Reinhardt, J.R., S. Filippelli, M. Falkowski, B. Allred, J.D. Maestas, J.C. Carlson, and D.E. Naugle. 2020. Quantifying pinyon juniper reduction within North America’s sagebrush ecosystem. Rangeland Ecology and Management 73:420–432.
One of the primary conservation threats surrounding sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) ecosystems in the Intermountain West of the United States is the expansion and infilling of pinyon pine(Pinus edulis, P. monophylla) and juniper (Juniperus spp.) woodlands. Woodland expansion into sagebrush ecosystems has demonstrated impacts on sagebrush-associated flora and fauna, particularly the greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus). These impacts have prompted government agencies, land managers, and landowners to ramp up pinyon-juniper removal efforts to maintain and restore sagebrush ecosystems. Accurately quantifying and analyzing management activities over time across broad spatial extents still poses a major challenge. Such information is vital to broad-scale planning and coordination of management efforts. To address this problem and aid future management planning, we applied a remote sensing change detection approach to map reductions in pinyon-juniper cover across the sage-grouse range and developed a method for rapidly updating maps of canopy cover. We found total conifer reduction over the past several yr (2011−2013 to 2015−2017) amounted to 1.6% of the area supporting tree cover within our study area, which is likely just keeping pace with estimates of expansion. Two-thirds of conifer reduction was attributed to active management (1.04% of the treed area) while wildfire accounted for one-third of all estimated conifer reduction in the region (0.56% of the treed area). Our results also illustrate the breadth of this management effort—crossing ownership, agency, and state boundaries. We conclude by identifying some key priorities that should be considered in future conifer management efforts based on our comprehensive assessment.