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Using state-and-transition simulation models to scope post-fire success in restoring greater sage-grouse habitat

June 30, 2023

Wildfires are increasingly modifying wildlife habitat in the western United States and managers need ways to scope the pace and degree to which post-fire restoration actions can re-create habitat in dynamic landscapes. We developed a spatially explicit state-transition simulation model (STSM) to project post-fire revegetation and the potential for sage-grouse habitat restoration in sagebrush ecosystems. The model included annual fires, annual grass invasion, conifer encroachment, and projected annual vegetation growth caused by natural regeneration as well as sagebrush seeding and planting. We cross-referenced resulting vegetation maps with greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) habitat needs and evaluated trajectories of potential habitat at three Priority Areas for Conservation in the Great Basin. We compared outcomes among different types of revegetation actions (natural regeneration, seeding, planting), treatment durations, and treatment area sizes. In all scenarios, sagebrush cover was generally insufficient to meet sage-grouse needs for at least a decade post-fire, and the best habitat classes declined or remained at low proportions of landscapes for >50 years post-fire. Under current fire patterns, the pace of habitat restoration is likely to lag behind losses from wildfires. Our results indicate additional efforts beyond sagebrush revegetation actions (e.g., fire suppression, invasive grass treatment) will likely be necessary to maintain and restore areas to meet sage-grouse habitat needs in burned landscapes. Our results also underscore the need for broad-scale habitat restoration strategies that expand the ability to reestablish sagebrush in large, burned areas, as well as strategies for defining which areas should be prioritized for revegetation within the biome. Our landscape models and resulting vegetation maps can be integrated with other restoration prioritization or wildlife monitoring tools that support land manager decision-making. By gauging potential benefits of restoration decisions, our approach can provide information to aid choices on where to invest time, money, and effort and how best to mitigate losses and plan long-term restoration and recovery for landscapes across the sagebrush biome.

Publication Year 2023
Title Using state-and-transition simulation models to scope post-fire success in restoring greater sage-grouse habitat
DOI 10.1016/j.ecolmodel.2023.110396
Authors Elizabeth Kari Orning, Julie A. Heinrichs, David A. Pyke, Peter S. Coates, Cameron L. Aldridge
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecological Modelling
Index ID 70246319
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Forest and Rangeland Ecosys Science Center; Fort Collins Science Center; Western Ecological Research Center