U.S. Department of Agriculture: Agricultural Research Service, Lincoln, Nebraska


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Agricultural Research Magazine 60(1): January 2012 pp. 14-16; ISSN 0002-161X


Rangelands in the western United States provide essential grazingland for hundreds of thousands of cattle and other livestock as well as a home for a vast array of native plants and animals. And since these rangelands make up a large part of the U.S. public land system, taxpayers often foot the bill for upkeep of the hardscrabble holdings. So Agricultural Research Service scientists across the West are collaborating to make sure the money used to sustain and repair these arid ecosystems is spent on programs that work.

A Burning Issue

For millennia, periodic wildfires have been an integral part of the rangeland equilibrium among plants, animals, terrain, and climate in the western United States. But changing climatic patterns and invasive plants like cheatgrass now fuel fires that are more frequent—and more fierce—and the previous balance of fire, flora, and fauna has been lost. So after fires, public land managers often quickly reseed burned areas to provide watershed protection and control soil erosion.

“Right now restoration plans must be submitted 3 weeks after a fire has occurred, before plants have had time to recover on their own. We need to figure out how to evaluate the extent of postfire mortality for plants and decide whether or not it’s always necessary to reseed after fires,” says rangeland scientist Tony Svejcar. He’s the research leader at the ARS Range and Meadow Forage Management Research Unit at the Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center (EOARC) in Burns, Oregon—right in the heart of high sagebrush country, where the lab equipment includes a working fire truck.