Sagebrush-steppe ecosystems occupy 48 million hectares in 14 western states and 2 Canadian provinces. They provide vital resources for wildlife habitat, watershed management, livestock production, recreation, and recreation. Although this ecosystem is widespread, the ecological integrity of sagebrush-steppe ecosystems is threatened by climate change and woodland encroachment. Pinyon and juniper woodlands have expanded by more than tenfold in the past 130 years, thereby reducing herbaceous plants and shrubs and exposing more bare soil and rocks. These areas have become a USDA Forest Service priority for restoration by removing the pinyon and juniper. Typically, the wood is burned in slash piles which may cause damage to the underlying soil. Instead of burning this material, we have turned the wood into biochar and established several study sites on the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. Compared with other soil amendments such as manure, local compost, or masticated woody biomass, biochar additions should result in larger and longer-term carbon sequestration to help mitigate climate change.
We established two study sites using several different levels of pinyon-juniper biochar. Each treatment at each site is replicated three times.
(Click on the first image below to go to slideshow view with full captions for each image.)
Our questions about these sites are:
- What is the appropriate level of biochar amendment?
- Does seeding provide an adequate method for reestablishing plants on amended soil?
- Will biochar increase soil water conditions by increasing soil organic matter content?
- Does biochar alter the carbon dioxide flux from the soil?
This research will provide information on the range of biochar that can be applied on sagebrush sites. We also expect to understand the mechanisms for increasing shrub and herbaceous plant growth in these dry ecosystems.