Nineteen exclosures on sagebrush steppe and shadscale rangelands, varying in age from 18 to 38 years, were sampled for plant species richness, plant composition, indicators of soil erosion, ground cover, vegetative cover, and herb–low shrub layer screening cover. Features within the exclosures were compared with adjacent sites of the same size that were open to grazing by livestock and wildlife. Species richness typically was slightly greater inside exclosures than in adjacent grazed sites (median = 2 more species inside exclosures), but the difference was not significant (P = 0.16). Similarity of plant community composition between exclosures and adjacent grazed sites ranged from 45% to 82%. Evidences of soil movement, soil pedestals, and soil flow patterns were all more pronounced outside exclosures than inside (P ≤ 0.02), even though many sites were on flat to mild slopes (median slope = 12%). Meta-analysis of the 19 exclosure sites indicated that grazing exclusion resulted in less bare ground cover compared with adjacent grazed sites (P ≤ 0.05). The effect of grazing exclusion on visible soil surface cryptogams was significant (P ≤ 0.05), with generally greater cover inside exclosures. Cryptogam cover differences between grazed sites and exclosures tended to increase with the number of years of grazing exclusion (r = 0.64, P = 0.046). Pseudoroegneria spicata, a principal livestock forage, averaged greater basal cover inside exclosures than outside on 4 of 10 sites where it occurred, although no exclosure sites had greater P. spicata cover on grazed sites. Meta-analysis of the 10 sites indicated that grazing exclusion resulted in greater P. spicata cover compared with adjacent grazed areas (P ≤ 0.05). Poa secunda, a short-growing grass that initiates growth early in the spring and is not important livestock forage, averaged greater basal cover outside exclosures on 5 of 15 sites where it occurred. Meta-analysis of the 15 sites indicated a significant treatment effect (P ≤ 0.05), with greater Poa secunda basal cover outside exclosures. Grazing exclusion resulted in greater screening cover in the herb–low shrub layer (0–0.5 m height; P ≤ 0.05). These results indicate that despite improved livestock grazing management over the past half century, livestock grazing still can limit the potential of native plant communities in sagebrush steppe ecosystems, and that the health of semiarid ecosystems can improve with livestock exclusion in the absence of other disturbances. A few exclosure sites were similar for the measured parameters, suggesting that these sites were ecologically stable and that exclusion of livestock grazing was not sufficient to move succession toward more pristine conditions, at least within the time periods studied. Managed disturbance such as fire or mechanical brush treatments may be necessary to restore herb productivity on these ecologically stable sites.
Yeo, Jeffrey J.
"Effects of grazing exclusion on rangeland vegetation and soils, east central Idaho,"
Western North American Naturalist: Vol. 65
, Article 11.
Available at: http://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/wnan/vol65/iss1/11