aug. - Sept.         

FIRE ECOLOGY

SPECIES: Artemisia tridentata subsp. wyomingensis
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS:
Fire adaptations: Fire is the principal means of renewal for decadent stands of Wyoming big sagebrush [17]. Wyoming big sagebrush establishes after fire from the seedbank [12,90,112]; from seed produced by remnant plants that escaped fire [29]; and from plants adjacent to the burn that seed in [29,31]. Fires in Wyoming big sagebrush are usually not continuous, and remnant plants are the principal means of postfire reproduction [29]. Fire does not stimulate germination of soil-stored Wyoming big sagebrush seed, but neither does it inhibit its germination [30].

Wyoming big sagebrush × plains silver sagebrush (Artemisia cana subsp. cana) hybrids usually sprout after top-kill by fire [89].

Litter production is lower in Wyoming big sagebrush communities than in other big sagebrush subspecies, but still may be greater than litter production in communities dominated by other cold-desert shrubs. In the Curlew Valley of northern Utah, average annual litter production was greater in Wyoming big sagebrush (192 g/m2/year) than in winterfat (Krascheninnikovia lanta) or shadscale (Atriplex confertifolia) communities [145].

Fire regimes in Wyoming big sagebrush communities: Wyoming big sagebrush steppe communities historically had low fuel loadings and were characterized by 10- to 70-year interval, patchy fires that produced a mosaic of burned and unburned lands [24,27,55,62,66,76,105,135,146,153,154,155]. Fire scars on western juniper in a Wyoming big sagebrush/bluebunch wheatgrass community in Lassen County, California, showed fire return intervals ranging from 10 to 40 years [154]. Vincent [135] suggests that in northern New Mexico, infrequent fire probably maintained Wyoming big sagebrush communities as open, seral stands of Wyoming big sagebrush with productive herbaceous understories. Historic mean fire return interval in northern New Mexico Wyoming big sagebrush communities is estimated at 40 to 50 years [135,153].

Fire regimes have been radically altered in Wyoming big sagebrush communities heavily invaded by cheatgrass [27,66,76,89,116,129]. Cheatgrass dominates many Wyoming big sagebrush stands in southern Idaho, northern Nevada, and eastern Oregon. Annual cheatgrass production is highly variable and can be considerable in years of favorable precipitation. An abundance of cheatgrass enhances the likelihood of fire spread [27]. Fire hazard is estimated to be 5 times as great in big sagebrush communities converted to cheatgrass [106]. Besides removing Wyoming big sagebrush, frequent fire may also inhibit its re-establishment. Repeated burning and invasion by cheatgrass removes VAM associated with Wyoming big sagebrush [109]. Some Wyoming big sagebrush sites in southern Idaho have burned 2 or 3 times within 10 years [18]. On such sites, Wyoming big sagebrush is not regenerating before the next fire cycle, and former steppes are converting to annual grasslands [97].

Fire regimes in other types: Fire return intervals in communities in which Wyoming big sagebrush is an important component of the understory are similar to those of Wyoming big sagebrush communities and are summarized below. For further information on fire regimes in these forest and woodland communities, see the FEIS species report.

Species Interval
Pacific ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa var. ponderosa) 1-30 yrs
interior ponderosa pine (P. p. var. scopulorum) 2-45 yrs
western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis) 7-100 yrs
Utah juniper (J. osteosperma) 10-30 yrs

POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY:
Secondary colonizer - on-site seed
Secondary colonizer - off-site seed

FIRE EFFECTS

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

Wyoming big sagebrush ignites readily and produces a very hot fire [98,101,135]. Fire kills it [27,29,32,43,53,101,105,137,152].

PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE:

Wyoming big sagebrush is not an initial colonizer. It may be slow to establish on a burn, especially when compared to other big sagebrush subspecies, because of the relatively drier sites it normally occupies [21,24,27]. Additionally, the VAM upon which Wyoming big sagebrush depend for healthy growth are harmed by fire, and may take several years after fire to recover [71,109]. Wicklow-Howard [148] found that on the Snake River Birds of Prey Area of southern Idaho, fewer of the VAM associated with Wyoming big sagebrush were killed by low-intensity fire than by moderate-intensity fire.

In southwestern Montana, Wyoming big sagebrush seedlings were still absent from a prescribed burn site 6 years after fire [137]. In the Missouri River Breaks of central Montana, wildfire removed the Wyoming big sagebrush from a Wyoming big sagebrush/bluebunch wheatgrass community, and it was not found during vegetation sampling performed at postfire year 14. Total coverage at that time was 50% grasses, with the remainder consisting of forbs and bare ground. Shrub cover was "minimal" [43].

