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Project ID: 11-1-2-30

Year: 2011

Date Started: 10/01/2011

Date Completed: 11/18/2015

Title: Quantifying and Predicting Fuels and the Effects of Reduction Treatments Along Successional and Invasion Gradients in Sagebrush Habitats

Project Proposal Abstract: Variability in plant community dynamics ultimately determines vegetation mosaics, stand structures, and species composition. Successional trajectories and plant growth are influenced by a number of factors including land use, fire, nonnative species, edaphic (soil) conditions, and climatic variability. Interactions among these factors can lead to alternative successional pathways and can push systems beyond ecological thresholds from which they may not recover without intensive human intervention. Dynamic vegetation traits in turn dictate fuel types, fuel loadings, and fuel continuity across landscapes. Fuel and fire models can be used to predict fire danger, fire behavior, and fire effects across landscapes, but poorly measured and dynamic fuelbed mosaics make these tasks difficult. Thus, a key to understanding and managing fire in large landscapes is to develop adequate spatial models of successional change and plant productivity that are coupled to quantitative measures of fuels. Sagebrush shrubland ecosystems in the Great Basin are a prime example of altered successional trajectories and dynamic fuel conditions. Although fire is a natural disturbance in sagebrush, post-fire environments are highly susceptible to the invasive plant-fire regime cycle. After fire, native shrub-steppe plants are often slow to regenerate, whereas nonnative annuals, especially cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) and medusahead (Taeniatherum caput-medusae), can establish quickly and suppress native species growth and recolonization. Once fire-prone annuals become established, fire occurrence increases and further promotes nonnative dominance. The invasive plant-fire regime cycle also alters nutrient and hydrologic cycles, pushing ecosystems beyond ecological thresholds toward steady-state, fire-prone, nonnative communities. These changes affect millions of hectares in the Great Basin and increase fire risk, decrease biodiversity, degrade rangeland resources, and increase soil erosion. In many sagebrush landscapes, poorly quantified or constantly changing plant communities and fuel conditions hinder attempts by land managers to predict and control fire behavior, restore native communities, and provide ecosystem services. We propose to investigate and quantify the influence of land use (i.e. grazing), nonnative species, and altered fire regimes on successional pathways and associated fuel loads in Great Basin sagebrush ecosystems. The overarching goal of the proposed study is to develop an approach to better quantify and predict fuel loads and the effects of fuels manipulations in sagebrush habitats. To accomplish this goal we will address three primary questions: 1) What are current fuel loads along successional/invasion gradients in sagebrush ecological sites on the NCA focal area and throughout the Great Basin? 2) How do fuel reduction treatments and grazing influence fuels in invaded areas formerly dominated by sagebrush? 3) What are the fine-scale spatial patterns of fuels across landscapes and how can management actions be used to alter these patterns? We will use an integrated combination of stratified random field-sampling, experimental manipulation, and remote sensing analysis to achieve the following objectives: 1) develop growth and successional models coupled with fuel loadings for native and nonnative community types; 2) determine the influence of restoration treatments on fuel loads in highly degraded sagebrush landscapes and; 3) develop a spatially-explicit, predictive fuel load model that uses our successional models, field-sampled fuels data, and high-resolution, remotely-sensed data to characterize and quantify fuel loads and fuel patterns (e.g., continuity) across large landscapes. Successional models will be developed using existing data from an ongoing JFSP-funded project spanning the entire Great Basin (JFSP-Project ID:09-S-02-1) to infer comprehensive fuel conditions along a continuum of intact and degraded sagebrush

Principal Investigator: Douglas J. Shinneman

Agency/Organization: USGS-Geological Survey

Branch or Dept: FRESC-Forest & Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center

Other Project Collaborators




Branch or Dept

Agreements Contact

Robert C. Spain

USGS-Geological Survey

FRESC-Forest & Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center

Budget Contact

Robert C. Spain

USGS-Geological Survey

FRESC-Forest & Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center

Co-Principal Investigator

Robert S. Arkle

USGS-Geological Survey

BRD-Snake River Field Station

Co-Principal Investigator

Nancy F. Glenn

Boise State University

Department of Geosciences

Co-Principal Investigator

David S. Pilliod

USGS-Geological Survey

BRD-Snake River Field Station

Federal Cooperator

Douglas J. Shinneman

USGS-Geological Survey

FRESC-Forest & Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center

Project Locations

Fire Science Exchange Network

Great Plains






Interior West


Project Deliverables

Final Report view or print

("Results presented in JFSP Final Reports may not have been peer-reviewed and should be interpreted as tentative until published in a peer-reviewed source.")

  ID Type Title
    3648 Journal Article Rangeland Ecology and Management
view or print   340 MS Thesis Vegetation measurements in sagebrush steppe using terrestrial laser scanning

Supporting Documents

There are no supporting documents available for this project.

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