Friday, December 04, 2015

Feds try new strategy in wildfire rehab in southwest Idaho

The federal government has a long history of failure when it comes to restoring sagebrush rangeland scorched by wildfires. Scientists and land managers aim to change that by using the knowledge gained in those setbacks to restore a giant swath of sagebrush steppe destroyed by a wildfire last summer in southwest Idaho and southeast Oregon. “It’s well known that there hasn’t been much success despite the millions of dollars being invested,” said Matt Germino, a United States Geological Survey research ecologist based in Boise who specializes in sagebrush steppe ecosystems. He decided to find out why. He looked at 25 historic sagebrush reseedings following wildfires in the Snake River Plain from 1987 to 2010 involving tens of thousands of acres. He discovered that, on average, seeds came from 300 miles away and moved downward in elevation about 2,500 feet. Of the 25 seedings, nine resulted in no sagebrush. But five restoration seedings did produce good results. “The most successful seedings,” Germino said, “got their seeds from areas that had almost the identical winter temperatures as the seeding site.” The poorest restoration results, though, involved seeds that came from areas that on average were about 5.5 degrees colder in winter than where they were planted. Though vast expanses of sagebrush often look similar, there are actually three subspecies of big sagebrush. Germino said that variability is part of the reason sagebrush are among the most successful and widely-spread plants in North America. The most abundant subspecies is Wyoming big sagebrush. Basin big sagebrush is the most drought-tolerant. Mountain big sagebrush, meanwhile, is typically found at higher elevations. Within those three subspecies, Germino said, are genetic variations making groups of sagebrush best adapted for particular areas. In examining past restoration efforts, he found that burned areas typically contained Wyoming big sagebrush, but the seeds to replant those areas often came from mountain big sagebrush, resulting in failure...more

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