Prescribed Fire Effects on Resource Selection by Cattle in Mesic Sagebrush Steppe. Part 1: Spring Grazing

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Prescribed fire is commonly applied world-wide as a tool for enhancing habitats and altering resource-selection patterns of grazing animals. A scientific basis for this practice has been established in some ecosystems but its efficacy has not been rigorously evaluated on mesic sagebrush steppe. Beginning in 2003, resource-selection patterns of beef cows were investigated using global positioning system (GPS) collars for 2 years before and for 5 years after a fall prescribed burn was applied to mesic sagebrush steppe in the Owyhee Mountains of southwestern Idaho, USA. Resource-selection functions (RSF) developed from these data indicated cattle selected for lightly to moderately burned areas for all 5 postfire years. Cattle had been neutral towards these areas prior to the fire when their distribution was primarily affected by slope, sagebrush dominance, and distance to upland water. Resource-selection responses to the fire lasted 2–3 years longer than would be expected for fire-induced, forage-quality improvement effects. Although this is a case study and caution should be taken in extrapolating these results, if applied under conditions similar to this study, livestock producers and natural resource managers can likely use fall prescribed fire in the mesic sagebrush steppe to affect cattle resource-use patterns for 5 years postfire.