A Spatial Model to Prioritize Sagebrush Landscapes in the Intermountain West (U.S.A.) for Restoration


S. T. Knick, email steve_knick@usgs.gov


The ecological integrity of Sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) ecosystems in the Intermountain West (U.S.A.) has been diminished by synergistic relationships among human activities, spread of invasive plants, and altered disturbance regimes. An aggressive effort to restore Sagebrush habitats is necessary if we are to stabilize or improve current habitat trajectories and reverse declining population trends of dependent wildlife. Existing economic resources, technical impediments, and logistic difficulties limit our efforts to a fraction of the extensive area undergoing fragmentation, degradation, and loss. We prioritized landscapes for restoring Sagebrush habitats within the intermountain western region of the United States using geographic information system (GIS) modeling techniques to identify areas meeting a set of conditions based on (1) optimum abiotic and biotic conditions favorable for revegetation of Sagebrush; (2) potential to increase connectivity of Sagebrush habitats in the landscape to benefit wildlife; (3) location of population strongholds for Greater Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus, a species of conservation concern); and (4) potential impediments to successful restoration created by Cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum, an invasive exotic annual grass). Approximately 5.8 million ha in southwestern Idaho, northern Nevada, and eastern Oregon met our criteria for restoring Wyoming big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata ssp. wyomingensis) and 5.1 million ha had high priority for restoring Mountain big sagebrush (A. tridentata ssp. vaseyana). Our results represent an integral component in a hierarchical framework after which site-specific locations for treatments can be focused within high-priority areas. Using this approach, long-term restoration strategies can be implemented that combine local-scale treatments and objectives with large-scale ecological processes and priorities.