U.S. Joint Fire Science Program


Date of this Version


Document Type



Final Report: JFSP Project Number 05‐S‐08


US government work.


SageSTEP is a comprehensive regional experiment that provides critical information to managers faced with a sagebrush steppe ecosystem that is increasingly at risk from wildfire, invasive plants, and climate change. The experiment provides managers with information that can be used to restore ecological communities across the 100+ million acres of the sagebrush biome. It is designed to match the temporal and spatial scales at which managers operate, is intended to reduce management risk and uncertainty of catastrophic wildfire to the greatest degree possible, and provides managers with information that allows them to better understand tradeoffs inherent in the choice of management alternatives. The project has several features that make it ideal for testing hypotheses from state‐andtransition theory, and for discovering information that can be directly applied in a management context ‐‐ it is long‐term, experimental, multisite, multivariate, and treatments are applied across condition gradients, allowing for potential identification of biotic thresholds. The project is designed to distinguish communities that have conditions that will allow them to recover on their own following fuel or restoration treatments, versus communities that have crossed biotic thresholds, and will therefore require more expensive active restoration. SageSTEP is designed as a long‐term study, such that measurements are planned for at least 10 years after treatment implementation, or through the 2018 field season. This final report therefore describes the short‐term effects of treatments, 2‐4 years after treatment implementation., or through the 2010 field season. The Joint Fire Science Program generously funded SageSTEP for its first six years, and this funding was crucial for building an infrastructure that has now set the stage for an unprecedented long‐term study that will provide badly needed information on sagebrush steppe restoration and fuel treatment effectiveness. The infrastructure we’ve built consists of the following eight features: 1. A network of 18 sites distributed across the Great Basin, Snake River Basin, and Columbia Basin, 11 sites in a replicated woodland experiment, and 7 sites in a replicated sage‐cheat experiment (Figure 1). Each site is equivalent to a statistical block consisting of an unmanipulated control, and a set of fire and fire surrogate treatments. 2. A network of weather and soil moisture stations distributed along with the sites, that provides information on inter‐annual and geographic variation in moisture and temperature, and that is being used to interpret patterns of ecological response. 3. A small by efficient staff, consisting of scientists and technicians, responsible for continued monitoring of ecological variables through time, and maintenance of the projects’ infrastructure. 4. A funding stream from several agency sources, with current resources adequate to run the project for at least three more years, and with agreements in place to fund the project through fiscal year 2015. 5. A web of partnerships among managers, scientists, students, stakeholders, and policymakers that has worked together to design the study, implement the treatments, and learn about how sagebrush steppe system respond to alternative restoration treatments. 6. A highly effective and influential outreach program, anchored by a popular website, designed to interpret and deliver scientific information collected by SageSTEP scientists, and to distribute other relevant information originating from outside the project. 7. An on‐line database, called the SageSTEP Data Store, that offers fully proofed and validated data to analysts working within SageSTEP, and which will eventually provide the same information to other interested users. 8. The Great Basin NEON Site, NSF’s atmospheric sampling station that will soon be built at the SageSTEP Onaqui site. This link with NSF provides SageSTEP with leverage for established additional vegetation and soil monitoring facilities at Onaqui. Over the past three years, since post‐treatment data collection commenced, SageSTEP has produced a considerable amount of information, most of it now published in a total of 32 scientific papers. Key outreach products include: ● Active web site (sagestep.org), anchoring a comprehensive outreach program ● User's Guides for Western Juniper & Pinyon‐Juniper woodlands ● Two Fuel Guides, one each for pre‐treatment and post‐treatment conditions ● 15 quarterly newsletters ● Six manager workshops ● 11 tours or field trips ● Three national conference symposia, consisting of 24 papers (2 symposia planned) ● 57 contributed papers at conferences ● Seven Master’s Theses and two Ph.D. Dissertations ● 15 papers published in proceedings or reports ● Ten papers published in peer‐reviewed journals (17 papers currently in review)