Wyoming big sagebrush frequency declined significantly after late-summer (Sept. 21, 1983) prescribed fire near Elko, Nevada. Fire and Wyoming big sagebrush frequency data were as follows [29]:

Fire Parameters
temperature               70oF            
relative humidity         15%                     
windspeed                 1-3 miles/h         
fuel moisture             3%                         
live sagebrush moisture   93%             
soil moisture             8%                          

Wyoming big sagebrush Frequency (%)
Fire treatment              Unburned control
-----------------------     ----------------
year before fire     28     22
postfire year 1      2      18
postfire year 3      5      no data
DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE:

Prescribed burning in Wyoming big sagebrush has been accomplished on patches as little as 0.3 acre (0.05 ha) [105] and as much as 14,500 acres (5800 ha). The 14,500-acre fire, on the Upper Snake River Plain of Idaho, burned about 57% of the area and reduced Wyoming big sagebrush and threetip sagebrush (Artemisia tripartita) cover from approximately 20 to 11% [53]. The small patchy fires, on the East Fork of the Salmon River in south-central Idaho, reduced Wyoming big sagebrush from a prefire frequency of 100% to and average of 40% in postfire year 1. Wyoming big sagebrush seedlings had not recolonized by postfire year 3 [105].

Wyoming big sagebrush may be less able to benefit from the increased nutrient load on recently burned sites than associated grasses. In a greenhouse study, cheatgrass and bottlebrush squirreltail seedlings showed a significant increase (p = 0.05) in total biomass when grown on soil collected from a new burn compared to growth on soil from an adjacent unburned site. Biomass of Wyoming big sagebrush seedlings was slightly (but not significantly) less when grown on soil from the burn compared to biomass when grown on soil from the unburned site [17].

FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS:

Burning is the oldest method of big sagebrush control in the West, and it is still effective and relatively inexpensive. Sites generally need reburning every 15 to 30 years in order to control big sagebrush [85,112]. Composition of herbaceous vegetation is largely unaffected by burning, whereas herbicide control may reduce herb production by 45 to 65% [4,85]. Unlike burning in other big sagebrush types, burning in Wyoming big sagebrush usually does not usually increase forb density or diversity [53,58,151].

Fuels and Fire Guidelines: Prescribed burning may be difficult on some sites due to low fuel loads, but under the right combination of wind and high temperature, sparsely fueled Wyoming big sagebrush communities can burn [150]. On Wyoming big sagebrush rangeland in southern Idaho, prescribed burning in April, when fine fuels left over from the prior growing season carry a relatively "cool" fire, has been successful. Autenhreith and others [4] recommend burning in strips of not more than 50 yards (45 m) wide and 100 yards (90 m) in length in order to preserve some big sagebrush for wildlife. They do not recommend winter burning in sage grouse habitat, as winter availability of sagebrush is crucial to the birds.

Frandsen [55] developed a model estimating fuel load of Wyoming big sagebrush for fire behavior predictions. Britton and others [24] present a big sagebrush canopy cover-herbaceous fuel load curve representing proportions of big sagebrush cover and herbaceous fuels needed to produce a successful burn. Brown [25] has developed a model for fuel and fire behavior prediction in Wyoming and mountain big sagebrush based on sampling in Montana and Idaho.

General guidelines for burning big sagebrush types: For stand-replacing fire, Beardall and Sylvester [9] recommend fine fuels of 600 to 700 lbs/acre (674-786 kg/ha). Big sagebrush should be at least 1/3rd of total plant cover [104].

Success of winter broadcast burning (n=5 fires) in big sagebrush communities in southern Idaho was follows [101]:

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 (oC)      9.0               9.0
Relative humidity (%) 49.3                46.6
Windspeed (km/h)     8.3                 6.6
Fuel moisture (%)     37.0                38.0

Postfire Management: Native species that have been successfully seeded in after fire on degraded Wyoming big sagebrush rangelands include bluebunch wheatgrass, fourwing saltbush (Atriplex canescens), scarlet globemallow (Sphaeralcea coccinea), and balsamroot (Balsamorhiza spp.). Russian wildrye (Psathyrostachys juncea), crested, and desert wheatgrasses have also been successfully seeded in [80,150]. Reoccupation of Wyoming big sagebrush is slower on sites seeded to crested or desert wheatgrass than on sites seeded to native grasses [112].

Deferment of grazing is recommended for 1 to 2 years after burning Wyoming big sagebrush/grass types to allow native grasses to recover [69,104,152].

