Provisional. A provisional ecological site description has undergone quality control and quality assurance review. It contains a working state and transition model and enough information to identify the ecological site.
Figure 1. Mapped extent
Areas shown in blue indicate the maximum mapped extent of this ecological site. Other ecological sites likely occur within the highlighted areas. It is also possible for this ecological site to occur outside of highlighted areas if detailed soil survey has not been completed or recently updated.
Major Land Resource Area (MLRA): 080B–Texas North-Central Prairies
MLRA 80B consists of gently rolling, dissected plains with very steep hillsides and sideslopes and narrow flood plains associated with small streams. Loamy and clayey soils range from very shallow to deep and developed in sandstones, shales, and limestones of Pennsylvanian age.
This ecological site is correlated to soil components at the Major Land Resource Area (MLRA) level which is further described in USDA Ag Handbook 296.
Ecological site concept
These sites occur on rocky soils on steep slopes. The reference vegetation consists of native perennial tallgrasses mixed with forbs and scattered trees. Without periodic fire or other brush management, woody species may increase on the site.
Low Stony Hill 26-33" PZ
Low Stony Hill occurs adjacent to and generally downslope of the Steep Rocky site.
Low Stony Hill 26-33" PZ
Low Stony Hill has similar species but higher production because soils are usually not as shallow and slopes are not as steep.
Table 1. Dominant plant species
(1) Quercus fusiformis
(1) Schizachyrium scoparium
This site occurs on linear to convex side slopes and nose slopes of scarp slopes and on structural benches in the Texas North-Central Prairies. This site is characteristically a water distributing site. Slopes typically range from 20 to 30 percent.
Table 2. Representative physiographic features
> Scarp slope
(2) Hills > Ridge
(3) Hills > Structural bench
|Runoff class||High to very high|
|Elevation||750 – 2,400 ft|
|Slope||20 – 30%|
|Aspect||Aspect is not a significant factor|
Table 3. Representative physiographic features (actual ranges)
|Runoff class||Not specified|
|Slope||5 – 40%|
The climate is subtropical subhumid and is characterized by hot humid summers and relatively mild winters. Tropical maritime air controls the climate during spring, summer and fall. In winter and early spring, frequent surges of polar Canadian air cause sudden drops in temperatures and add considerable variety to the daily weather. The average first frost generally occurs about November 5 and the last freeze of the season usually occurs about March 19. The average frost free period ranges from 215 days in the northern counties, to 240 days in the south.
The average relative humidity in mid-afternoon is about 60 percent in the summer months. Humidity is higher at night, and the average at dawn is about 80 percent. The sun shines 75 percent of the time possible during the summer and 50 percent in winter. The prevailing wind direction is from the southwest and highest windspeeds occur during the spring months.
Approximately 75% of annual rainfall occurs between April 1 and October 31. Rainfall during the months of April through September typically occurs during thunderstorms which tend to be intense and brief, resulting in large amounts of rain in a short time. The wettest months of the year are May, June, September, and October. The driest months during the growing season are July and August. The winter months of November, December, January, and February are the driest months overall.
Average annual precipitation for the entire MLRA is approximately 28 inches. There is a noticeable difference in the average annual precipitation in the northern counties in comparison to the southern and western counties of this Major Land Resource Area. Jack, Clay, Young, and Palo Pinto Counties all have an average annual precipitation of more than 31 inches. Stephens, Eastland, McCulloch, and San Saba Counties all have an average annual precipitation of less than 28 inches.
Winters tend to be mild, with occasional periods of very cold temperatures which can be accompanied by strong northerly winds and freezing precipitation. Snow is infrequent and significant accumulations are rare. These periods of very cold weather are generally short-lived. Summers tend to be hot and dry. Drought conditions are common during most summers. Air temperatures of more than 95oF are common from mid-June through September. In the northern counties nearest to the Red River, temperatures are generally slightly cooler during winter months and slightly warmer during summer months than in the other counties in the North Central Prairie.
