Mesic meadows provide valuable water and forage resources for wildlife and livestock in the arid western United States. Greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus), a species of conservation concern, rely on these habitats because they support forb species of high importance to broods during late brood rearing. Because mesic meadows comprise a small fraction of the landscape, identifying grazing strategies compatible with maintenance and production of mesic resources is vital to balancing livestock production with suitable conditions for sage-grouse. We evaluated relationships between short-duration grazing treatments and habitat components important to sage-grouse in mesic meadows. In 2019 and 2020, we implemented short-duration (16 d) grazing treatments that varied by season (Early: early June; Late: early August) and intensity (control: 0%, moderate: 30-40%, high: 70-80% relative use). We evaluated cover and biomass percentages of high importance forbs (HIF), soil moisture, and noxious weed cover before and after grazing and again after pasture regrowth (Early: ≈13 wk, Late: ≈6 wk). Short-duration treatments did not reduce HIF cover or biomass. Early-season (P= 0.018) and high-intensity (P= 0.04) grazing increased HIF cover during the pregrazing sample period from 2019 to 2020, suggesting positive effects of these treatments on HIF cover during the pregrazing sample period. Postgrazing HIF cover and biomass percentages remained similar across treatments. Percentages of HIF biomass after regrowth were greater (P= 0.04) in early-season than late-season treatments in 2020. Seasonal declines in soil moisture from pregrazing to regrowth sample periods were greater (P < 0.001) in early-season treatments than late-season treatments but not associated with grazing intensity (P= 0.60). Cover of noxious weeds remained unchanged under short-duration treatments. Our study emphasizes the potential of early-season, high-intensity grazing to increase HIF cover and biomass for brood-rearing sage-grouse in mesic meadows over short time intervals.
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Vol. 82 • No. 1