Cheatgrass: While burning will remove Wyoming big sagebrush, it will not restore perennial grasses in areas where cheatgrass has become dominant [27]. Arid regions may be most susceptible to cheatgrass invasion. Hironaka and others [67] reported that in the Wyoming big sagebrush/bluebunch wheatgrass type, cheatgrass has been less invasive in eastern Idaho than in the drier regions of southern Idaho, eastern Oregon, and northern Nevada and Utah. To reduce cheatgrass invasion after burning, they recommend a gradual reduction in shrub cover so that bluebunch wheatgrass and other bunchgrasses regain vigor and produce a continuous supply of seed.

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 [104,146]. 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 [146,155].

Communities in good condition may at least partially recover from temporary postfire increases in cheatgrass, especially when fire is followed by favorable precipitation. For example, a summer wildfire in central Utah occurred in a Wyoming big sagebrush/bluebunch wheatgrass community in good condition shortly after vegetation sampling was performed for a different study. Precipitation was above average in postfire years 1 and 2. Further vegetation sampling was done in postfire years 1 and 2 for a fire effects study. Wyoming big sagebrush was removed by fire. Bluebunch wheatgrass recovered quickly, almost equaling prefire coverage by postfire year 2. Cheatgrass coverage increased greatly on both burned and unburned control plots, with coverage on burned plots over twice that on unburned plots. The authors concluded that on this rangeland, postfire seeding would not have increased abundance of bluebunch wheatgrass and other native grasses relative to cheatgrass. Pre- and postfire coverages of Wyoming big sagebrush, bluebunch wheatgrass, and cheatgrass are given below. Data are means and 1 standard error [146].

            ----------------Burned----------------   
            Prefire    Postfire yr 1  Postfire yr 2       
sagebrush   6.5(1.3)   0              0           
wheatgrass  12.9(5.0)  6.5(1.7)       12.3(4.9)    
cheatgrass  6.6(1.5)   34.8(12.1)     56.8(5.4)        

            ------------Unburned Control----------
            Prefire    Postfire yr 1  Postfire yr 2
sagebrush   2.3(1.2)   3.7(1.2)       5.7(4.0)
wheatgrass  13.3(0.5)  16.0(1.)       13.3(5.9)
cheatgrass  6.8(1.1)   11.0(1.1)      24.0(8.2)
Restoration of cheatgrass-dominated sites: Boltz [18] found seed imprinting resulted in best establishment of Wyoming big sagebrush seedlings the Jarbidge Resource Area of south-central Idaho. He studied natural and artificial regeneration on sites that had been subject to repeat wildfire and cheatgrass invasion. Natural regeneration of Wyoming big sagebrush was poor on cheatgrass-overrun sites receiving less than 10 inches (254 mm) average annual precipitation. He speculated a depleted seedbank combined with low and erratic precipitation resulted in low Wyoming big sagebrush seedling density and high seedling mortality. Imprinting seed into the soil after May prescribed burning on an already thrice-burned site in poor condition resulted in Wyoming big sagebrush establishment at an average rate of 2,750 seedlings/acre (6875/ha). Among imprinting, broadcasting, drilling, disking, or chaining seed, broadcasting was 2nd most successful at 750 seedlings/acre (300/ha).

Cheatgrass is most likely to invade the Wyoming big sagebrush/Thurber needlegrass type if overgrazing has preceded fire. Hironaka and others [67] suggest that due to low seedling vigor of Thurber needlegrass, restoring this type after cheatgrass becomes dominant would be difficult to impossible. They recommend artificial seeding with desert wheatgrass.

When perennial herbs are depleted by overgrazing or other means, the Wyoming big sagebrush/needle-and-thread grass type is easily invaded by cheatgrass because it tends to occur on warm soils. However, needle-and-thread grass is easier to establish by artificial seeding than most native bunchgrasses. Hironaka and others [67] recommend direct-seed drilling needle-and-thread grass into nontilled soil when cheatgrass has invaded this type.

Other invasive species: Rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus spp.) may invade burned sites in the northern Great Basin. Rabbitbrush invasion after fire has occurred most often in western Idaho, and is least likely in eastern Idaho and Wyoming [27].

Sage grouse: Fire is an effective tool for promoting sage grouse [14,58,82,114]. For information on fire management of sage grouse habitat, see the FEIS report on sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus).

FIRE CASE STUDIES

SPECIES: Artemisia tridentata subsp. wyomingensis
FIRE CASE STUDY CITATION:

Howard, Janet L., compiler.1999. Wyoming big sagebrush response to burning in a Wyoming big sagebrush/bluebunch wheatgrass habitat type in Idaho. In: Artemisia tridentata subsp. wyomingensis. 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:

Clifton, Nancy A. 1981. Response to prescribed fire in a Wyoming big sagebrush/bluebunch wheatgrass habitat type. Moscow, ID: University of Idaho. 39 p. Thesis. [31].