Table 4. Representative climatic features
|Frost-free period (characteristic range)||184-200 days|
|Freeze-free period (characteristic range)||211-225 days|
|Precipitation total (characteristic range)||30-32 in|
|Frost-free period (actual range)||183-204 days|
|Freeze-free period (actual range)||210-226 days|
|Precipitation total (actual range)||29-33 in|
|Frost-free period (average)||193 days|
|Freeze-free period (average)||217 days|
|Precipitation total (average)||31 in|
Figure 2. Monthly precipitation range
Figure 3. Monthly minimum temperature range
Figure 4. Monthly maximum temperature range
Figure 5. Monthly average minimum and maximum temperature
Figure 6. Annual precipitation pattern
Figure 7. Annual average temperature pattern
Climate stations used
(1) SAN SABA 7NW [USC00417994], Richland Springs, TX
(2) BROWNWOOD 2ENE [USC00411138], Early, TX
(3) EASTLAND [USC00412715], Eastland, TX
(4) MINERAL WELLS AP [USW00093985], Millsap, TX
(5) BRECKENRIDGE [USC00411042], Breckenridge, TX
(6) GRAHAM [USC00413668], Graham, TX
(7) JACKSBORO [USC00414517], Jacksboro, TX
Influencing water features
These site will shed some water via runoff to areas downslope. However, the presence of good ground cover and deep rooted grasses can help facilitate water infiltration into the soil. These sites are not associated with wetlands.
Representative soil components for this ecological site include: Palopinto, Set
The site is characterized by steep, extremely stony, well drained soils.
Table 5. Representative soil features
(2) Residuum – claystone
(1) Stony clay loam
(2) Very stony clay
(3) Very stony clay loam
(4) Stony clay
|Drainage class||Well drained|
|Permeability class||Very slow to moderately slow|
|Soil depth||6 – 60 in|
|Surface fragment cover <=3"||2%|
|Surface fragment cover >3"||10 – 80%|
|Available water capacity
|1 – 7 in|
|Calcium carbonate equivalent
|Sodium adsorption ratio
|Soil reaction (1:1 water)
|6.6 – 8.4|
|Subsurface fragment volume <=3"
(Depth not specified)
|Subsurface fragment volume >3"
(Depth not specified)
The reference plant community for the Steep Rocky ecological site is a bluestem/oak/juniper savanna with a variety of forbs and a significant presence of trees and shrubs. Oaks, elms, hackberry, junipers, and several other tree and shrub species are distributed throughout the site to create a diverse mosaic of grasses, forbs, shrubs, and trees. Evidence of the historic vegetation can be found in the journals and records of explorers, military expeditions, and boundary survey teams.
Climate is a major factor influencing vegetation on the site. Long-term droughts lasting multiple years or growing seasons are infrequent, but when they do occur, they can have a negative impact on the vegetation. Because of the shallow and stony characteristics of the soil, this site often shows signs of drought earlier than adjacent sites with deeper soils. Those same characteristics enable this site to respond quickly when rainfall does occur. The effects of erratic seasonal moisture and short-term dry spells lasting a few months are not as severe as those caused by long-term droughts. However, the lower the ecological status of the site, the greater the negative impact will be during drought periods regardless of duration.
Abusive grazing during or immediately following the drought period can have disastrous consequences. The extended drought of the 1950’s was especially devastating to the Steep Rocky site. Herbaceous production on this and other sites was significantly reduced for five to seven consecutive years, but livestock numbers were not reduced accordingly. The result was severe overgrazing that caused long-term, and often permanent, adverse changes to the plant community on this site. Grazing and browsing by goats was especially damaging to this site. Many of these areas have not recovered, and may never recover, from the impacts of that drought.
