Restoration Handbook for Sagebrush Steppe Ecosystems, Part 1 - Understanding and Applying Restoration

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CORVALLIS, Ore. — Heightened interest in advancing sage-grouse conservation has increased the importance of sagebrush-steppe restoration to recover or create wildlife habitat conditions that meet the species’ needs.

Image: Wyoming Big Sagebrush Community Near Winnemucca, Nevada
Mountain big sagebrush - or Artemisia tridentata ssp. vaseyana - is a sub-species of big sagebrush that is found in primarily at higher elevation and colder, drier sites between the Rocky Mountains and the Cascades and Sierra Nevada.
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CORVALLIS, Ore. — Heightened interest in advancing sage-grouse conservation has increased the importance of sagebrush-steppe restoration to recover or create wildlife habitat conditions that meet the species’ needs.  Today, the U.S. Geological Survey published part one of a three-part handbook addressing restoration of sagebrush ecosystems from the landscape to the site level.                                                                                         

"Land managers face many challenges in restoring sagebrush-steppe landscapes to meet multiple management objectives," said David Pyke, USGS ecologist and lead author of the new USGS Circular. "Many wildlife species require multiple types of habitat spread over many scales – landscape to local site level. Managers are challenged to know where, when and how to implement restoration projects so they are effective across all these scales."

The new handbook describes a sagebrush-steppe habitat restoration framework that incorporates landscape ecology principles and information on resistance of sagebrush-steppe to invasive plants and resilience to disturbance. This section of the handbook introduces habitat managers and restoration practitioners to basic concepts about sagebrush ecosystems, landscape ecology and restoration ecology, with emphasis on greater sage-grouse habitats.

Six specific concepts covered are:

  • similarities and differences among sagebrush plant communities,
  • plant community resilience to disturbance and resistance to invasive plants based on soil temperature and moisture regimes,
  • soils and the ecology critical for plant species used for restoration,
  • changes that can be made to current management practices or re-vegetation efforts in support of general restoration actions,
  • landscape restoration with an emphasis on restoration to benefit sage-grouse and
  • monitoring effectiveness of restoration actions in support of adaptive management.

"Restoration of an ecosystem is a daunting task that appears insurmountable at first," said Pyke. "But as with any large undertaking, the key is breaking down the process into the essential components to successfully meet objectives. Within the sagebrush steppe ecosystem, restoration is likely to be most successful with a better understanding of how to prioritize landscapes for effective restoration and to apply principles of ecosystem resilience and resistance in restoration decisions."

Pyke noted that the blending of ecosystem realities – such as soil, temperature and moisture – with species-specific needs provides an ecologically based framework for strategically focusing restoration measures to support species of conservation concern over the short and long term.

Part one of the handbook sets the stage for two decision support tools. Part two of the handbook will provide restoration guidance at a landscape level, and part three, restoration guidance at the site level.

The handbook was funded by the U.S. Joint Fire Science Program and National Interagency Fire Center, Bureau of Land Management, Great Northern Landscape Conservation, USGS, and Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies with authors from the USGS, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Oregon State University, Utah State University and Brigham Young University.

Greater sage-grouse occur in parts of 11 U.S. states and 2 Canadian provinces in western North America.  Implementation of effective management actions for the benefit of sage-grouse continues to be a focus of Department of the Interior agencies following the decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that the species is not warranted for listing under the Endangered Species Act.