New Tools For Land Managers | Predicting Vegetation Response to Treatments and Wildfire

August 31, 2015

Maintaining a resilient sagebrush steppe is job number one for sustaining sage grouse populations in the West. A thriving sagebrush-steppe habitat not only helps this imperiled bird, it also supports 350 other species along with productive ranching operations and healthy watersheds that benefit the millions of people who live in or near this type of ecosystem.

Large-scale wildfire, and the risk of conversion of native shrub steppe to invasive annual grasslands, are threats undermining our ability to maintain important ecosystem services. Luckily, several tools are now available that help conservationists better assess and manage vegetation to improve ecosystem resilience before and after wildfire.

These new tools help predict vegetation response to proactive treatments as well as post-fire in the Great Basin.  A new field guide released by the U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station provides a framework for planning post-wildfire recovery. Meanwhile, a companion field guide from last year assists resource managers with selecting appropriate treatments in the sagebrush-steppe ecosystem before fire. The guides help managers ask the right questions in the right places, and provide practical field score sheets to evaluate the ecosystem’s resilience to disturbance, as well as its resistance to invasive annual grasses.

To support field guide assessments, NRCS created an application within the Web Soil Survey that allows planners to generate a custom soils report of key factors influencing resilience and resistance for specific project sites. These reports provide relevant background information, such as soil temperature and moisture regimes, soil textures and depths, climate, and ecological sites that can be used to help inform field investigations.

Learn more by checking out these links below, or by contacting Jeremy Maestas, SGI’s Sagebrush Ecosystem Specialist, at 541-923-4358 ext. 109.

>> A Field Guide for Rapid Assessment of Post-Wildfire Recovery Potential in Sagebrush and Pinon-Juniper Ecosystems in the Great Basin (USFS)

>> A Field Guide for Selecting the Most Appropriate Treatment in Sagebrush and Piñon-Juniper Ecosystems in the Great Basin (USFS)

>> Instructions for Generating the Web Soil Survey Resilience and Resistance Score Sheet Report (NRCS)


The Sage Grouse Initiative is a partnership-based, science-driven effort that uses voluntary incentives to proactively conserve America’s western rangelands, wildlife, and rural way of life. This initiative is part of Working Lands For Wildlife, which is led by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.