Environmental Management

, Volume 38, Issue 1, pp 62–83 | Cite as

Great Basin Land Management Planning Using Ecological Modeling

  • Tara A. ForbisEmail author
  • Louis Provencher
  • Leonardo Frid
  • Gary Medlyn


This report describes a land management modeling effort that analyzed potential impacts of proposed actions under an updated Bureau of Land Management Resource Management Plan that will guide management for 20 years on 4.6 million hectares in the Great Basin ecoregion of the United States. State-and-transition models that included vegetation data, fire histories, and many parameters (i.e., rates of succession, fire return intervals, outcomes of management actions, and invasion rates of native and nonnative invasive species) were developed through workshops with scientific experts and range management specialists. Alternative restoration scenarios included continuation of current management, full fire suppression, wildfire use in designated fire use zones, wildfire use in resilient vegetation types only, restoration with a tenfold budget increase, no restoration treatments, and no livestock grazing. Under all the scenarios, cover of vegetation states with native perennial understory declined and was replaced by tree-invaded and weed-dominated states. The greatest differences among alternative management scenarios resulted from the use of fire as a tool to maintain native understory. Among restoration scenarios, only the scenario assuming a tenfold budget increase had a more desirable outcome than the current management scenario. Removal of livestock alone had little effect on vegetation resilience. Rather, active restoration was required. The predictive power of the model was limited by current understanding of Great Basin vegetation dynamics and data needs including statistically valid monitoring of restoration treatments, invasiveness and invasibility, and fire histories. The authors suggest that such computer models can be useful tools for systematic analysis of potential impacts in land use planning. However, for a modeling effort to be productive, the management situation must be conducive to open communication among land management agencies and partner entities, including nonprofit organizations.


Community dynamics Federal lands Grazing management Great Basin Prescribed fire Rangeland Resilience Thresholds Wildfire 



Percentage cover field data were collected by Lee Turner and Sydney Van Ausdal. Input to and analysis of the models came from the ENLC Science Committee including Gary Brackley, John Hiatt, Bill Morrill, Sherm Swanson, Robin Tausch, Jim Young, Barry Perryman, and Doug Ramsey; the BLM Ely District staff including Jeff Brower, Jared Bybee, Cody Coombs, Shane DeForest, Gene Drais, Bill Dunn, Troy Grooms, Gene Kolkman, Jim Perkins, Gary Medlyn, Ann Perkins, John Longinetti, Mark Lowrie, Chris Mayer, Jody Nartz, and Mike Perkins; and The Nature Conservancy of Nevada’s (TNC’s) Fire Learning Network including Ayn Schlisky and Doug Zollner. Miles Hemstrom and Jim Merzenich provided technical assistance with VDDT modeling. This project was supported by BLM assistance agreement number FAA030004, Task Order 3, and TNC’s Fire Learning Network (National Fire Plan award Restoring Fire Adapted Ecosystems). Peter Weisberg, David Roberts, Alan de Queiroz, Janet Bair, James Perkins, and an anonymous reviewer provided helpful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.

