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Individual Highlight

Resilience Science is Key to Effective Restoration of Imperiled Sagebrush Ecosystems

Photo of Rehabilitation seeding after a wildfire to restore a Wyoming big sagebrush community. Chad Boyd, USDA Agricultural Research ServiceRehabilitation seeding after a wildfire to restore a Wyoming big sagebrush community. Chad Boyd, USDA Agricultural Research ServiceSnapshot : Sagebrush ecosystems and the more than 350 species that rely on them are highly imperiled due to persistent threats such as invasive annual grasses, pinyon and juniper expansion, and altered fire regimes. Understanding their relative resilience or recovery potential following wildfire or management treatments provides the basis for more effective selection of treatment areas and restoration strategies.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Chambers, Jeanne C.  
Research Location : Northern Region (41); Rocky Mountain Region (R2); Southwestern Region (R3); Intermountain Region (R4); Pacific Southwest Region (R5); Pacific Northwest Region (R6)
Research Station : Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS)
Year : 2015
Highlight ID : 786


Progressive expansion of invasive annual grasses and larger and more severe fires in sagebrush ecosystems underscore the importance of vegetation management treatments that can reverse these trends. In sagebrush ecosystems, vegetation treatments focus on reducing woody species (shrubs and grasses) to reduce fuel loads, and thus fire severity and extent, and on post-fire rehabilitation. Overarching management objectives are restoring and maintaining ecosystem services such as clean air and water by increasing resilience to disturbance or recovery potential, and decreasing the longer term risk of conversion to invasive annual grasses and an annual/grass fire cycle.

Resilience science has been used to develop management guides for selecting appropriate treatment and restoration strategies for sagebrush and piƱon-juniper ecosystems. The guides provide a framework with six key components for rapidly evaluating resilience to disturbance, resistance to invasive annual grasses, and plant community succession following wildfires and management treatments. The key components are: ecological characteristics of the site; vegetation composition and structure prior to treatment; severity of the disturbance or treatment; post-treatment weather; post-treatment management, especially grazing; and monitoring and adaptive management.

Several tools are provided to aid in determining the most appropriate treatment. These tools include: a conceptual model of the relationships of the key components and their effects on resilience and resistance; guides to evaluate disturbance and treatment severity; and, aids for determining plant composition and structure after wildfires.

Importantly, evaluation score sheets are provided for rating resilience to disturbance and resistance to invasive annual grasses, and for evaluating the probability of treatment success. The approach is being widely adapted by managers seeking to increase treatment effectiveness.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Joint Fire Science Program, Great Basin Fire Science Exchange
  • Mike Pellant, Bureau of Land Management
  • Richard F. Miller, Oregon State University

Program Areas