Rangeland Science Journal Publishes Special Issue On Reducing Woodland Expansion


January 10, 2017

Latest research shows the benefits of removing conifers for grouse, wildlife, and people living in sagebrush and prairie ecosystems.

Watch free 20-minute presentations on how removing invading conifers boosts water availability, forage production, and grouse survival

What do America’s prairies and sagebrush have in common? Grouse, for one. And woody plant invasion, for another.

Species like juniper, pinyon pine, red cedar and mesquite are encroaching onto these landscapes to the detriment of sage grouse and lesser prairie-chickens, as well as hundreds of other species that depend on healthy, intact rangelands – including people.

The January 2017 issue of Rangeland Ecology & Management is dedicated to research on woodland expansion in the West's sagebrush and grassland ecosystems.

The January 2017 issue of Rangeland Ecology & Management is dedicated to research on woodland expansion in the West’s sagebrush and grassland ecosystems.

This month, the Society for Range Management’s scientific journal, Rangeland Ecology & Management (REM), released a special issue focused entirely on this landscape-level threat. Fifteen new research papers, all available for free to the public (links below), describe the impacts of the woody invasion of western rangelands. The research also evaluates habitat restoration using grouse as a focal species – the greater sage-grouse in sagebrush country and the lesser prairie-chicken in the southern Great Plains.

For the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, removing these encroaching woody plants has long been a conservation priority through its Sage Grouse Initiative and Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative. SGI has partnered with hundreds of ranchers and across fences on public lands to remove 457,000 acres of conifer since 2010, restoring rangelands and core habitat for sage grouse.

Fires once kept native conifers from expanding into sagebrush range. In the last 150 years, junipers and pinyon pines have marched across rangeland, drying up precious streams and threatening sage grouse. In the Great Basin, conifers have expanded their range by 600 percent, overtaking native bunchgrasses and sagebrush that sustain agricultural operations as well as 350 species.

Sage grouse avoid areas where trees grow. This treated site shows how the range can be reclaimed by removing expanding conifer. Photo: 2008 vs 2015, Todd Forbes, BLM

Conifers crowd out native perennial grasses and forbs, decreasing the productivity and richness of the range. If unchecked, the spread of conifers can reduce the availability of water, food, and cover for grouse and livestock. Plus, woodland expansion increases the risk of soil erosion, invasive weeds, and high-intensity wildfires.

The new issue of REM presents cutting-edge research that will help managers and landowners fine-tune practices that address woody encroachment in both western sagebrush and southern Great Plains habitats, benefiting the wildlife and agricultural producers who depend on these rangelands.

Map shows the current distributions, core habitat areas, and management zones for greater sage-grouse and lesser prairie-chickens across 15 western states.

This map shows the current distributions, core habitat areas, and management zones for greater sage-grouse and lesser prairie-chickens across 15 western states.

The articles in this special issue cover a broad range of topics, including: new mapping tools for effectively targeting conifer removal projects; the impact of mesquite and redcedar encroachment on lesser prairie-chicken habitat occupancy; and the effects of tree removal on sage grouse brood survival, songbird abundance, and ecosystem water availability.

To ensure this research reaches the broadest possible audience, SGI and LPCI also produced several Science to Solutions based on studies published in the latest REM issue. These brief articles summarize key findings and their implications for range management. Stay tuned as we release more Science to Solutions papers this month on the impacts of woody encroachment!

We’re also excited to announce that the research presented in this REM special issue will be the focus of a full-day symposium on January 31 at the upcoming Society for Range Management conference. This symposium will feature 20 short presentations by many of the authors listed below.

And thanks to funding from the Bureau of Land Management, the symposium will be open and available to everyone virtually! The SGI website will live-stream and archive all 20 presentations on the latest science on woodland expansion. Click here to learn more.

