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Equipment and strategies to enhance the post-wildfire establishment and persistence of Great Basin native plants

Status: 
Action
Dates: 
October, 2009

Project Background

Photos of rangeland drills used for post-fire seeding at study sites in the northern Great Basin: (A) conventional drill with aluminum pipes installed on alternate rows, and (B) minimum-till drill with imprinter wheels installed on alternate rows.
Photos of rangeland drills used for post-fire seeding at study sites in the northern Great Basin: (A) conventional drill with aluminum pipes installed on alternate rows, and (B) minimum-till drill with imprinter wheels installed on alternate rows.
The cycle of annual weed invasion and wildfire has altered large expanses of western shrublands, disrupted ecosystem functioning, and increased wildfire size, intensity, and frequency. These impacts are costly in terms of losses to native species and ecosystems, and also in risks to human life and property and wildfire-associated expenditures. Post-fire rehabilitation provides an opportunity to stabilize and revegetate at-risk shrublands.

The USDI Bureau of Land Management treats more acres and expends more funds through the Emergency Stabilization and Rehabilitation Program (ES&R) than other agencies, and is required by executive orders and agency regulations to use native species where feasible. However, our ability to establish mixtures of grasses, forbs, and shrubs is limited.

With recent drives to not only include native species, but seed greater diversities of grasses, shrubs, and forbs in post-wildfire restoration efforts, there is also a need for seeding equipment that is capable of simultaneously seeding seeds of various size and shape and with many different types of appendages.

Project Objectives

This research addresses reestablishment of native vegetation after fires on arid lands. Findings will provide both basic and applied results on native restoration species and technology for their use. Our objectives are to:

  • Examine seeding techniques for Wyoming big sagebrush

  • Test seeding technology for native species, particularly native forbs

  • Compare the ability of a modified rangeland drill and an experimental minimum-till drill to plant native seeds of diverse size and shapes and to reduce surface disturbance, thereby conserving residual native species and biological soil crusts, while minimizing planting of annual grass seed

  • Apply and examine use of USGS proposed ES&R monitoring protocols for gauging seeding success for both the short and long term

  • Provide plantings for long-term examination of livestock grazing on diversity in native settings

Approach

An example of a diverse native seed mix.
An example of a diverse native seed mix.

We examined the effects of a conventional rangeland drill and a minimum-till drill, seeding strategies for small-seeded species, and Wyoming big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata Nutt. spp. wyomingensis Beetle & Young) seeding rates on seeding success in burned shrub communities at four sites in the northern Great Basin. Seeded and recovering vegetation, as well as soil physical and chemical characteristics, were monitored for two growing seasons following treatment. In addition, provision was made for long-term evaluation of grazed and non-grazed seedings to assess community dynamics in relation to management practices.

One purpose of the study was to investigate the effectiveness of the two drills (rangeland and minimum-till) at establishing a native community from a diverse seed mix. Therefore, a mix of species to seed was selected that included native grasses, shrubs, and forbs (herbaceous, non-grass).

Species seeded in 2008 at Mountain Home and Glass Butte Research Sites

Species* Source Form Seeding Method Seeds Per Pound
Wyoming big sagebrush Humboldt & Elko Co., NV or Lincoln, Blaine, Jerome Co., ID Shrub Broadcast 2,109,032 or 1,635,583
Rubber rabbitbrush Uinta Co., WY Shrub Broadcast 695,000
Sandberg bluegrass "Mountain Home" cultivar Grass Broadcast 926,000
Penstemon deustus widely collected native source Forb Broadcast 3,429,810
Indian ricegrass "Rimrock" cultivar Grass Drilled 205,000
Munro's globemallow Utah Co., UT Forb Drilled 750,000
Bluebunch wheatgrass "Anatone" cultivar Grass Drilled 135,153
Bottlebrush squirreltail "Toe Jam Creek" cultivar Grass Drilled 190,000
Sulfur-flower buckwheat widely collected native source Shrub Drilled 184,153

 *Follow the species link for the plant profile at the USDA NRCS Plants Database 

Project Timeline

The project duration is expected to be four years with completion in September 2012. A separate research study will be required to complete the long-term experiment of grazing effects on larger plots of seeded natives that will be established as part of this project. This project will provide baseline data in a standard database that will allow trend detection.

