Fire, Rain, and Post-Fire Restoration of Sagebrush Steppe in the Great Basin

    Fire, Rain, and Post-Fire Restoration of Sagebrush Steppe in the Great Basin

     

     

    Seeding rangelands, particularly after fire, is a common practice in sagebrush steppe habitats of the Great Basin. We summarized historic trends of 5,450 seeding treatments in the Great Basin from the 1940s to present and examined relative levels of success for a subset of projects in relation to long-term precipitation patterns and subsequent fires. Preliminary results suggest that large fires often occur the summer following a high precipitation event, probably because of an increase in fine fuel loads. Soil stabilization or rehabilitation seedlings in the fall or spring after a fire often occurred when precipitation was lower than normal, possibly contributing to lower than expected germination and seedling survival. These patterns suggest that post-fire seeding in the Great Basin over the last 75 years may have been hampered by low rainfall in the years following fire. Subsequent fires that re-burn seeded areas further complicate restoration of sagebrush steppe in the Great Basin. We found that more than 40% of seeding treatments have reburned since 1940, usually within 10 years of seeding. These results suggest that restoring sagebrush steppe to the Great Basin faces many challenges, but perhaps allowing more flexibility in the timing of seeding after fire may be a first step towards increasing probability of success.