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A new method for predicting the effects of tree removal on runoff and erosion in sagebrush steppe landscapes could help managers target areas for restoration projects aimed at re-establishing water and soil conserving vegetation.

Prolonged wildfire-free periods in sagebrush-steppe rangelands can allow trees to encroach and outcompete sagebrush for water and soil resources. In the absence of sagebrush, bare ground between trees can lead to invasion by weeds and vulnerability to water runoff and soil loss from erosion. Using data from the SageSTEP project, the USDA, USGS, and academic researchers developed a method for predicting the effects of common tree removal treatments on vulnerability to runoff and erosion in woodland-transitioning sagebrush ecosystems in the Great Basin. The Rangeland Hydrology and Erosion Model simulates water and soil processes as a function of water input, amounts and types of vegetation and ground cover, soil texture, and terrain slope and shape. This method accurately predicted an overall decrease in runoff and erosion following tree removal treatments. Managers and scientists could use this tool to assess runoff and erosion potential and target areas for tree removal to re-establish water and soil-conserving vegetation on sagebrush rangelands.

Williams, C.J., Pierson, F.B., Al-Hamdan, O.Z., Nouwakpo, S.K., Johnson, J.J., Polyakov, V.O., Kormos, P.R., Shaff, S.E., and Spaeth, K.E., 2022, Assessing runoff and erosion on woodland-encroached sagebrush steppe using the Rangeland Hydrology and Erosion Model: Ecosphere, v. 13, no. 6, e4145,