|Photo By Michael L. Charters|
|Photo by Michael L Charters|
Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata)
Garner Valley, California
For the moment, let me review a few points from a USDA report written about some of the misinformation on Big Sagebrush and it's management or mismanagement. The paper is authored by Bruce L Welch and Craig Criddle who authored the book, "Countering Misinformation Concerning Big Sagebrush" (July 2003) - Rocky Mountain Research Station (Fort Collins, Colorado). It deals with 8 commonly believed Axioms, which for those unfamiliar with the term, an Axiom could simply be described as a self-evident truth that requires no proof. Frankly there are many such Axioms in other areas of science, but let's focus on this one regarding Artemisia tridentata. I loved this read. It illustrates how bad science can be at times when biased and/or prejudiced by economic, political, religious or other ideological or philosophical motivations. They clearly expose the traditional long held pseudo-scientific flaws in the view of Artemisia tridentata and it's imagined damage to Livestock performance success. Keep in mind as you read the link to the study how this flawed thinking is also what drives the demonization of other plant species around the globe.
I going to touch on just a few of the Axioms which are pertinent to my own experience, but they are all clearly outstanding in their assessment by the authors. I also love the sarcastic sense of humor by the Authors in questioning some of the long held stupid ideological scientific beliefs motivated by money making ventures conducted on public and private land holdings. You may even see some similarities to the much demonized Mesquite in the southwest which has spread as a result of lousy land management and overgrazing."This paper examines the scientific merits of eight axioms of range or vegetative management pertaining to big sagebrush. These axioms are: (1) Wyoming big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata ssp. wyomingensis) does not naturally exceed 10 percent canopy cover and mountain big sagebrush (A. t. ssp. vaseyana) does not naturally exceed 20 percent canopy cover; (2) As big sagebrush canopy cover increases over 12 to15 percent, bare ground increases and perennial grass cover decreases; (3) Removing, controlling, or killing big sagebrush will results in a two or three or more fold increase in perennial grass production; (4) Nothing eats it; (5) Biodiversity increases with removing, controlling, thinning, or killing of big sagebrush; (6) Mountain big sagebrush evolved in an environment with a mean fire interval of 20 to 30 years; (7) Big sagebrush is an agent of allelopathy; and (8) Big sagebrush is a highly competitive, dominating, suppressive plant species."
Axiom Number 1
"Wyoming big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata ssp wyomingensis) does not naturally exceed 10 percent cover and mountain big sagebrush (A. t. ssp. vaseyana) does not naturally exceed 20 percent cover."
The authors then go on to ask a series of logical question that should have been asked in the original studies and observations. The then proceed to ask three very important questions."This axiom is best verbalized by Miller and others (1994, p. 115): “In the early to mid 1800s, much of the sagebrush steppe was probably composed of open stands of shrubs with a strong component of longlived perennial grasses and forbs in the understory … Shrub canopy cover probably ranged between 5-10% in the drier Wyoming big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata ssp. wyomingensis) communities ..., to 10-20% on the more mesic sites, occupied by mountain big sagebrush.” Speaking of the present, they noted (p. 119): “Wyoming big sagebrush cover has increased from less than 10% to 20%, and mountain big sagebrush cover from less than 20% to 30% and 40%.” All due to overgrazing."
"First, what do the wild animals which are adapted to this type of Big Sage Brush habitat suggest to us concerning this canopy cover ?"This first question is important in that how does the rest of natural world like animals, interact with such Big Sagebrush habitat which has been around for thousands of years and worked perfectly well ?
Second, what are the Big Sage Brush canopy cover values found in undisturbed relics and kiputkas (undisturbed wildlife habitat islands left untouched by urban growth) and what do we observe from these semi-pristine islands ?This is another very important question, as even southern California in Chaparral country still has some wildlife islands, but they are dwindling fast. Still they provide a far better observational venue than modern day disturbed sites which have been thrashed and forced to heal over and over countless times in just the last 150 years of human intervention and disruption of natural processes. It is almost impossible to study how things actually work in a pristine environment anymore. Mission Valley in San Diego has north and south facing examples which may yet reveal important clues about old growth coastal chaparral plant communities, even Cowles Mountain among others.
