The expansion of western juniper (Juniperus occidentals spp. occidentalis Hook.) in the northern Great Basin has resulted in the wide-scale conversion of sagebrush-steppe communities to juniper woodlands. Prescribed fire and mechanical cutting are the 2 main methods used to remove juniper and restore sagebrush steppe. Mechanical treatments commonly leave cut juniper on site. Disadvantages of leaving cut juniper are the increased fuel hazard and the potential for increased establishment and growth of invasive species. This study evaluated the response of herbaceous plants to winter burning of cut western juniper. Vegetation response was compared among 2 burning treatments (burning trees the first winter after cutting and burning the second winter after cutting), a control (cut-unburned juniper), and the interspace between cut trees. To minimize fire impacts to herbaceous perennials, cut trees were burned in the winter when soils and ground litter were frozen and/or soils were at field capacity. Only felled trees were burned, as fire did not carry into interspaces or litter mats around western juniper stumps. We hypothesized that winter season burning would increase herbaceous perennials and would reduce cheatgrass establishment when compared to the cut-unburned control. After 10 years, total herbaceous and perennial grass cover was 1.5- to 2-fold greater, respectively, in burned treatments compared to cut-unburned controls. Perennial grass density was 60% greater in the burned treatments than in the cut-unburned treatment and the interspace. Cheatgrass cover was twice as great in the control than in the 2 burn treatments and the interspace. We concluded that burning cut western juniper when soils were wet and frozen in winter enhanced community recovery of native perennials compared to leaving cut juniper unburned.
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Vol. 69 • No. 1