Western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis Hook.) has expanded into sagebrush steppe plant communities the past 130 - 150 yr in the northern Great Basin. The increase in juniper reduces herbage and browse for livestock and big game. Information on herbaceous yield response to juniper control with fire is limited. We measured herbaceous standing crop and yield by life form in two mountain big sagebrush communities (MTN1, MTN2) and a Wyoming/basin big sagebrush (WYOBAS) community for 6 yrs following prescribed fire treatments to control western juniper. MTN1 and WYOBAS communities were early-successional (phase 1) and MTN2 communities were midsuccessional (phase 2) woodlands before treatment. Prescribed fires killed all juniper and sagebrush in the burn units. Total herbaceous and perennial bunchgrass yields increased 2 to 2.5-fold in burn treatments compared with unburned controls. Total perennial forb yield did not differ between burns and controls in all three plant communities. However, tall perennial forb yield was 1.6- and 2.5-fold greater in the WYOBAS and MTN2 burned sites than controls. Mat-forming perennial forb yields declined by 80 - 90% after burning compared with controls. Cheatgrass yield increased in burned WYOBAS and MTN2 communities and at the end of the study represented 10% and 22% of total yield, respectively. Annual forbs increased with burning and were mainly composed of native species in MTN1 and MTN2 communities and non-natives in WYOBAS communities. Forage availability for livestock and wild ungulates more than doubled after burning. The additional forage provided on burned areas affords managers greater flexibility to rest and treat additional sagebrush steppe where juniper is expanding, as well as rest or defer critical seasonal habitat for wildlife.
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