Western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis spp. occidentalis Hook.) expansion in the northern Great Basin has reduced shrubsteppe productivity and diversity. Chainsaw cutting of western juniper woodlands is commonly applied to remove tree interference and restore sagebrush plant communities. Studies assessing understory response following cutting have been limited to early successional stages and have not evaluated the effects of western juniper debris on plant succession. Cutting western juniper produces a large amount of debris which is commonly left on site, occupying a significant portion of treated areas. This study evaluated successional dynamics spanning 13 years after western juniper cutting. Four 0.45-ha blocks were selected on Steens Mountain in southeastern Oregon. Western juniper cover averaged 26% and mature tree density averaged 250 trees · ha−1. Blocks were cut in late summer 1991. Understory standing crop, cover, and density were compared among 3 locations: old canopy litter mats (canopy), interspace, and area underneath cut western juniper (debris). In the interspace, perennial grasses increased in cover and in standing crop relative to other functional groups. In canopy and debris locations, species composition shifted in the 6th year after cutting as annual grass cover, density, and standing crop increased. However, by 2003, perennial grass biomass was 2 times greater than annual grass biomass in canopy and debris locations. Because annual grasses increased in areas of debris accumulation, managers need to be cognizant of western juniper treatments that create safe sites that are favorable to the establishment of weedy species. Retaining western juniper debris on this site did not increase establishment and growth of perennial grasses compared to the interspace. A shift in perennial grass dominance from Thurber's needlegrass (Achnatherum thurberianum [Piper] Barkworth) to bottlebrush squirreltail (Elymus hystrix [Nutt.] Smith) occurred in areas of debris accumulation. Our results demonstrated that long-term vegetation evaluations are necessary to properly assess management activities and disturbance.
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Vol. 67 • No. 4