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Northern Rocky Mountain Ponderosa Pine Woodland and Savanna

These grasslands are similar floristically to Inter-Mountain Basins Big Sagebrush Steppe (CES304.778) but are defined by a more frequent fire regime and the absence or low cover of shrubs over large areas, occasionally entire landforms. These are extensive grasslands, not grass-dominated patches within the sagebrush shrub-steppe ecological system. This system occurs throughout much of the Columbia Plateau and is found at slightly higher elevations farther south. Soils are variable, ranging from relatively deep, fine-textured often with coarse fragments, and non-saline often with a microphytic crust, to stony volcanic-derived clays to alluvial sands. This grassland is dominated by perennial bunch grasses and forbs (>25% cover), sometimes with a sparse (<10% cover) shrub layer; Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus, Ericameria nauseosa, Tetradymia spp., or Artemisia spp. may be present in disturbed stands. Associated graminoids include Achnatherum hymenoides, Elymus elymoides, Elymus lanceolatus ssp. lanceolatus, Hesperostipa comata, Festuca idahoensis, Koeleria macrantha, Poa secunda, and Pseudoroegneria spicata. Common forbs are Phlox hoodii, Arenaria spp., and Astragalus spp. Areas with deeper soils are rare because of conversion to other land uses. The rapid fire-return regime of this ecological system maintains a grassland by retarding shrub invasion, and landscape isolation and fragmentation limit seed dispersal of native shrub species. Fire frequency is presumed to be less than 20 years. Through isolation from a seed source, combined with repeated burning, these are "permanently" (more than 50 years) converted to grassland.

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