Literature Cited

  1. Anand M., R. E. Desrochers. 2004. Quantification of restoration success using complex systems concepts and models. Restoration Ecology 12:117–123CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bailey, R. G. 1995. Descriptions of ecoregions of the United States. Miscellaneous Publication No. 1391. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  3. Barney M. A., N. C. Frischknecht. 1974. Vegetation changes following fire in the pinyon–juniper type of west central Utah. Journal of Range Management 27(2):91–96Google Scholar
  4. Barrett, T. M. 2001. Models of vegetation change for landscape planning: A comparison of FETM, LANDSUM, SIMPPLLE, and VDDT. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-76-WWW. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Ogden, Utah, 14 ppGoogle Scholar
  5. Bates J. D., R. F. Miller, T. J. Svejcar. 2000. Understory dynamics in cut and uncut western juniper woodlands. Journal of Range Management 53:119–126Google Scholar
  6. Bestelmeyer B. T., J. R. Brown, J. E. Herrick, D. Trujillo, K.M. Havstad. 2004. Land management in the American Southwest: A state-and-transition approach to ecosystem complexity. Environmental Management 34(1):38–51CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Blackburn W. H., P. T. Tueller. 1970. Pinyon and juniper invasion in black sagebrush communities in east central Nevada. Ecology 51:841–848CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Land use planning handbook. BLM Manual 1601-1. U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  9. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). 1980. Ecological site inventory. BLM Manual 4410. U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  10. Chambers J. C., S. B. Vander Wall, E. W. Schupp. 1999. Seed and seedling ecology of pinyon and juniper species in the pigmy woodlands of western North America. The Botanical Review 65:1–38CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Curtain C. G. 2002. Livestock grazing, rest, and restoration in arid landscapes. Conservation Biology 16(3):840–842.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Elzinga, C. L., D. W. Salzer, and J. W. Willoughby. 1998. Measuring and monitoring plant populations. Bureau of Land Management Technical Reference 1730-1, Denver, COGoogle Scholar
  13. Freckleton R. P. 2004. The problems of prediction and scale in applied ecology: The example of fire as a management tool. Journal of Applied Ecology 41(1):599–603.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hann W. J., D. L. Bunnell. 2001. Fire and land management planning and implementation across multiple scales. International Journal of Wildland Fire 10:389–403CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hemstrom M. A., Korol J. J., Hann W. J. 2001. Trends in terrestrial plant communities and landscape health indicate the effects of alternative management strategies in the interior Columbia River basin. Forest Ecology and Management 21:105–125CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hilborn R., C. J. Walters, D. Ludwig. 1995. Sustainable exploitation of renewal resources. Annual Review of Ecological Systems 26:45–67CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Jones A. 2000. Effects of cattle grazing on North American arid ecosystems: A quantitative review. Western North American Naturalist 60:155–164Google Scholar
  18. Koniak S., R. L. Everett. 1982. Seed reserves in soils of successional stages of pinyon woodlands. American Midland Naturalist 108:295–303CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. McIver J., L. Starr. 2001. Restoration of degraded lands in the interior Columbia River basin: Passive vs active approaches. Forest Ecology and Management 153:15–28CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Melgoza G., R. S. Nowak, R. J. Tausch. 1990. Soil water exploitation after fire: Competition between Bromus tectorum (cheatgrass) and two native species. Oecologia 83:7–13CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Merzenich, J., W. A. Kurz, S. J. Beukema, M. Arbaugh, and S. Schilling. 1999. Long-range modeling of stochastic disturbances and management treatments using VDDT and TELSA. Proceedings of the Society of American Foresters National Convention: Landscape Analysis Session. Portland, Oregon, 14 September 1999Google Scholar
  22. Merzenich J., W. A. Kurz, S. Beukema, M. Arbaugh, and S. Schilling. 2003. Determining forest fuel treatments for the Bitterroot front using VDDT. Pages 47–59 in G. J. Arthaud and T. M. Barrett (eds.). Systems analysis in forest resources. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Norwell, MAGoogle Scholar
  23. Miller R. F., J. A. Rose. 1999. Fire history and western juniper encroachment in sagebrush steppe. Journal of Range Management 52(6):550–559Google Scholar
  24. Miller, R. F., and R. J. Tausch. 2001. The role of fire in juniper and pinyon woodlands: A descriptive analysis. Proceedings of the First National Congress on Fire, Ecology, Prevention, and Management, San Diego, California, 27 November–1 December 2000. Tall Timbers Research Station, Tallahassee, Florida. Miscellaneous Publication 11, pp 15–30Google Scholar
