Date of this Version
Published in Rangeland Ecology & Management 77 (2021), pp 57–65.
Woodland expansion is a global challenge documented under varying degrees of disturbance, climate, and land ownership patterns. In North American rangelands, mechanical and chemical brush management practices and prescribed fire are frequently promoted by agencies and used by private landowners to reduce woody plant cover. We assess the distribution of agency-supported cost sharing of brush management (2000−2017) in the southern Great Plains, United States, and evaluate the longevity of treatment application. We test the general expectation that the current brush management paradigm in the southern Great Plains reduces woody plants and conserves rangeland resources at broad scales. This study represents the most comprehensive assessment of treatment longevity following brush management in the southern Great Plains by linking confidential private lands management data to a national inventory program (US Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service National Resources Inventory). We observed regional differences in the types of brush management techniques used in cost-sharing programs throughout the study area. Mechanical brush management was the most common practice cost shared in Texas, while a mixture of mechanical and chemical application was most common in Oklahoma. Prescribed fire was most common in Kansas with some areas receiving chemical treatment. Our analysis showed brush management, as implemented, did not reduce tree cover long term and minimally reduced shrub cover. Evidence to support the current brush management paradigm only existed at local site-level scales of analysis (40- to 50-acre area), but treatment effectiveness was short-lived. At regional scales, observed changes in woody plant cover showed little to no overall net reduction from 2000 to 2017. These findings bring into question the philosophy of the current brush management paradigm, its implementation as the default rangeland conservation practice, and its prioritization over alternative practices that prevent new woody plant establishment and enhance resilience of rangelands in the southern Great Plains region.