Piñon (Pinus spp.) and juniper (Juniperus spp.) expansion and infilling in sagebrush (Artemisia L.) steppe communities can lead to high-severity fire and annual weed dominance. To determine vegetation response to fuel reduction by tree mastication (shredding) or seeding and then shredding, we measured cover for shrub and herbaceous functional groups on shredded and adjacent untreated areas on 44 sites in Utah. We used mixed model analysis of covariance to determine significant differences among ecological site type (expansion and tree climax) and treatments across a range of pretreatment tree cover as the covariate. Although expansion and tree climax sites differed in cover values for some functional groups, decreasing understory cover with increasing tree cover and increased understory cover with tree reduction was similar for both ecological site types. Shrub cover decreased by 50% when tree cover exceeded 20%. Shredding trees at ≤ 20% cover maintained a mixed shrub (18.6% cover)—perennial herbaceous (17.6% cover) community. Perennial herbaceous cover decreased by 50% when tree cover exceeded 40% but exceeded untreated cover by 11% (20.1% cover) when trees were shredded at 15–90% tree cover. Cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum L.) cover also increased after tree shredding or seeding and then shredding but was much less dominant (< 10% cover) where perennial herbaceous cover exceeded 42%. Sites with high cheatgrass cover on untreated plots had high cheatgrass cover on shredded and seeded-shredded plots. Seeding and then shredding decreased cheatgrass cover compared with shredding alone when implemented at tree cover ≥ 50%. Vegetation responses to shredding on expansion sites were generally similar to those for tree cutting treatments in the SageSTEP study. Shredding or seeding and then shredding should facilitate wildfire suppression, increase resistance to weed dominance, and lead toward greater resilience to disturbance by increasing perennial herbaceous cover.
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Vol. 69 • No. 3