Fire was an important part of the ecosystem. Most ecosystems in the North Central Prairie developed in a 4 to 6 year regime of recurring fires. This site, like other steep, shallow sites probably had a longer recurring fire cycle of 7 to 12 years according to some historians. Many of these fires resulted from lightning strikes during thunderstorms. Native Americans frequently set fires to manipulate the movement of bison and other animals as well as using fire as a defensive or offensive technique when dealing with their enemies. These historic fires were usually severe because of the amount and volatility of fuel available to carry the fire. The intensity of fires kept shrubs and sapling trees suppressed and allowed grasses and forbs to flourish along with the established trees and naturally occurring dense mottes of shrubs. Tallgrass species are fire tolerant and are enhanced by periodic burning. Forbs usually increase for a year or two following these fires before the grasses become dominant again. These periodic fires perpetuated the diverse mosaic pattern of vegetation on the site.
Lack of fire allows herbaceous vegetation to become senescent and may eventually lead to the loss of the most desirable species. Seedlings of non-native brush species and invasive weeds may encroach on the site from adjacent sites, as well as allowing native shrubs and trees to increase in density and canopy cover.
Prior to settlement, this site was subject to periodic grazing and browsing by vast herds of bison, wild cattle, wild horses, and deer. Because of the steep, rugged terrain, the Steep Rocky site was probably not grazed as frequently or as severely as other sites in the vicinity. However, at times the site was grazed heavily along with adjacent sites. These grazing and browsing episodes were intense and severe, but periods of heavy use were followed by long periods of non-use as the herds migrated to fresh grazing areas before returning to previously grazed areas. The grazed areas had an opportunity to rest, regrow, regain vigor, and reproduce prior to the next grazing event. Intervals between grazing periods were frequently influenced by the amount of time that had elapsed since the last fire on the area.
As the region was settled, fire was reduced or eliminated and grasslands were fenced off to control movement and facilitate grazing by domestic livestock. As a result of abusive grazing or lack of grazing and/or the elimination of fire, in association with extreme climatic events, the tallgrass and midgrass plant community has been severely altered on most Steep Rocky sites.
Further deterioration leads to the loss of the perennial warm-season midgrass and forb plant community and an increase in short grasses, annuals, exposed limestone, and bare ground. This provides the opportunity for less desirable woody species, especially juniper, to increase dramatically.
Selective individual removal of unwanted trees and shrubs is relatively easy and more practical when brush plants initially appear on the site. The increase of brush can be fairly rapid and the plants per acre will soon become too numerous for individual control to be feasible. Once woody plants become mature or develop into dense stands, control is expensive, uneconomical, impractical, and difficult to achieve. Brush management is most successful using a systems approach. Initial treatment by hand cutting can be followed by using approved herbicides, and using prescribed fire as a maintenance technique. Prescribed grazing with a reasonable stocking rate and periodic prescribed fire can sustain the species composition and production at a near reference level.
Changes in plant communities and vegetation states on the Steep Rocky site are the result of the combined influences of natural events (rainfall, temperature, droughts, etc.) and the accompanying management systems implemented on the area (prescribed fire, grazing management, and brush management).
Rangeland Health Reference Worksheets have been posted for this site on the Texas NRCS website (www.tx.nrcs.usda.gov) in Section II of the eFOTG under (F) Ecological Site Descriptions.
State and Transitional Pathways:
The State and Transition Diagram which follows provides information on some of the most typical pathways that the vegetation on this site can follow as the result of natural events, management inputs, and application of conservation treatments. There may be other plant communities that can exist on this site under certain conditions. Consultation with local experts and professionals is recommended prior to application of practices or management strategies in order to ensure that specific objectives will be met.
