Environmental Management

, Volume 47, Issue 3, pp 468–481 | Cite as

Shrub-Steppe Early Succession Following Juniper Cutting and Prescribed Fire

  • Jonathan D. BatesEmail author
  • Kirk W. Davies
  • Robert N. Sharp


Pinus-Juniperus L. (Piñon-juniper) woodlands of the western United States have expanded in area nearly 10-fold since the late 1800’s. Juniperus occidentalis ssp. occidentalis Hook. (western juniper) dominance in sagebrush steppe has several negative consequences, including reductions in herbaceous production and diversity, decreased wildlife habitat, and higher erosion and runoff potentials. Prescribed fire and mechanical tree removal are the main methods used to control J. occidentalis and restore sagebrush steppe. However, mature woodlands become difficult to prescribe burn because of the lack of understory fuels. We evaluated partial cutting of the woodlands (cutting 25–50% of the trees) to increase surface fuels, followed by prescribed fire treatments in late successional J. occidentalis woodlands of southwest Idaho to assess understory recovery. The study was conducted in two different plant associations and evaluated what percentage of the woodland required preparatory cutting to eliminate remaining J. occidentalis by prescribed fire, determined the impacts of fire to understory species, and examined early post-fire successional dynamics. The study demonstrated that late successional J. occidentalis woodlands can be burned after pre-cutting only a portion of the trees. Early succession in the cut-and-burn treatments were dominated by native annual and perennial forbs, in part due to high mortality of perennial bunchgrasses. By the third year after fire the number of establishing perennial grass seedlings indicated that both associations would achieve full herbaceous recovery. Cutting-prescribed fire combinations are an effective means for controlling encroaching late successional J. occidentalis and restoring herbaceous plant communities. However, land managers should recognize that there are potential problems associated with cutting-prescribed fire applications when invasive weeds are present.


Bunchgrass Cheatgrass Juniperus occidentalis Mountain big sagebrush Secondary succession Western snowberry 



The research was supported by the Agricultural Research Service, private landowners, and the state of Idaho. Many thanks are extended to the Tim and Bill Lowry (Jordan Valley, Oregon) and Idaho Department of State Lands for providing their properties for conducting the study. We recognize the many student summer range technicians who assisted in the field and laboratory for the study: K Adams, J Anderson, J Duchene, E Ersch, K Haile, J Hobbs, R Kessler, K Mumm, J Pyrse, E Rhodes, B Smith, J Svejcar, M Villagrana, C Williams, and L Zeigenhagen. Almost all tree cutting was done by one of the best timber fallers in Oregon, Steve Basey. Dustin Johnson and Claire Poulson were invaluable in fire application and fire control. In addition, we would like to thank Dr. Chad Boyd, Dr. Dave Ganskopp, and three anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments on previous drafts of this manuscript. The Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center is jointly funded by the USDA-Agricultural Research Service and Oregon State Agricultural Experiment Station. Mention of a proprietary product does not constitute a guarantee or warranty of the product by USDA-ARS, Oregon State University, or the authors and does not imply approval to the exclusion of other products.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC (outside the USA) 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jonathan D. Bates
    • 1
    Email author
  • Kirk W. Davies
    • 1
  • Robert N. Sharp
    • 2
  1. 1.United States Department of AgricultureAgricultural Research Service, Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research CenterBurnsUSA
  2. 2.United States Department of InteriorBureau of Land ManagementBurnsUSA

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