Modern management techniques to maintain rangelands and deter encroachment of juniper into grassland habitats currently includes fire prescription. Additionally, a large body of research has indicated that fire has multiple benefits to grasslands resulting in increased diversity of flora and fauna. In the semi-arid grassland of the Agua Fria National Monument, fire treatments may be able to provide similar advantages. This study considers two methods of fire prescription on the Agua Fria National Monument within central Arizona: 1) Juniper thinning with pile burning; 2) Broadcast burning.
The Agua Fria National Monument upland ecosystem has limited research focusing on semi-arid grassland and juniper stand’s response to implemented treatments over time. The four year monitoring duration of this study aids in assessing the outcome of treatments and reaching the objectives of the management plan.
Vegetation in 981 quadrats was measured for species richness, cover, densities, height, and biomass during the fire prescription period from 2009 through 2013. The study was divided into two treatment types: 1) Juniper cutting and pile burn; 2) Broadcast burn areas in open grasslands.
Results of this study provide consistent examples of vegetative change and community movement towards positive response. Percent composition of overall vegetation is 5 – 30% with >50% of litter, bare ground and rock cover. Juniper sites have immediate consequences from tree thinning activities that may be beneficial to wildlife, particularly as connective corridors pronghorn antelope. Grass height was significantly reduced as well as forb density. Forbs that are highly responsive to environmental factors indicate an increase after the second year. Analysis results from grasslands indicated that cactus and unpalatable shrubs are reduced by fire but a return to pre-burn conditions occur by the third year after fire disturbance. Percent cover of perennial grasses has shown a slow increase. Wright’s buckwheat, a palatable shrub, has increased in density and height, indicating fire adaptations in the species. Species richness was reduced in the first year but increase in density continues into the third year after burn.