006316 RIGINOS C, MONACO T A, VEBLEN K E, GUNNELL K, THACKER E, DAHLGREN D, MESSMER T (Wildland Resources Dep, Utah State Univ, Utah- 84322-5230, Email: email@example.com) : Potential for post-fire recovery of Greater Sage-Grouse habitat. Ecosphere 2019, 10(11), e02870.
In the western United States, fire has become a significant concern in the management of big sage-brush (Artemisia tridentataNutt.) ecosystems. This is due to large-scale increases in cover of the fire-prone inva-sive annual cheat grass (Bromus tectorum L.) and, concurrently, concerns about declining quantity and quality of habitat for Greater Sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus). The prevailing paradigm is that fire results in a loss of sage-grouse habitat on time scales relevant to conservation planning (i.e., 1–20 yr), since sage brush cover can take many more years to recover post-fire. However,fire can have effects that improve sage-grouse habitat, including stimulating perennial grass and forb production. The conditions under which fire results in the per-manent loss or enhancement of sage-grouse habitat are not well understood. We used long-term data from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Range Trend Project to assess short-term (1–4 yr post-treatment) and long-term (6–10 yr post-treatment) effects offire on vegetation cover at 16 sites relative to sage-grouse habitat vegetation guidelines. Sagebrush cover remained low post-fire at sites considered historically unsuitable for sage-grouse (<10% initial sagebrush cover). In contrast, at sites that had higher (>10%) pre-fire sagebrush cover, sage-brush cover decreased to<10% in the short-term post-fire, but by 6–10 yr after fire, most of these sites exhibiteda recovering trajectory and two sites had recovered to>10% cover. Post-fire sagebrush cover was positively related to elevation. Across all sites, perennial grasses and forbs increased in cover to approximately meet the habitat vegetation guidelines for sage-grouse. Cheatgrass cover did not change in response tofire, and increased perennial grass cover appears to have played an important role in suppressing cheatgrass. Our results indicate that, while fire poses a potential risk for sage-grouse habitat loss and degradation, burned sites do not necessarily need to be considered permanently altered, especially if they are located at higher elevation, have high sagebrush cover pre-fire, and are reseeded with perennial grasses and forbs post-fire. However, our results confirm that fire at more degraded sites, for example, those with<10% sagebrush cover, can result in cheat-grass-dominated landscapes and sagebrush loss at these sites should be avoided.
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