Sagebrush habitats that are degraded, disturbed, invaded by annual grasses and other invasive species, or destroyed can be restored so that they can continue to support sagebrush-obligate species such as the Greater Sage-Grouse. Restoration may consist of removing or eliminating certain undesired species from a landscape, preventing these species from establishing in the first place, increasing the cover or density of desirable species, or establishing sagebrush and associated grasses and forbs where there are few to no such species.
This lesson covers the revegetation or reestablishment of perennial plant communities, including sagebrush seedlings and plantings. Additional information pertaining to restoration associated with specific threats to sage-grouse and the sagebrush ecosystem is contained in the lessons on Invasive Species, Conifer Encroachment, and Resistance and Resilience.
Begin by watching a short video about the Burley Landscape Sage-Grouse Habitat Restoration Project.
Optionally, watch this video from the Utah State Extension about restoring sagebrush rangelands in the Great Basin. Please note, we recommend watching only up until 18:20; the last 5 minutes of this video do not pertain to our work with restoration of Sagebrush ecosystems.
Restoration is defined as intentional activity that initiates or accelerates recovery of an ecosystem with respect to its health, integrity, and sustainability (Pyke et al. 2015a). This can include rehabilitation, where treatments are focused on halting further degradation of sites and increasing resilience and resistance to future disturbances, and reclamation, where soil profiles and other environmental parameters are rebuilt to re-establish plants. There are two forms of Restoration, Passive and Active, which are explained further below.
Changing the current management of a site to allow natural processes to move plant communities to a desired composition and structure of species.
Involves much more direct interventions on a landscape to obtain a more desired habitat condition. Active restoration is warranted when desired species or structural groups of plants are poorly represented at a site to such a degree that they are not likely to recover in a management timeframe following removal of disturbances. In the context of a state and transition model, in these cases the natural community has arrived at an alternative stable state. Specific examples of when active restoration may be necessary are when:
Examples of active restoration include revegetation and modifications of plant communities using techniques that remove or restrict some species while favoring others.
Effective restoration of sagebrush steppe ecosystems will require strategic choices regarding where to target restoration and what approaches will likely succeed in providing habitat. Managers making decisions on where to conduct restoration will benefit from using landscape decision tools to direct restoration and management into locations where sage-grouse and other sagebrush obligate species will likely achieve the greatest benefit.
Establishment of sagebrush is clearly an important habitat factor for sage-grouse, but perennial grasses are the most important life form for achieving at least partial restoration success of sagebrush steppe ecosystems because deep rooted perennial grasses add the greatest resilience and resistance. Forbs are also important for sage-grouse brood rearing and should be included when possible on restoration projects when they are known to be missing from the ecosystem. Forbs will generally make up a lesser proportion of the seed mixture than grasses because in most sagebrush steppe ecosystems they are a minor component. Finally, biological soil crusts should be considered when any planting effort is likely to disturb soils. Maintenance of biological soil crusts is extremely important where they exist.
For all kinds of plants (sagebrush, grasses, forbs), matching the appropriate species to the site is critical for sustaining sagebrush ecosystems and so that correct genotypes are matched to environments where they are adapted to survive. The ability to purchase source-identified seeds provides managers assurances that they are getting the appropriate taxon while also providing information on the general location from which seeds were collected. Source-identified seeds should aid in making certain that local genotypes are sown; this has been shown as important for the sustainability of sagebrush. The ecological site description provides the best source of information regarding the native species that typically germinate and sustain populations on an ecological site.
But, can we restore highly degraded sagebrush ecosystems? Mike Pellant discusses this topic in this short video.
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Percent of formerly
communities now remaining.
The number of acres
burned in Idaho's
2015 Soda Fire.
Total projected cost for restoration
and emergency stabilization
and rehabilitation efforts
on the Soda Fire.