Dates

Activities

 

July 2007 - Jan. 2008

Selected two study sites on 2007 burns, procured seed, installed seeding treatments and weather stations

Glass Butte research site, in Lake County, OR, is located within the Roundtop Butte Fire, which burned more than 9,000 acres in July of 2007.
Glass Butte research site, in Lake County, OR, is located within the Roundtop Butte Fire, which burned more than 9,000 acres in July of 2007.

Aug. 2007

Two sites were selected, one south of Mountain Home, ID, the other west of Burns, OR.

Sept. 2007

Plot boundaries setup for the two study sites

Oct. - Nov. 2007

Seeding treatments applied

Jan. 2008

Winter broadcast of sagebrush seeds, simulating aerial seeding

April - July 2008

Conducted sampling on 2007 seedings

 

July 2008 - Jan. 2009

Selected a third study site on a 2008 burn, procured seed, installed seeding treatments and weather station

 

Oct. 2008

Site was selected northwest of Snowville, UT, and plot boundaries were established

The Scooby research site in Box Elder County, UT.
The Scooby research site in Box Elder County, UT.

Nov. 2008

Seeding treatments applied

Jan. 2009

Winter broadcast of sagebrush seeds

April - July 2009

Conducted sampling on 2007 and 2008 seedings

Winter 2009 and 2010

Data entry and analysis for 2007 and 2008 seedings

May - June 2010

Conduct sampling on 2008 seeding

 

June - Oct. 2010

Selected a fourth study site on a 2010 burn, procured seed, installed seeding treatments and weather-monitoring equipment

 

Sept. - Oct. 2010

Site selected on Saylor Creek Bombing Range, and plot boundaries were established

 

Oct. 2010

Seeding treatments applied

 

Jan. 2011

Winter broadcast of sagebrush seeds

 

Winter 2010 and 2011

Data entry and analysis for 2008 seeding

 

May - June 2011

Conduct sampling on 2010 seeding

 

May - June 2012

Conduct sampling on 2010 seeding

 

Winter 2012 and 2013

Data entry and analysis for 2010 seeding, preparation of final report and deliverables, may continue into 2013

 

Key Findings

Results underscore the impact of precipitation and recovering residual species on seeded species emergence and establishment. Emergence of some drill-seeded species was enhanced when seeded through the rangeland drill compared to the minimum-till drill. Wyoming big sagebrush emergence was erratic, but tended to be greater when seeded through the minimum-till drill at moderate or high rates (approximately 250 and 500 pure live seed / m2) compared to the low rate (50 pure live seed / m2). Cheatgrass and other exotics were reduced and basal gap lengths decreased where native seedings established or residual natives recovered, but both increased where seeded species establishment was low due to low precipitation.

Considerable soil erosion occurred in burned areas, as indicated by dust production, soil stability, and soil microrelief. Fire substantially increased dust flux rates due to decreased soil stability; however, neither drill affected these processes. Amounts of soil movement via dust flux rates and changes in soil microrelief varied throughout seasons but were not affected by drilling. While wildfire altered some soil micronutrients, drilling and seeding rates did not alter chemical responses to fire. Further work is needed to link plant and soil responses, which may help to explain plant establishment after fire and seeding treatments.

Events



Principal Investigators:
Co-Investigators:
MiKe Pellant - DOI Bureau of Land Management
Bruce Roundy - Brigham Young University

Collaborators:
Jim Truax - Truax Co. Inc.
Robert Cox - Texas Tech University
Beth Newingham - University of Idaho
Dan Ogle - USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service
Dave Pyke - U.S. Geological Survey
Loren St. John - USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
Boyd Simonson - USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
Charlie Bair - Great Basin Restoration Initiative
Carl Rudeen - US Air Force

Research Staff:
Erin Denney - Rocky Mountain Research Station
Amy Ganguli - Rocky Mountain Research Station

Funding Contributors:
National Fire Plan
Joint Fire Science Program
DOI Bureau of Land Management
Great Basin Restoration Initiative
Great Basin Native Plant Project