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OSU Researchers: Native Sage, Grasses Handle Wildfires Better

A test plot in the Lava Beds National Monument in northern California after prescribed fire.

A test plot in the Lava Beds National Monument in northern California after prescribed fire.

Lisa Ellsworth/Oregon State University

Rangeland scientist Lisa Ellsworth of Oregon State University has a thing for fire, especially how various ecosystems respond to the wildfires that bedevil much of the rural West.

Ellsworth and research co-author J. Boone Kauffman, a senior research professor at OSU, tracked the recovery of three areas from “prescribed” fires in the Lava Beds National Monument in Northern California. They documented a truism: Plants native to the sagebrush steppe, such as sage and various bunchgrasses, recover from fire better than invasive or intrusive species such as cheatgrass and Western juniper.

Ellsworth said the study results hold some lessons for ranchers and for Greater sage grouse conservation work. Chief among them is that fire, often started by lightning, has long been part of the cycle in the arid rangelands of the West. “It’s important we remember these are ecosystems that evolved with fire,” she said.

While some people are fearful of fire, many producers recognize that if sagebrush steppe is in good condition, “Maybe some fire isn’t all negative,” Ellsworth said.

Read more at Capital Press.

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