Published since 1946
New Research Suggests Sagebrush Landscapes Maintain Water Availability
Research summarized by the Sage Grouse Initiative in a recent Science to Solutions report documents how sagebrush landscapes can maintain water in snow-dominated systems as compared to landscapes with significant conifer encroachment. The study, written by researchers with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service and recently published in Rangeland Ecology & Management, evaluated how snow moves differently in sagebrush and conifer landscapes. Junipers have the tendency to hold more snow initially but it stays evenly distributed across the landscape allowing it to melt more quickly during the spring. In sagebrush landscapes, the snow drifts in very predictable areas each year; these drifts are deeper and hold the snow an average of nine extra days into the summer season. In the areas where snow continues to accumulate annually, the extra water changes the vegetation and provides improved wildlife habitat.
"Snow is the important dynamic affecting water availability in western rangelands," commented Frederick Pierson, one of the lead authors of the study. "We demonstrate here how snow works within the system and the resulting benefits of conifer removal to ecosystem dynamics."