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20 November 2020 Change in Piñon-Juniper Woodland Cover Since Euro-American Settlement: Expansion Versus Contraction Associated with Soil Properties
Noah Amme, Chris A. Pague, Miranda D. Redmond
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Abstract

Woodland and forest ecosystems across western North America have experienced increased density and expansion since the early 1900s, including in the widely distributed piñon-juniper vegetation type of the western United States. Fire suppression and grazing are often cited as the main drivers of these historic changes and have led to extensive tree-reduction treatments across the region. However, much of the scientific literature on piñon-juniper expansion dates back only to the early 1900s, which is generally half a century after Euro-American settlement. Yet US General Land Office (GLO) surveys provide valuable insight into the historical extent and density of woodland and forest ecosystems as surveyors would note where on the landscape they entered and exited woodlands or forests and provided qualitative estimates of relative tree density. This study uses these GLO surveys to establish piñon-juniper woodland extent in the late 19th century at the incipient stages of Euro-American settlement in southeastern Colorado and compares these data with 2017 aerial imagery of woodland cover. We found substantial amounts of woodland contraction, as well as expansion: ≈61% of historically dense woodland is now savanna or open (treeless), whereas ≈57% of historically open areas are now savannas or woodlands. The highest rates of expansion occurred on shallow, rocky soil types with low soil available water capacity, which support little herbaceous vegetation and were consequently less likely to be affected by fire suppression or grazing. Meanwhile, the significant contractions in woodland extent occurred on deeper, upland soils with higher soil available water capacity, which were likely where early settlement and tree cutting was most prevalent. Our results provide mixed support for the widespread assumption of woodland expansion since Euro-American settlement in southeast Colorado and suggest that the expansion that has occurred in our study area is unlikely a result of past grazing or fire suppression.

© 2020 The Society for Range Management. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Noah Amme, Chris A. Pague, and Miranda D. Redmond "Change in Piñon-Juniper Woodland Cover Since Euro-American Settlement: Expansion Versus Contraction Associated with Soil Properties," Rangeland Ecology and Management 73(6), 847-855, (20 November 2020). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rama.2020.07.001
Received: 8 October 2019; Accepted: 6 July 2020; Published: 20 November 2020
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KEYWORDS
Juniperus monosperma
land use legacy
piñon-juniper
Pinus edulis
woodland expansion
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