Prescribed fire is used to reduce the rate of woody plant encroachment in grassland ecosystems. However, fire is challenging to apply in continuously grazed pastures because of the difficulty in accumulating sufficient herbaceous fine fuel for fire. We evaluated the potential of rotationally grazing cattle in fenced paddocks as a means to defer grazing in selected paddocks to provide fine fuel for burning. Canopy cover changes from 1995 to 2000 of the dominant woody plant, honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa Torr.), were compared in three landscape-scale grazing and mesquite treatment restoration strategies: 4-paddock, 1-herd with fire (4:1F), 8-paddock, 1-herd with fire (8:1F), and 4:1 with fire or aerial application of 0.28 kg · ha−1 clopyralid 0.28 kg · ha−1 triclopyr herbicide (4:1F/H), and a continuously grazed control with mesquite untreated (CU). Prescribed burning took place in late winter (February–March). Droughts limited burning during the 5-yr period to half the paddocks in the 4:1F and 8:1F strategies, and one paddock in each 4:1F/H strategy. Mesquite cover was measured using digitized aerial images in 1995 (pretreatment) and 2000. Mesquite cover was reduced in all paddocks that received prescribed fire, independent of grazing strategy. Net change in mesquite cover in each strategy, scaled to account for soil types and paddock sizes, was 34%, 15%, 5%, and −41% in the CU, 4:1F, 8:1F, and 4:1F/H strategies, respectively. Thus, rotational grazing and fire strategies slowed the rate of mesquite cover increase but did not reduce it. Fire was more effective in the 8:1F than the 4:1F strategy during drought because a smaller portion of the total management area (12.5% vs. 25%) could be isolated to accumulate fine fuel for fire. Herbaceous fine fuel and relative humidity were the most important factors in determining mesquite top-kill by fire.
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Vol. 63 • No. 3