Rocky Mountain Research Station provides comprehensive look at pinyon, juniper woodlands

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Pinyon and juniper woodland in the Great Basin shows different distribution characteristics in response to climate change. Courtesy photo

Pinyon and juniper woodlands across the western U.S. are changing, and this affects the communities and people who depend on them. A new publication about these woodlands will help land managers, working collaboratively with stakeholders and citizens, prioritize areas for treatment and identify strategies best suited to meet local needs, according to a statement released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“This is by far the most comprehensive synthesis of information on these pinyon and juniper woodlands. Managers, researchers and interested laypeople will find it a very useful reference,” said Jeanne Chambers, a lead author with the USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station.

The report focuses on pinyon and juniper woodlands in the Great Basin and Colorado Plateau. It is divided into five sections, beginning with a description of the locations and environmental conditions where these trees are found. It describes changes in the distribution of pinyon and juniper woodlands in response to climate.

Over the past 20,000 years, woodlands shifted up and down in elevation by as much as 3,000 feet and migrated hundreds of miles north. Other sections focus on their life history, ecology, and relationship to the hydrologic cycle. The report concludes with information about restoration techniques and lessons learned from past and present management.

In some areas, pinyon and juniper woodlands are expanding into other vegetation types, like sagebrush steppe. This can increase wildfire risk and decrease important habitat for species such as Greater Sage-grouse. In other areas, woodlands are contracting due to human development, more severe droughts, and larger wildfires. Jeanne Chambers says, “Effective management of these valuable ecosystems requires a deeper understanding of these changes and how they differ across landscapes.”

Authors from Oregon State University, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Bureau of Land Management, Agricultural Research Service, and Brigham Young University synthesized over 1,000 research papers to capture the best available science.

Rick Miller, lead author and emeritus professor at Oregon State University, said, “After spending 40-plus years working in pinyon and juniper woodlands across the Intermountain West, it has been a pleasure to tell the story, to the best of my and the co-authors abilities, as to what we know and don’t know about these semi-arid woodlands.”