This photo shows Thunder Basin National Grassland in Douglas, Wyo. (U.S. Forest Service/Cristi Painter photo)

Grasslands Study Launched at Two Sites

The results of the three-year study will help USFS learn more about how to use fire on the national grasslands.

Scientists with the Rocky Mountain Research Station Forest & Grassland Research Laboratory in Rapid City, S.D. are studying the resilience of underground buds, which are the primary source of life on the U.S. national grasslands, according to USDA's U.S. Forest Service. In a blog post, Veronica Hinke of its Office of Communication explains how at this time of year, grasses have finished forming buds beneath the ground and those will overwinter until spring.

"They will be needed," she writes. "The buds will provide a necessary source of forage and habitat for livestock and wildlife. Pollinators, too, depend on a diversity of forbs. The greater sage-grouse and other birds require sagebrush and forbs for food, nesting, brood-rearing, and winter habitat."

The post quotes Jacqueline Ott, a research geologist with the lab: "Almost all life on grasslands depends on below-ground buds; they are why we have grasslands."

About 10,000 square miles of grassland remain from what was once an expanse of 500,000 square miles in the United States, and about 6,000 square miles of the remaining grassland are our national grasslands.

Ott and her colleagues are from universities and federal agencies are starting a three-year study on the effects of disturbances on the buds, Hinke reports, adding that their study will examine locations where grasslands meet sagebrush-dominated plant communities in the West and will be conducted on Buffalo Gap National Grassland in Hot Springs and Wall, S.D., and Thunder Basin National Grassland in Douglas, Wyo., but their findings will apply to all grasslands. The results will help USFS learn more about how to use fire on the national grasslands "to maximize positive outcomes and minimize negative ones," said Lauren Porensky, an ecologist with the USDA-Agricultural Research Service in Ft. Collins, Colo.

(The photo with this news story shows Thunder Basin National Grassland in Douglas, Wyo. U.S. Forest Service/Cristi Painter photo.)