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Climate change and land management impact rangeland condition and sage-grouse habitat in southeastern Oregon

1 Institute for Natural Resources, Oregon State University, PO Box 751, Portland, OR 97207-0751, USA;
2 Department of Environmental Science and Management, Portland State University, PO Box 751, Portland, OR 97207-0751, USA;
3 Common Futures LLC, PO Box 2891, Corvallis, OR 97339, USA

Special Issue: 2nd State-and-Transition Simulation Modeling Conference

Contemporary pressures on sagebrush steppe from climate change, exotic species, wildfire, and land use change threaten rangeland species such as the greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus). To effectively manage sagebrush steppe landscapes for long-term goals, managers need information about the potential impacts of climate change, disturbances, and management activities. We integrated information from a dynamic global vegetation model, a sage-grouse habitat climate envelope model, and a state-and-transition simulation model to project broad-scale vegetation dynamics and potential sage-grouse habitat across 23.5 million acres in southeastern Oregon. We evaluated four climate scenarios, including continuing current climate and three scenarios of global climate change, and three management scenarios, including no management, current management and a sage-grouse habitat restoration scenario. All climate change scenarios projected expansion of moist shrub steppe and contraction of dry shrub steppe, but climate scenarios varied widely in the projected extent of xeric shrub steppe, where hot, dry summer conditions are unfavorable for sage-grouse. Wildfire increased by 26% over the century under current climate due to exotic grass encroachment, and by two- to four-fold across all climate change scenarios as extreme fire years became more frequent. Exotic grasses rapidly expanded in all scenarios as large areas of the landscape initially in semi-degraded condition converted to exotic-dominated systems. Due to the combination of exotic grass invasion, juniper encroachment, and climatic unsuitability for sage-grouse, projected sage-grouse habitat declined in the first several decades, but increased in area under the three climate change scenarios later in the century, as moist shrub steppe increased and rangeland condition improved. Management activities in the model were generally unsuccessful in controlling exotic grass invasion but were effective in slowing woodland expansion. Current levels of restoration treatments were insufficient to prevent some juniper expansion, but increased treatment rates under the restoration scenario maintained juniper near initial levels in priority treatment areas. Our simulations indicate that climate change may have both positive and negative implications for maintaining sage-grouse habitat.
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Keywords climate change; exotic grass; greater sage-grouse; landscape modeling; rangeland management; sagebrush steppe; western juniper; wildfire

Citation: Megan K. Creutzburg, Emilie B. Henderson, David R. Conklin. Climate change and land management impact rangeland condition and sage-grouse habitat in southeastern Oregon. AIMS Environmental Science, 2015, 2(2): 203-236. doi: 10.3934/environsci.2015.2.203

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