Rangeland Ecology & Management, Vol, 70. Issue 1  |  Woody invasion of western rangelands: Using grouse as focal species for ecosystem restoration

Introduction and Summary

Special Issue: Targeted Woodland Removal to Recover At-Risk Grouse and Their Sagebrush-Steppe and Prairie Ecosystems by Richard F. Miller, David E. Naugle, Jeremy D. Maestas, Christian A. Hagen, Galon Hall

Woodland Expansion Threat

A Hierarchical Perspective to Woody Plant Encroachment for Conservation of Prairie-Chickens by Samuel D. Fuhlendorf, Torre J. Hovick, R. Dwayne Elmore, Ashley M. Tanner, David M. Engle, Craig A. Davis

Stay tuned for LPCI’s Science to Solutions summary! Mapping Tree Canopy Cover in Support of Proactive Prairie Grouse Conservation in Western North America by Michael J. Falkowski, Jeffrey S. Evans, David E. Naugle, Christian A. Hagen, Scott A. Carleton, Jeremy D. Maestas, Azad Henareh Khalyani, Aaron J. Poznanovic, Andrew J. Lawrence

Vegetation Response

Sage Grouse Groceries: Forb Response to Piñon-Juniper Treatments by Jonathan D. Bates, Kirk W. Davies, April Hulet, Richard F. Miller, Bruce Roundy

Ecosystem Water Availability  

Read SGI’s Science to Solutions summaryEcosystem Water Availability in Juniper versus Sagebrush Snow-Dominated Rangelands by Patrick R. Kormos, Danny Marks, Frederick B. Pierson, C. Jason Williams, Stuart P. Hardegree, Scott Havens, Andrew Hedrick, Jonathan D. Bates, Tony J. Svejcar

Human Dimensions and Restoration Paradigms

Conserving the Greater Sage-Grouse: A Social-Ecological Systems Case Study from the California-Nevada Region by Alison L. Duvall, Alexander L. Metcalf, Peter S. Coates

The Sage-Grouse Habitat Mortgage: Effective Conifer Management in Space and Time by Chad S. Boyd, Jay D. Kerby, Tony J. Svejcar, Jon D. Bates, Dustin D. Johnson, Kirk W. Davies

Sagebrush Songbirds Response  

Bird Responses to Removal of Western Juniper in Sagebrush-Steppe by Aaron L. Holmes, Jeremy D. Maestas, David E. Naugle

Read SGI’s Science to Solutions summary! Extending Conifer Removal and Landscape Protection Strategies from Sage-Grouse to Songbirds, a Range-Wide Assessment by J. Patrick Donnelly, Jason D. Tack, Kevin E. Doherty, David E. Naugle, Brady W. Allred, Victoria J. Dreitz

Sage Grouse Response

Pinyon and Juniper Encroachment into Sagebrush Ecosystems Impacts Distribution and Survival of Greater Sage-Grouse by Peter S. Coates, Brian G. Prochazka, Mark A. Ricca, K. Ben Gustafson, Pilar Ziegler, Michael L. Casazza

Encounters with Pinyon-Juniper Influence Riskier Movements in Greater Sage-Grouse Across the Great Basin by Brian G. Prochazka, Peter S. Coates, Mark A. Ricca, Michael L. Casazza, K. Benjamin Gustafson, Josh M. Hull

Read SGI’s Science to Solutions summary! Short-Term Response of Sage-Grouse Nesting to Conifer Removal in the Northern Great Basin by John P. Severson, Christian A. Hagen, Jeremy D. Maestas, David E. Naugle, J. Todd Forbes, Kerry P. Reese

Greater Sage-Grouse Resource Selection Drives Reproductive Fitness Under a Conifer Removal Strategy by Charles P. Sandford, Michel T. Kohl, Terry A. Messmer, David K. Dahlgren, Avery Cook, Brian R. Wing

Lesser Prairie Chickens Response

Lesser Prairie-Chicken Avoidance of Trees in a Grassland Landscape by Joseph M. Lautenbach, Reid T. Plumb, Samantha G. Robinson, Christian A. Hagen, David A. Haukos, James C. Pitman

Read LPCI’s Science to Solutions summary! Impacts of Mesquite Distribution on Seasonal Space Use of Lesser Prairie-Chickens by Matthew A. Boggie, Cody R. Strong, Daniel Lusk, Scott A. Carleton, William R. Gould, Randy L. Howard, Clay Nichols, Michael Falkowski, Christian Hagen

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.