State and transition model
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State 1 submodel, plant communities
Savanna State - Reference
The reference plant community for the Steep Rocky ecological site is a Bluestem/Oak/Juniper Savanna Community. In pristine conditions, the site is dominated by little bluestem with lesser amounts of tallgrasses and midgrasses. Trees such as live oak, other oaks, elms, hackberry, and Ashe juniper are native to the site and make up a significant portion of the original plant community. Shrubs and a variety of perennial forbs are also commonly found on the site. Annual production ranges from 1000 to 3000 pounds per acre. The Midgrass/Oak/Juniper/Shrub Savanna Community occurs as little bluestem and other tallgrasses gradually begin to retreat and fade out of the plant community, they are replaced by midgrasses and shortgrasses. Lower successional forbs begin to replace some of the original perennial forbs. Density of shinoak and juniper increases significantly, and the canopy of shrubs and trees increases noticeablyAnnual production ranges from 800 to 2600 pounds per acre.
Bluestem/Oak/Juniper Savanna Community
The reference plant community for the Steep Rocky ecological site is a bluestem/oak/juniper savanna. In pristine conditions, the site is dominated by little bluestem with lesser amounts of big bluestem, Indiangrass, and midgrasses such as sideoats grama, cane bluestem, tall grama, plains lovegrass, green sprangletop and Texas cupgrass. Trees such as live oak, other oaks, elms, hackberry, and Ashe juniper are native to the site and make up a significant portion of the original plant community. Shrubs such as kidneywood, elbowbush, bumelia, agarito, sumacs, and yucca are also prevalent A variety of perennial forbs such as bushsunflower, Engelmann daisy, orange zexmenia, bundleflowers, and sensitivebriar are also commonly found on the site. Annual production ranges from 1000 to 3000 pounds per acre.
Figure 10. Annual production by plant type (representative values) or group (midpoint values)
Table 6. Annual production by plant type
Figure 11. Plant community growth curve (percent production by month). TX3041, Bluestem-Oak/Juniper Savanna, <30% canopy. Little bluestem, big bluestem, Indiangrass grassland intermingled with significant population of oaks, elms, hackberry, and juniper. .
Midgrass/Oak/Shrub/Juniper/Shrub Savanna Community
This site is fragile because of steep slopes and shallow soils. It can decline rapidly as the result of uncontrolled grazing, lack of fire, and/or extended drought. As little bluestem and other tallgrasses gradually begin to retreat and fade out of the plant community, they are replaced by midgrasses such as sideoats grama, tall grama, cane and silver bluestem, slim and rough tridens, dropseeds, and threeawns. Lower successional forbs begin to replace some of the original perennial forbs. Density of shinoak and juniper increases significantly, and the canopy of shrubs and trees increases noticeably. There is still a sufficient population of little bluestem and tallgrasses remaining to enable this site to recover to near its reference potential through proper grazing management and prescribed burning. Annual production ranges from 800 to 2600 pounds per acre.
Figure 13. Annual production by plant type (representative values) or group (midpoint values)
Table 7. Annual production by plant type
Figure 14. Plant community growth curve (percent production by month). TX3042, Midgrasses/Shrubs/Juniper, 30% Canopy. Midgrass community with significant increase in overstory and midstory canopy, predominantly oak and juniper species..
Community 1.1 to 1.2
The shift from the Bluestem/Oak/Juniper Savanna Community to the Midgrass/Oak/Juniper/Shrub Savanna Community occurs when there is uncontrolled grazing and no fires to maintain the tall and midgrass functional groups.
Community 1.2 to 1.1
With Prescribed Grazing and Prescribed Burning conservation practices, the Midgrass/Oak/Juniper/Shrub Savanna Community can revert back to the Bluestem/Oak/Juniper Savanna Community.
The Oak/Juniper Shrubland Community is composed of overhead canopy of juniper, oaks, and shrubs increase as grasses and forbs begin to decline. Overhead canopy at this stage ranges from 40 to 75%. Early successional midgrasses, shortgrasses, and annual grasses and forbs become the primary herbaceous species in the open areas. Annual Production ranges from 800 to 2300 pounds per acre.
