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Seeding techniques for restoring sagebrush ecosystems following wildfire

Date: September 25, 2017

Scientists in Boise have partnered with public and private agencies to evaluate the effectiveness of seeding techniques designed to re-establish native plants following fire


Sagebrush ecosystems of the Great Basin are rapidly being converted to annual grasslands dominated by invasive weeds such as cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum L.) which thrives following wildfire and competes with native plants. Restoring diverse plant communities containing perennial grasses, shrubs and forbs is an important priority in this region. Scientists in Boise have partnered with public and private agencies to evaluate the effectiveness of seeding techniques designed to re-establish native plants following fire.

Burned sagebrush sites can be seeded using rangeland drills to re-establish native perennial plants.
Burned sagebrush sites can be seeded using rangeland drills to re-establish native perennial plants.
Thousands of acres of public land have been seeded following wildfire in recent years. Post-fire seeding is especially important in sagebrush ecosystems where grazing disturbance has often depleted native perennial plants and favored invasive annuals such as cheatgrass. Although techniques for seeding non-native forage plants are well established, these techniques are not always effective for seeding native plant species. Innovative modifications of conventional seeding equipment have the potential to increase success when seeding mixtures of native species with different germination requirements.

Newer models of rangeland drills are able handle seeds of different sizes, planting larger seeds at precise depths in furrows and pressing smaller seeds onto the soil between furrow rows. Many newer drill models are minimum-till drills that have the potential to reduce soil disturbance. Experiments have been replicated at multiple sites in the northern Great Basin to compare the effectiveness of these different drill types for seeding mixtures of native grasses, forbs and shrubs following fire. The minimum-till drill was found to be especially effective for small-seeded species such as Wyoming big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata ssp. wyomingensis), an important ecosystem component that is otherwise slow to re-establish following fire. Other experimental comparisons highlight effects of seeding in different seasons, different seed quantities, and differences due to site-specific conditions and weather patterns.

This research will assist managers in making informed decisions about when, what and how to seed to enhance post-fire recovery in sagebrush ecosystems.

Key findings

  • Restoring diverse plant communities containing perennial grasses, shrubs and forbs is an important priority in sagebrush ecosystems of the Great Basin.
  • Post-fire seeding is especially important in sagebrush ecosystems where grazing disturbance has often depleted native perennial plants while favoring invasive annuals such as cheatgrass.
  • The minimum-till drill is especially effective for establishing small-seeded species such as Wyoming big sagebrush.

Featured Publications

Ott, Jeffrey E. ; Cox, Robert D. ; Shaw, Nancy L. , 2017
Ott, Jeffrey E. ; Cox, Robert D. ; Shaw, Nancy L. ; Newingham, Beth A. ; Ganguli, Amy C. ; Pellant, Mike ; Roundy, Bruce A. ; Eggett, Dennis L. , 2016
Ott, Jeffrey E. ; Halford, Anne ; Shaw, Nancy L. , 2016


External Partners: 
Robert Cox-Texas Tech University
Mike Pellant-USDI Bureau of Land Management
Loren St. John-USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS)
Boyd Simonson-USDA NRCS
Charlie Bair-USDA NRCS
Carl Rudeen-U.S. Air Force
Jim Truax-Truax Co. Inc
Bruce Roundy-Brigham Young University