Sponsors and Partners:

Great Basin Native Plant Program, Department of Defense, Joint Fire Science Program, Museum of Northern Arizona, University of Utah, Rio Mesa Center, Kaibab National Forest, Mountain Home Airforce Base, Hill Airforce Base, Ancestral Lands, Northern Arizona University

Project Duration: 2014 to Current

Project Overview


The Land:

We are working on lands throughout the western United States where sagebrush is common. Sagebrush has been severely degraded throughout its range by removal to improve grass production for cattle, exotic grass invasion followed by wildfires – at least 4 million acres of sagebrush ecosystems no longer contain sagebrush. By innovating sagebrush restoration throughout its range, we are hoping to provide best methods for increasing sagebrush restoration in the 4-Corners region.

Our project locations include those in Idaho Mountain Home Airforce Base, Utah Hill Airforce Base, and Arizona Kaibab National Forest. We also have projects at the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff and the University of Utah’s Rio Mesa Center near Moab, Utah that are designed not only to address restoration-based research questions, but to promote citizen science and educational opportunities.

The People:

This project is conducted primarily by scientists. School groups that are part of our EcoKids program have conducted citizen science activities at the Museum of Northern Arizona and the Rio Mesa Center.

The Restoration:

Applied nucleation as a restoration strategy across sagebrush sites degraded by exotic cheatgrass. We are studying the use of kinship facilitation and incorporating soil microbes to promote native species growth during climate change. Experimental sites are in Utah, Arizona, and Idaho and include 7,000 plants. We are finding that adult sagebrush are nurse plants to promote survival of planted sagebrush during restoration.

Microbial communities as drivers of restoration in sagebrush communities invaded by cheatgrass. We planted three common gardens (UT, AZ, ID) that included 5,000 sagebrush and 5,000 squirrel tail grasses with varying degrees of nitrogen, phosphorus, microbial inoculation, and competition with weeds. Our major finding here is that weed removal is critical for maintaining water availability during initial phases of sagebrush restoration.

Impacts of climate change and exotic species to plant interactions in sagebrush ecosystems. This project is focused on genetic solutions for coping with climate change and seed lot improvement trials with sagebrush. We created two common gardens, each with 2,000 plants from 25 populations of sagebrush and planted at high and low sagebrush density into weeded and non weeded plots. We are finding that sagebrush is adapted both to temperature and to the biotic environment – i.e., the identity of a plant neighbor has varying impacts on sagebrush genotype performance.