This study evaluated the efficacy of prescribed fire applied within landscape-scale rotational grazing treatments to reduce mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa Torr.) encroachment and restore herbaceous productivity and cover. One-herd, multiple-paddock rotational grazing was used to accumulate herbaceous fine fuel for fires via prefire deferment and to provide periodic postfire deferment for grass recovery. Treatments were an unburned continuous-grazed control, a four-paddock-1 herd system with fire (4:1F), and an eight-paddock-1 herd system with fire (8:1F), with two replicates per treatment (1 294–2 130 ha per replicate). The management plan was to burn 25% of each system (one paddock in the 4:1F; two paddocks in the 8:1F treatments) and defer grazing during all or portions of the 9 mo (May to January) prior to burning. Deferral was “internalized” by grazing on the remaining 75% of each treatment without reducing stocking rate determined for the entire system. Mesquite cover increased on clay-loam soils from 22% to 40% in unburned paddocks over 7 yr (1995–2001). This increase, coupled with extended drought, reduced fine fuel amounts for fire and limited the number and intensity of fires that were applied. It was possible to burn one paddock in the 8:1F treatment (12.5% of total area), but not in the 4:1F treatment (25% of total area) during drought. Fires reduced mesquite and cactus (Opuntia spp.) cover by 25–79% and 24–56%, respectively, but cover of these species increased to prefire levels within 6 yr. All fires reduced (P ≤ 0.05) total herbaceous biomass for 1 yr postfire. The 8:1F treatment increased (P ≤ 0.05) grass biomass on loamy-bottom soils and reduced (P ≤ 0.05) bare ground on clay-loam and loamy-bottom soils in unburned paddocks compared to the unburned continuously grazed control. The 8:1F treatment, through internalized grazing deferment, facilitated the application of fire to reduce woody cover during extended drought without degrading the herbaceous understory.
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Vol. 63 • No. 3