Addressing barriers to proactive restoration of at‐risk sagebrush communities: a causal layered analysis


Restoration success in degraded rangelands often depends on a site’s resilience to disturbance and resistance to invasive plants. Because it is more difficult to restore plant communities after they are dominated by invasive species, a potential approach is proactive restoration in sites at risk of crossing degradation thresholds (e.g. initiating restoration prior to invasive grass dominance). When developing a new restoration approach, it is important to consider operational feasibility, including social, budgetary, and environmental factors. Accordingly, we studied influences within land management agencies on the adoption of a specific proactive restoration approach: out-planting native grass and forb seedlings into sagebrush stands before they are dominated by cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum). Managers from federal and state land management agencies across the Great Basin, U.S.A, were interviewed regarding perceived feasibility of these practices. Twelve in-depth interviews were conducted, and responses were analyzed using a qualitative method, causal layered analysis, not previously applied in a land management context. In the most superficial (litany) layer, cost and scale were prominent. The next (systemic) layer was framed by policy and bureaucracy limitations as well as technical barriers to implementation. In the third (worldview) layer, lack of a proactive management tradition within agencies represented a principal barrier. In the deepest (myth/metaphor) layer, the central belief is that human intervention should be used to protect ecosystem services only after they are disrupted due to human activity. Based on the different obstacles found at each level, we suggest ways to overcome the barriers detected.

Restoration Ecology