Third, what is the quality of the science used to support this flawed Axiom ?No kidding. No further input by me is necessary here! But the authors then proceed to offer numerous studies which indicate that large numbers of wildlife actually prefer old growth Big Sagebrush habitats. Again, no kidding. This is almost identical to Chaparral Plant Communities.
Axiom Number 3
"Removing, controlling, or killing big sagebrush will result in a two, three or more fold increase in perennial grass production.
Wow, where have we heard this it becomes necessary to destroy before it can get better dogma before ? The authors point out the flaws of both studies of chemical spraying and the comparisons of treated and untreated big sagebrush plots which were on overgrazed land where a comparison of overgrazed big sagebrush plots to treated plots with treated plots showing a substantial gain in perennial grass production. The authors then cite their own personal observations of several pristine isolated pristine areas which were protected from fire because they were fortunate enough to be surrounded geographically by ancient lava flows which prevented much historical burn activity. What they found was an abundance of biodiversity and as the author noted,Miller (1957, p. 18) states the axiom in these words: “Spraying sagebrush on a Washington range results in a three-fold increase of grass forage.” On the surface this sounds great if you are interested in livestock grazing, but there are some problems with the science."
"there seem to be the usual complement of birds, small mammals (including foxes, rabbits, and coyotes), reptiles, insects, spiders, lichens, shrubs, grasses, forbs, and biological crusts. On one kipuka I observed deer tracks."
Axiom Number 4
Nothing eats it, or as expressed by Tueller (1985, p. 29): “It is ironic that the dominant plant and highest producer on this area of 30,000 square miles is essentially unpalatable.” This subject reminds us of an old bumper sticker that reads: “Eat lamb! A million coyotes can’t be wrong!” Paraphrasing, we could say “Eat big sagebrush! 52 species of aphids can’t be wrong!”
Axiom Number 5
This is another hilarious report which isn't even close to being founded in reality. Compare this to the southern California Chaparral Plant Community. This idiocy of spraying to kill Big Sagebrush would be to the present stripping the land by means of fires, bulldozing, brush grinders, crushers, chains and any irresponsible chemical treatments and then justifying it by saying plant biodiversity increased, but then not listing the plants that replaced and colonized former Chaparral Habitat, because the bogus embarrassment of a list would in reality be Mediterranean Wild Mustard, Wild Radish, Star Thistle, various species of non-native Foxtails and European Wild Oats etc etc etc would be absurd and asinine. And yet that has been the reality of So-Cal Fire mismanagement in the rural areas.Biodiversity increases with the removal, controlling, thinning, or killing of big sagebrush. Olson and others (1994) reported that in their big sagebrush control plots, the number of plant species increased by three to four species over untreated big sagebrush plots, but they failed to name what species of plants and where they came from. Did the new unknown plant species seeds just float in, on the wind, like musk thistle (Carduus nutans), could or develop from long-lived dormant seeds formed from plants that have been grazed out before treatment? Are their comparisons between overgrazed big sagebrush sites versus treated sites proper, or should the comparisons be between undisturbed or never grazed by livestock big sagebrush sites versus treated sites? Should the measurement of biodiversity be determined only on number of plant species present or on total number of species of all life forms? What did the rebuttal of the last axiom number 4 tell us? That a large number of species consumes big sagebrush directly and indirectly. Is this not an expression of biodiversity?
Axiom Number 6
Once again, like the Chaparral Plant community, there is a deliberate attempt as misinformation on fire ecology and the myth and fables of prescribed or controlled burn necessity. Read the entire comments from the above link by the authors. It's unbelievable. The managers insisting on burns stated that the Big Sagebrush recovers rapidly after fire and the authors questioned: "How rapid is rapid?" This is because the Artemisia does NOT recover from it's base from fire as other chaparral plants do. It has to have seed wind blown in from outside locations. One study of an area showed that after one burned area was observed, Big Sagebrush still hadn't returned even after 11 years."Mountain big sagebrush evolved in an environment with a mean fire interval of 20 to 30 years (Winward 1984), or as expressed by Winward (1991, p.4): “These ecosystems, which have developed with an historical 10-40 year fire interval, were dependent on this periodic removal or thinning of sagebrush crowns to maintain their balanced understories.”
