OSU Sagebrush Habitat Team responds to threats to vast ecosystem

The invasion of annual grasses, an unprecedented rise in wildfire, and encroachment by conifers have substantially contributed to a 50% reduction in Oregon’s sagebrush ecosystem over the past 150 years. Such extensive habitat reduction has led to declines in wildlife and generated an intense focus on the management of remaining sagebrush habitats. As a result, land managers, with limited resources, need to work at large spatial scales to address these ecological threats.

The Oregon State University Sagebrush Habitat Team was created in 2016 to fill research and Extension needs associated with threats to the sagebrush steppe ecosystem and wildlife that depends on sagebrush, including the sage-grouse. The team's involvement in the SageSHARE group, consisting of federal and non-profit partners, led to the creation of the Threat-Based Land Management framework, focused on how invasive annual grasses and conifer encroachment affect the sagebrush ecosystem. Such a framework is complex enough to inform management decisions while remaining simple enough for use by all stakeholders.

The team, based at the OSU Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center in Burns, supports landowners in assessing threats to their property, and supports management decisions to address fire, juniper and weed threats, and also to support management objectives and conservation practices. An illustrated guide provides a framework to efficiently identify, discuss, and address landscape-level threats. It takes users step by step through establishing management objectives, understanding the relevant ecology of a large and diverse landscape, assessing threats in order to map simplified ecological states, and estimate future trends.

The Threat-Based Land Management approach and associated field guide is being applied on over 7 million acres of private and public lands across Oregon, Nevada, Idaho and Wyoming. Over 2,000 copies of the guide have been distributed to both domestic and international audiences, with requests continuing to come in. This approach supports conservation plans to implement conifer removal, annual grass treatment, improved grazing practices and wildlife conservation on public, state and private land.

Additionally, the team has produced five publications to educate land managers and ranchers, including a bunchgrass grazing guide, a grass identification guide and a manager's guide. The team has also hosted educational camps for high school and college students, and produced a publication about invasive grasses that compromise habitat diversity for important wildlife species such as the sage-grouse, shorten the grazing season for livestock, and don't provide consistent forage biomass and quality as much as perennial native bunchgrasses.

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