Question: What is the impact of prescribed fires on the cover and composition of vegetation in Artemisia tridentata ssp. vaseyana steppe?
Location: United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, United States Sheep Experiment Station, eastern Idaho (44°14′44″ N, 112°12′47″ W).
Methods: Multiple prescribed fires were lit in 2002 and 2003 in an Artemisia tridentata ssp. vaseyana (mountain big sagebrush) steppe ecosystem that was relatively free of exotic plants. Measurements of cover components and plant species frequencies were taken pre- and for 2 to 3 years post-fire.
Results: Cover of forbs and grasses returned to pre-fire levels after two years. Shrub cover declined from 36 to 6% in the first year post-fire. Fire reduced the frequencies of three species, A. tridentata ssp. vaseyana, Festuca idahoensis, and Cordylanthus ramosus, of rangeland plants. Frequencies of four plant species, Hesperostipa comata, Polygonum douglasii, Chenopodium fremontii and Chenopodium leptophyllum increased, but only P. douglasii increased for more than a year.
Conclusion: This study demonstrates that in an Artemisia tridentata ssp. vaseyana steppe ecosystem without significant non-native species or anthropogenic disturbances vegetative cover and species composition of the herbaceous community are only minimally altered by fire. The herbaceous component returned to pre-fire conditions within three years of a fire.
Nomenclature: USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Plants database http://plants.usda.gov/