Axiom Number 7
"Big sagebrush is an agent of allelopathy"
|Image by Game Warden Bill Bish|
What they are not telling you here is that the Indian Paintbrush actually needs the Artemisia sagebrush as a host, aside from the fact that it makes a great companion for stunning beauty. This next and final Axiom hits real close to home.
Axiom Number 8
Big sagebrush is a highly competitive, dominating, suppressive plant species. Winward (1991, p. 5) states: “Mountain and basin big sagebrush sites in best condition have cover values between 15-20 percent. Those numerous sites that support cover values in the 30 to 40 percent category have a much restricted herbaceous production and are essentially closed to recruitment of new herbaceous seedlings. Some type of shrub removal process will be needed before understory forbs and grasses can regain their natural prominence in these communities.”
What more can be said on this false assertion, that Sagebrush or Chaparral hinder the growth of more desirable plants and trees ? Presently the Chaparral Institute is engaged in a legal battle over the flaws in the reforestation projects which have actually destroyed Rancho Cuyamaca State Park by their mismanagement of the natural vegetation there called Ceanothus. This is another attempt to demonize a chaparral plant said to hinder growth of Pine, Oak, Fir, Incense Cedar and other more desirable eye appealing species. You may read about it here below."We have found in the field the seedlings of bigtooth maple-Acer grandidentatum, box elder-Acer negundo, singleleaf pinyon pine-Pinus monophylla, and Utah juniper-Juniperus osteosperma growing under the canopy of mature big sagebrush plants. Diettert (1938, p. 5) observed: “Not only is it of direct value as a forage crop but in many places it provides shelter for tender and perhaps more useful plants.” Drivas and Everett (1987, 1988) and Callaway and others (1996) describe the use of big sagebrush as nurse plants for singleaf pinyon (Pinus monophylla) seedlings, Patten (1969) for lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta), and Schultz and others (1996) for curlleaf mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus ledifolius)."
|Image - Chaparral Institute|
Large stands of Ceanothus cut down as well as dead tress which provide valuable habitat. The area is being prepared for a prescribed burn. See fire line to the left.
Loss in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park - California State Parks Conducting Project Contrary to the Best Available Science
In the top photos of Garner Valley, it was common back in the 1980s and maybe early 1990s to promote forest growth by the old Penny Pines plantation projects. Several planting projects were mostly done on the south side of the Palms to Pines Scenic Highway 74. In fact for all those almost 24 years of my living there, I never saw a planting project on the north side. Mostly it was meadow and grasslands. I did however see one land preparation method of old small scale Farm Caterpillars being used to pull giant chains to cut off Chaparral at it's collar and burn the residue in piles. The ground was stripped bare as it was always assumed that seedling success would only be achieved by eliminating competing Chaparral species which would crowd them out. This has been proven over the past few decades to be false and continued bad land management practices with research papers justifying these flawed antiquated outdated techniques have further proved to be an ongoing lie in favour of promoting other economic agendas. One possible reasons for the methods in this area particularly may be the maintenance agenda for promoting business along the "Palms to Pines Scenic Highway". Take note below of the map and program's link which goes into depth of their Corridor Management Planning which wants the route to continually have public eye appeal. Pines, Oaks, Cedars, etc fit that agenda, chaparral doesn't.
Palms to Pines Scenic Highway Corridor Management Planning
Laurel Sumac (Malosma_laurina)
Good Luck and success with your own Guerrilla Habitat restoration project!
Further Reading References:
Hydraulic Lift: Substantial Nocturnal Water Transport between Soil Layers by Artemisia tridentata Roots
Hydraulic redistribution in a stand of Artemisia tridentata: evaluation of benefits to transpiration assessed with a simulation model