Effects of Using Winter Grazing as a Fuel Treatment on Wyoming Big Sagebrush Plant Communities ☆

Research paper by K.W. Davies, A.M. Nafus, C.S. Boyd, A. Hulet, J.D. Bates

Indexed on: 06 Apr '16Published on: 05 Apr '16Published in: Rangeland Ecology & Management


More frequent wildfires and incidences of mega-fires have increased the pressure for fuel treatments in sagebrush (Artemisia) communities. Winter grazing has been one of many fuel treatments proposed for Wyoming big sagebrush (A. tridentata Nutt. subsp. wyomingensis Beetle and A. Young) communities. Though fire risk and severity can be reduced with winter grazing, its impact on vegetation characteristics of Wyoming big sagebrush plant communities is largely unknown. We evaluate the effect of winter grazing at utilization levels between 40% and 60% at five sites in southeastern Oregon. Winter grazing was applied for 5−6 yr before measurements. The winter-grazed and ungrazed treatments generally had similar vegetation characteristics; however, a few characteristics differed. The consumption of prior years’ growth resulted in less large perennial bunchgrass, perennial forb, and total herbaceous cover and standing crop and litter biomass. Large perennial bunchgrass and perennial forb density and biomass and exotic annual grass and annual forb cover, density, and biomass did not differ between treatments, suggesting that winter grazing is not negatively impacting resilience and resistance of these communities. Shrub cover was also similar between treatments. These results imply that winter grazing can be applied to reduce fine fuels in Wyoming big sagebrush communities without adversely affecting the native plant community. Winter grazing should, however, be strategically applied because the reduction in perennial grass and perennial forb cover with the consumption of prior years’ growth may negatively impact the habitat value for wildlife species that use herbaceous vegetation for concealment.