Abstract

ABSTRACT:

Disturbances such as grazing, fire, and burrowing are historically important in North American grasslands, and plans for restoring disturbance regimes are often required for successful restoration. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) has become the dominant grassland restoration mechanism in many areas, and requires planned disturbances known as mid-contract management (MCM). We recorded evidence of MCM in CRP fields across a 14-state region of the western and central United States, then revisited fields after one to five years to characterize bare ground and vegetative cover and composition using edge-of-road visual surveys. We found a reduced cover of grasses up to five years after MCM, and a concomitant increased cover of flowering forbs and diversity of pollinator-friendly forbs. There was little measurable change in overall plant cover or bare ground cover between one and five years after MCM, though bare soil cover did increase slightly. Baseline tree and shrub covers were very low on average but highly variable due to outliers with high woody cover. After MCM, the presence of woody vegetation remained low and relatively constant. Grazing and haying resulted in a lower probability of noxious grass presence than mowing or disking, but haying and disking were better for inhibiting the presence of noxious forbs. These results show that MCM can be a useful tool for maintaining vegetation quality. The results also point to an important need to understand factors that influence the effects of MCM, including disturbance technique, disturbance frequency, drought, and climate.

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