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Prescribed fire, grazing, and herbaceous plant production in shortgrass steppe

Augustine, D.J., J.D. Derner and D.G. Milchunas . 2010. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 63:317-323

Abstract

We examined the independent and combined effects of prescribed fire and livestock grazing on herbaceous plant production in shortgrass steppe of northeastern Colorado in the North American Great Plains. Burning was implemented in March, before the onset of the growing season. During the first postburn growing season, burning had no influence on soil moisture, nor did it affect soil nitrogen (N) availability in spring (April-May), but it significantly enhanced soil N availability in summer (June-July). Burning had no influence on herbaceous plant production in the first postburn growing season but enhanced in vitro dry matter digestibility of blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis [Willd. ex Kunth] Lag. ex Griffiths) forage sampled in late May. For the second postburn growing season, we found no difference in herbaceous plant production between sites that were burned and grazed in the previous year versus sites that were burned and protected from grazing in the previous year. Our results provide further evidence that prescribed burns conducted in late winter in dormant vegetation can have neutral or positive consequences for livestock production because of a neutral effect on forage quantity and a short-term enhancement of forage quality. In addition, our results indicate that with conservative stocking rates, deferment of grazing during the first postburn growing season may not be necessary to sustain plant productivity.

Key Words

blue grama, Bouteloua gracilis, dry matter digestibility, forage quality, grazing management, North American Great Plains, semiarid grassland, soil moisture