SEASON/SEVERITY CLASSIFICATION:

fall (Sept. 27 through Oct. 1, 1978)/light severity

STUDY LOCATION:

The study area is 25 miles (40 km) north of Shoshone, Idaho, on the Shoshone District, BLM.

PREFIRE VEGETATIVE COMMUNITY:

The community was a Wyoming big sagebrush/bluebunch wheatgrass (Artemisia tridentata spp. wyomingensis/Pseudoroegneria spicata) habitat with large amounts of Thurber needlegrass (Achnatherum thurberianum). Western wheatgrass (Pascopyrum smithii), Sandberg bluegrass (Poa secunda), and low sagebrush (A. longiloba) were common. Two exotic grasses were present in low numbers: cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) coverage was less than 2%, and Japanese brome (B. japonicus) coverage was less than 1%. Bare ground coverage was 47%; litter coverage was 36%.

SITE DESCRIPTION:

Use: The study site lies within a grazing allotment used by domestic sheep in spring. Nonuse averaged 70% of the authorized AUM's prior to the study, and this grazing pattern continued throughout the study. The area is also managed for sage grouse.

Landscape characteristics: Elevation is 5,000 feet (1524 m). Topography is undulating with rocky outcrops. Soils are fine clays and clayey loams of basaltic or rhyolitic parent material. Soil permeability is low. Average annual precipitation is 11 inches (280 mm), with the majority falling from November through January. Average annual temperature is 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7 oC), with average annual maximum and minimums of 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 oC) and 0 degrees Fahrenheit (-14 oC), respectively. Frost-free period is about 3 months. Prevailing winds are from the west.

Climate during study period: The 2 months prior to the late September burning had abnormally high precipitation. The winter and late spring following burning were abnormally dry; otherwise, precipitation at postfire year 1 was in normal range. In postfire year 2, precipitation was well above normal.

FIRE DESCRIPTION:

Management objectives were to reduce Wyoming big sagebrush cover; increase herbaceous forage; improve habitat quality for sage grouse and other wildlife by creating a mosaic of burned and unburned patches with at least 10% of the area burned; and to reduce wildfire hazard. The fire prescription called for strip headfires under the following conditions:

fine fuel moisture  13-30%
relative humidity   20-45%
windspeed           5-30 miles/h (8-48 km/h)
temperature         50-85oF (10-30oC)
Actual burning conditions were:
fine fuel moisture  not given
relative humidity   19-36%
windspeed           3-25 miles/h (4.8-40 km/h)
temperature         64-85oF (18-30oC)
The fire produced a mosaic of burned and unburned patches. Ten to 15% of the area burned.


FIRE EFFECTS ON TARGET SPECIES:

Coverage of Wyoming big sagebrush was significantly (p < 0.05) less on burned plots than on unburned control plots. Postfire density of live Wyoming big sagebrush plants was about 500% greater on control plots:

		                -----------Burned----------   
		                postfire yr 1  postfire yr 2       
live density (plants/ha)   2000           2250            
dead density (plants/ha)   11250          1105             
cover (%)                  0.79           1.09               

                                      
                           -----------Control-----------
				    postfire yr 1   postfire yr 2
live density (plants/ha)   13950           13500   	
dead density (plants/ha)   4500            4400 
cover (%)	                17.37           19.35
Mortality of associated bunchgrasses was low. For example, 100% of tagged and burned bluebunch wheatgrass plants were alive at postfire year 2, and 77% of Thurber needlegrass plants so treated were alive. Coverage of cheatgrass and Japanese brome increased slightly on both burned and unburned plots during the study period, but the increases were not significant. Forb coverage was not affected by burning.

 

FIRE MANAGEMENT IMPLICATIONS:

The prescribed fire met or nearly met management objectives. The study site was typical of many Wyoming big sagebrush habitats in that bare ground was plentiful and fuels somewhat sparse, but the study area had enough fine fuels to carry a patchy fire. Target percentage (at least 10%) of the study area to be burnt was exceeded, and Wyoming big sagebrush was reduced. Overall production of herbaceous forage increased, although production of Sandberg bluegrass and Thurber needlegrass declined after fire. At postfire year 1, bluebunch wheatgrass yield was 330% greater on burned plots compared to unburned plots. Exotic grasses were present in low numbers before fire, and prescribed burning did not result in attendant increases in the exotics.

During the 1st summer after fire, 110 individual sage grouse including brood were observed using the mosaic created by burning.

Domestic sheep were put on the study site 3 weeks after burning. Although deferment of grazing for 1 to 2 years after burning is usually recommended in Wyoming big sagebrush habitats, Clifton [31] suggested that the short-duration, light use of the area did no major damage to the newly burned rangeland.


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