  25. Nachlinger J., K. Sochi, P. Comer, G. Kittel, D. Dorfman. 2001. Great Basin: An ecoregion-based conservation blueprint. The Nature Conservancy, Reno, Nevada, USAGoogle Scholar
  26. Ricketts T. H., E. Dinerstein, D. M. Olson, C. J. Loucks, W. Eichbaum, D. DellaSala, K. Kavanagh, P. Hedao, P. T. Hurley, K. M. Carney, R. Abell, S. Walters. 1999. Terrestrial ecoregions of North America: A conservation assessment. Island Press, Washington, DC, USAGoogle Scholar
  27. Romme, W. H., Floyd-Hanna, L., and Hanna, D. D. 2003. Ancient pinyon–juniper forests of Mesa Verde and the West: A cautionary note for forest restoration programs. Pages 335–350 in P. N. Omi and L. A. Joyce (eds.). Proceedings of the Conference on Fire, Fuel Treatments, and Ecological Restoration. USDA Forest Service Proceedings RMRS-P-29. Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fort Collins, ColoradoGoogle Scholar
  28. Stohlgren T. J., L. D. Schell, B. V. Heuvel. 1999. How grazing and soil quality affect native and exotic plant diversity in Rocky Mountain grasslands. Ecological Applications 9(1):45–64CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Stein B., L. S. Kutner, and J. S. Adams. 2000. Precious heritage: The status of biodiversity in the United States. Oxford University Press, New York, 399 ppGoogle Scholar
  30. Tausch, R. J. 1999. Transitions and thresholds: Influences and implications for management in pinyon and juniper woodlands. Pages 361–365 in S. B. Monsen and R. Stevens (eds.). Proceedings for Ecology and management of pinyon–juniper communities within the interior West, 15–18 September 1997, Provo, Utah, Proc. RMRS-P-9. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Ogden, UTGoogle Scholar
  31. Tausch, R. J., and R. S. Nowak. 1999. Fifty years of ecotone change between shrub and tree dominance in the Jack Springs Pinyon Research Natural Area. USDA, Forest Service Proceedings RMRS-P-00, Rocky mountain Research Station, Reno, NVGoogle Scholar
  32. Tausch, R. J., J. C. Chambers, R. R. Blank, and R. S. Nowak. 1995. Differential establishment of perennial grass and cheatgrass following fire on an ungrazed sagebrush-juniper site. Pages 252–257 in B. A. Roundy, E. D. McArthur, J. S. Haley, and D. K. Mann (eds.) Proceedings for Wildland Shrub and Arid Land Restoration Symposium, 19–21 October 1993, Las Vegas, NV. Gen. Tech. Rep. INT-GTR-315. USDA Forest Service Intermountain Research Station, Reno, NVGoogle Scholar
  33. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service, USDI Bureau of Land Management. 1997. Upper Columbia River Basin draft environmental impact statement. IDBEMP. BLM, Boise, IDGoogle Scholar
  34. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service. 1997. National range and pasture handbook. USDA, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  35. Walters C. J., C. S. Holling. 1990. Large-scale management experiments and learning by doing. Ecology 71:2060–2068CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. West N. E., T. P. Yorks. 2002. Vegetation responses following wildfire on grazed and ungrazed sagebrush semidesert. Journal of Range Management 55:171–181Google Scholar
  37. Westoby M., B.H. Walker, I. Noy-Meir. 1989. Opportunistic management for rangelands not at equilibrium. Journal of Range Management 42:266–274Google Scholar
  38. Whisenant, S. G. 1990. Changing fire frequencies on Idaho’s Snake River plains: Ecological and management implications. Pages 4–10 in E. D. McArthur (ed.). Proceedings for the Symposium on Cheatgrass Invasion, Shrub Die-Off, and Other Aspects of Shrub Biology and Management. Gen. Tech. Rep. INT-270. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station, Ogden, UtahGoogle Scholar
  39. Wilhere G. F. 2002. Adaptive management in habitat conservation plans. Conservation Biology 16:20–29CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Wisdom, M. J., L. H. Suring, M. M. Rowland, R. J. Tausch, R. F. Miller, L. Schueck, C. Wolff Meinke, S. T. Knick, and B. C. Wales. 2003. A prototype regional assessment of habitats for species of conservation concern in the Great Basin ecoregion and State of Nevada. Version 1.1, September 2003. Unpublished report on file at USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station, 1401 Gekeler Lane, La Grande, OregonGoogle Scholar
  41. Young J. A., B. A. Sparks. 2002. Cattle in the cold desert (expanded edition). University of Nevada Press, Reno, Nevada, USAGoogle Scholar
  42. Young J. A., R. A. Evans, R. E. Eckert Jr, B. L. Kay. 1987. Cheatgrass. Rangelands 9(6):266–270Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tara A. Forbis
    • 1
    Email author
  • Louis Provencher
    • 2
  • Leonardo Frid
    • 3
  • Gary Medlyn
    • 4
  1. 1.The Nature Conservancy of NevadaElyUSA
  2. 2.The Nature Conservancy of NevadaRenoUSA
  3. 3.ESSA TechnologiesVancouverCanada
  4. 4.Bureau of Land Management, Ely Field OfficeElyUSA

Personalised recommendations