Oak/Juniper Shrubland Community
Abusive grazing, lack of fire, no brush management, and extended drought conditions lead to a dramatic change in the plant community. The canopy of juniper, oaks, and shrubs increase as grasses and forbs begin to decline. Overhead canopy at this stage ranges from 40 to 75%. Early successional midgrasses, shortgrasses, and annual grasses and forbs become the primary herbaceous species in the open areas. There is still a significant grass and forb community, but herbaceous production decreases significantly. Annual Production ranges from 800 to 2300 pounds per acre.
Figure 16. Annual production by plant type (representative values) or group (midpoint values)
Table 8. Annual production by plant type
Figure 17. Plant community growth curve (percent production by month). TX3043, Juniper/Oak Shrubland, Canopy 40-75%. Increasing canopy of juniper, oaks, and other trees and shrubs. Midgrasses dominate the herbaceous plant community..
The Juniper Woodland Community is created by the development of a closed overhead canopy of juniper and other trees as well as a midstory canopy of shrubs. The understory vegetation consists of a few remnant grasses, forbs, and sedges. A large percentage of the soil surface beneath the woody canopy is covered with a dense mat of juniper needles and leaf litter. Annual production ranges from 600 to 1800 pounds per acre.
Juniper Woodland Community
Elimination of fire, lack of timely brush management, extended drought and abusive grazing will eventually result in the development of a closed overhead canopy of juniper and other trees as well as a midstory canopy of shrubs. The understory vegetation consists of a few remnant grasses, forbs, and sedges. There is an increase in bare ground, but a large percentage of the soil surface beneath the woody canopy is covered with a dense mat of juniper needles and leaf litter. Annual production ranges from 600 to 1800 pounds per acre.
Figure 19. Annual production by plant type (representative values) or group (midpoint values)
Table 9. Annual production by plant type
Figure 20. Plant community growth curve (percent production by month). TX3044, Oak/Juniper Complex, Closed Canopy. Closed Canopy of Juniper, oaks, and other trees and shrubs. Sedges and cool-season grasses and forbs along with early successional warm-season grasses and annual forbs are primary herbaceous species..
State 1 to 2
With continued abusive grazing pressure, no fires, and no brush management, the Savanna State will transition into the Shrubland State.
Restoration pathway R2A
State 2 to 1
With the use of various conservation practices including Prescribed Grazing, Prescribed Burning, Brush Management, and Range Planting, the Shrubland State can be restored into the Savanna State.
State 2 to 3
The Shrubland State will transition into the Woodland State due to abusive grazing pressure, no fires, and no brush management practices.
Restoration pathway R3A
State 3 to 2
With the application of various conservation practices including Prescribed Grazing, Prescribed Burning, Brush Management, and Range Planting, the Woodland State may be restored into the Shrubland State.
Additional community tables
Table 10. Community 1.1 plant community composition
|Group||Common name||Symbol||Scientific name||Annual production (lb/acre)||Foliar cover (%)|
|little bluestem||SCSC||Schizachyrium scoparium||450–950||–|
|big bluestem||ANGE||Andropogon gerardii||0–800||–|
|sideoats grama||BOCU||Bouteloua curtipendula||150–400||–|
|green sprangletop||LEDU||Leptochloa dubia||0–300||–|
|plains lovegrass||ERIN||Eragrostis intermedia||0–150||–|
|Texas cupgrass||ERSE5||Eriochloa sericea||0–150||–|
|Drummond's dropseed||SPCOD3||Sporobolus compositus var. drummondii||0–150||–|
