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“We found that wildfire is not the predominant driver of invasive annual grass expansion in the Great Basin, but it is still a major issue that can promote annual grass abundance and negatively impact a wide variety of ecosystem services and values ranging from forage for cattle production to sagebrush obligate wildlife habitat,” said Chad Boyd, co-author, and research leader at the USDA-ARS Range and Meadow Forage Management Research Unit.
“However, annual grass management focused solely on wildfire suppression and post-fire restoration is unlikely to reverse widespread conversion to invasive annual grasses.”
The research team used dynamic, remote sensing-derived datasets from 1994 to 2020 to analyze transitions of annual grass dominance in the U.S. Great Basin.
The datasets included fire perimeter and burn severity datasets obtained from the Monitoring Trends in Burn Severity program and maps of annual grass-dominated vegetation communities based on the Rangeland Analysis Platform.
The 26 years’ worth of data scientists examined in the study shows that wildfire is not the main factor driving the rapid expansion, degradation, and domination of native plant communities by annual grasses in the region. Adopting a preventive approach to manage invasive grasses before a wildfire occurs is necessary to control the grass-fire cycle and slow down transitions to annual grass dominance.
“Firefighters already extinguish 97% of wildfires before they reach 1,000 acres, yet we’re still getting flanked by cheatgrass,” said Joe Smith, co-author and NRCS-Working Lands for Wildlife affiliate at UMT. “We need to get ahead of future fires by proactively defending intact landscapes against cheatgrass expansion.”
The research is published in the journal Biological Conservation.
Joseph T. Smith et al, Fire needs annual grasses more than annual grasses need fire, Biological Conservation (2023). DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2023.110299
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