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Integrated rangeland fire management strategy actionable science plan completion assessment: Restoration topic, 2015–20

February 14, 2023

Loss and degradation of sagebrush rangelands due to an accelerated invasive annual grass-wildfire cycle and other stressors are substantial management, conservation, and economic issues in the western United States. These sagebrush rangelands comprise a unique biome spanning 11 states, support over 350 wildlife species, and provide important ecosystem services that include stabilizing the economies of western communities. Impacts to sagebrush ecosystem processes over large areas due to the annual grass-wildfire cycle necessitated the development of a coordinated, science-based strategy for improving efforts to achieve long-term protection, conservation, and restoration of sagebrush rangelands, which was framed in 2015 under the Integrated Rangeland Fire Management Strategy (IRFMS). Central to this effort was the development of an Actionable Science Plan (Plan) that identified 37 priority science needs (Needs) for informing the actions proposed under the 5 topics (Fire, Invasives, Restoration, Sagebrush and Sage-Grouse, Climate and Weather) that were part of the collective focus of the IRFMS. Notable keys to this effort were identification of the Needs co-produced by managers and researchers, and a focus on resulting science being “actionable.”

Substantial investments aimed at fulfilling the Needs identified in the Plan have been made since its release in 2016. While the state of the science has advanced considerably, the extent to which knowledge gaps remain relative to identified Needs is relatively unknown. Moreover, new Needs have likely emerged since the original strategy as results from actionable science reveal new questions, and possible (yet untested) solutions. A quantifiable assessment of the progress made on the original science Needs can identify unresolved gaps and new information that can help inform prioritization of future research efforts.

This report details a systematic literature review that evaluated how well peer-reviewed journal articles and formal technical reports published between January 1, 2015, and December 31, 2020, addressed 10 needs (hereinafter “Needs”) identified under the Restoration topic in the Plan. The topic outlined research Needs for improving restoration success in degraded sagebrush rangelands. We established the level of progress towards addressing each Need following a standardized set of criteria, and developed summaries detailing how research objectives nested within Needs identified in the Plan (“Next Steps”) were either addressed well, partially addressed or remain outstanding (that is, addressed poorly) in the literature through 2020. Our searches resulted in the inclusion of 371 science products that at least partially addressed a Need identified in the Restoration topic. The Needs that were well and partially addressed included:

  1. the development of methods to improve seeding success of native plants after fire;
  2. evaluation of short- and long-term plant responses relative to biotic and abiotic factors following restoration treatments;
  3. assessments of long-term effects on ecosystem processes following conifer removal treatments and development of decision support tools to aid in conifer management;
  4. determination of the costs of restoration treatments relative to the benefits to sage-grouse occupancy, survival, and populations; and
  5. assessments of the factors which contribute to soil degradation and development of soil enhancement methods that enhance seed germination and seedling survival while resisting nonnative plants.

Needs that were not addressed well included:

  1. the development of methods for the rapid recovery of sagebrush and native herbaceous plants following wildfire and determination of whether treatments benefit sage-grouse and mitigate impacts from fires;
  2. determination of thresholds for successful restoration across a range of environmental conditions and development of decision support tools to assist with restoration effectiveness monitoring; and
  3. development and evaluation of the utility of seed transfer zones.

The information provided in this assessment will assist updating the Plan along with other science strategies.

Publication Year 2023
Title Integrated rangeland fire management strategy actionable science plan completion assessment: Restoration topic, 2015–20
DOI 10.3133/ofr20231004
Authors Christopher R. Anthony, Matthew J Holloran, Mark A. Ricca, Steven E. Hanser, Sue L. Phillips, Paul F. Steblein, Lief A. Wiechman
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2023-1004
Index ID ofr20231004
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center