|silver beardgrass||BOLAT||Bothriochloa laguroides ssp. torreyana||0–150||–|
|cane bluestem||BOBA3||Bothriochloa barbinodis||0–150||–|
|hairy grama||BOHI2||Bouteloua hirsuta||0–100||–|
|tall grama||BOHIP||Bouteloua hirsuta var. pectinata||0–100||–|
|purple threeawn||ARPU9||Aristida purpurea||0–100||–|
|Wright's threeawn||ARPUW||Aristida purpurea var. wrightii||0–100||–|
|seep muhly||MURE2||Muhlenbergia reverchonii||0–100||–|
|vine mesquite||PAOB||Panicum obtusum||0–100||–|
|Reverchon's bristlegrass||SERE3||Setaria reverchonii||0–100||–|
|composite dropseed||SPCOC2||Sporobolus compositus var. compositus||0–100||–|
|slim tridens||TRMUE||Tridens muticus var. elongatus||0–100||–|
|slim tridens||TRMUM||Tridens muticus var. muticus||0–100||–|
|white tridens||TRAL2||Tridens albescens||0–30||–|
|sand lovegrass||ERTR3||Eragrostis trichodes||0–30||–|
|tumble windmill grass||CHVE2||Chloris verticillata||0–30||–|
|cedar sedge||CAPL3||Carex planostachys||0–50||–|
|Scribner's rosette grass||DIOLS||Dichanthelium oligosanthes var. scribnerianum||0–50||–|
|Canada wildrye||ELCA4||Elymus canadensis||0–50||–|
|Virginia wildrye||ELVI3||Elymus virginicus||0–50||–|
|Texas wintergrass||NALE3||Nassella leucotricha||0–50||–|
|fall witchgrass||DICO6||Digitaria cognata||0–50||–|
|Hall's panicgrass||PAHAH||Panicum hallii var. hallii||0–50||–|
|hairy woollygrass||ERPI5||Erioneuron pilosum||0–30||–|
|Texas grama||BORI||Bouteloua rigidiseta||0–30||–|
|red grama||BOTR2||Bouteloua trifida||0–30||–|
|Texas Indian mallow||ABFR3||Abutilon fruticosum||0–150||–|
|Cuman ragweed||AMPS||Ambrosia psilostachya||0–150||–|
|white sagebrush||ARLUM2||Artemisia ludoviciana ssp. mexicana||0–150||–|
|Berlandier's sundrops||CABE6||Calylophus berlandieri||0–150||–|
|American star-thistle||CEAM2||Centaurea americana||0–150||–|
|purple prairie clover||DAPU5||Dalea purpurea||0–150||–|
|Engelmann's daisy||ENPE4||Engelmannia peristenia||0–150||–|
|Leavenworth's eryngo||ERLE11||Eryngium leavenworthii||0–150||–|
|Texas stork's bill||ERTE13||Erodium texanum||0–150||–|
|Indian blanket||GAPU||Gaillardia pulchella||0–150||–|
|curlycup gumweed||GRSQ||Grindelia squarrosa||0–150||–|
|hoary false goldenaster||HECA8||Heterotheca canescens||0–150||–|
|trailing krameria||KRLA||Krameria lanceolata||0–150||–|
|Nuttall's sensitive-briar||MINU6||Mimosa nuttallii||0–150||–|
|yellow puff||NELU2||Neptunia lutea||0–150||–|
|pitcher sage||SAAZG||Salvia azurea var. grandiflora||0–150||–|
|mealycup sage||SAFA2||Salvia farinacea||0–150||–|
|awnless bushsunflower||SICA7||Simsia calva||0–150||–|
|white heath aster||SYERE||Symphyotrichum ericoides var. ericoides||0–150||–|
|Texas vervain||VEHA||Verbena halei||0–150||–|
|catclaw acacia||ACGRG3||Acacia greggii var. greggii||0–50||–|
|Christmas cactus||CYLE8||Cylindropuntia leptocaulis||0–50||–|
|Texas kidneywood||EYTE||Eysenhardtia texana||0–50||–|
|bastard oak||QUSIB||Quercus sinuata var. breviloba||0–50||–|
|prairie sumac||RHLA3||Rhus lanceolata||0–50||–|
|littleleaf sumac||RHMI3||Rhus microphylla||0–50||–|
|skunkbush sumac||RHTR||Rhus trilobata||0–50||–|
|gum bully||SILA20||Sideroxylon lanuginosum||0–50||–|
|Texas live oak||QUFU||Quercus fusiformis||0–450||–|
|Ashe's juniper||JUAS||Juniperus ashei||60–300||–|
|black walnut||JUNI||Juglans nigra||0–150||–|
|Texas red oak||QUBU2||Quercus buckleyi||0–150||–|
|Lacey oak||QULA||Quercus laceyi||0–150||–|
|winged elm||ULAL||Ulmus alata||0–150||–|
|American elm||ULAM||Ulmus americana||0–150||–|
|slippery elm||ULRU||Ulmus rubra||0–150||–|
|eastern redbud||CECA4||Cercis canadensis||0–150||–|
|sugarberry||CELAL||Celtis laevigata var. laevigata||0–150||–|
|netleaf hackberry||CELAR||Celtis laevigata var. reticulata||0–150||–|
