Rangeland Science Journal Publishes Special Issue On Woody Plant Encroachment

Tune in on January 31 for free live-streaming from a symposium on the latest research on the effects of woody encroachment on at-risk grouse in the West!

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

Species like juniper, pinyon pine, redcedar and mesquite are encroaching onto these landscapes to the detriment of  lesser prairie-chickens and sage grouse, 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. All articles are freely available for viewing.

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 (see research paper list and links below), describe the impacts of the woody invasion of western rangelands. The research also evaluates habitat restoration using grouse as 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 (SGI) and Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative (LPCI). Since 2010, LPCI has partnered with hundreds of ranchers to remove redcedar and mesquite, restoring rangelands and core habitat for lesser prairie-chickens.

Fires once kept native conifers from expanding into the Great Plains. In the last 150 years, redcedar and mesquite  have spread rapidly across rangeland, pushing prairie-chickens out of their grassland habitat.

Research articles in the January special issue of Rangeland Ecology & Management quantify the extent to which lesser prairie-chickens avoid both redcedar (above) and honey mesquite. Just one redcedar per acre is enough to deter lesser prairie-chicken nesting.

Conifers crowd out native perennial grasses and forbs, decreasing the productivity and richness of the range. If unchecked, the spread of woody plants 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.

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.

Woody plant encroachment affects habitat for both lesser prairie-chicken (which inhabit the 4 eco-regions in the lower right of this map) and greater sage-grouse (all other denoted ecoregions).

To ensure this research reaches the broadest possible audience, SGI and LPCI have 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 via live-streaming on the SGI website. Click here to learn more.

Below is a listing with links to the 15 research articles, as well as links to related Science to Solutions summaries by LPCI and SGI.

Rangeland Ecology & Management, Vol, 70. Issue 1

Woody invasion of western rangelands: Using grouse as focal species for ecosystem restoration

Click the research article titles to read the open-access papers.

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

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. Stay tuned for LPCI’s Science to Solutions summary! 

Lesser Prairie Chicken 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 of this research!

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. Read LPCI’s Science to Solutions summary of this research!  

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

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. Read SGI’s Science to Solutions summary of this research

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

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  

Ecosystem 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. Read SGI’s Science to Solutions summary of this research

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

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. Read SGI’s Science to Solutions summary of this research!