Historically, the Steep Rocky site was inhabited permanently and intermittently by a wide variety of mammals, reptiles, and birds. Several historical references and journals written in the 18th and 19th century by explorers, survey parties, and military expeditions refer to herds of bison, wild cattle, wild horses, deer, and other animals roaming freely across the North Central Prairie and adjacent regions.
The Steep Rocky site provides excellent habitat for many species of wildlife due to the rough, steep terrain and the diversity of plant species, growth forms, distribution, and structure of the vegetation that occurs. The site provides shelter, escape cover, and nesting habitat, as well as a variety of browse, mast, seeds, and fruit that are important to the diets of various wildlife species. Currently, the site is utilized by deer, wild turkey, numerous species of birds, and a variety of small fur-bearing mammals. Animal species and populations fluctuate as the vegetation cycles through temporary phases and different ecological stages.
Because of the tree and shrub component and the topography, the Steep Rocky site is well suited for grazing and browsing by goats. Grazing by cattle is usually limited to the lower slopes and benches on this site. Most European breeds of cattle and small statured cattle are not well suited to this site. Some of the hardier breeds of cattle are better suited to the slopes, but are still not well adapted for the steep terrain and lack of water sources on the site. Livestock grazing and distribution can be improved by providing water sources, providing supplemental feed in strategic locations, and by implementing grazing management systems that incorporate frequent and timely deferment periods.
The Steep Rocky site has a very good soil-water-air-plant relationship because of the amount of rock on the soil surface and in the upper portions of the soil profile. Showers and light rains can be very effective on this site. Surface rocks retain moisture and release it slowly to the soil and vegetation following showers and light rainfall. Rocks and fragments in the soil provide pockets for oxygen, moisture, and plant roots.
When herbaceous vegetation and ground cover are maintained in a healthy and vigorous status, water infiltration into the soil profile is increased significantly, resulting in less runoff. A healthy grass cover results in improved water quality because it serves as a filter or trap to reduce sediments and pollutants before the water flows offsite. In many areas where this site occurs, the presence of honeycomb limestone or fractured limestone allows water to penetrate deeper into the soil profile than on some of the associated sites with deeper soils and less rock. Natural springs can occasionally be found on this site where the pastures have been well managed.
Surface runoff is rapid during heavy rainfall events due to the rough, steep topography, slowly permeable soils, and numerous limestone outcrops. As the canopy of juniper increases, more rainfall is intercepted before it can reach the soil surface or herbaceous vegetation below. Where dense canopies of junipers and other trees and shrubs occur on this site, the effectiveness of rainfall is severely reduced or eliminated because the moisture never reaches the understory vegetation.
These scenic areas offer outdoor activities including photography, shaded picnic areas, bird watching, hiking, camping, horseback riding, and off-road vehicle use. The Steep Rocky site is a prime site for wildlife habitat. Where it is managed properly, it provides outstanding opportunities for hunting deer and turkey.
Ashe juniper is often used for fence posts. Oaks and some of the other hardwood trees can be used for firewood. Some of the woody species may be used for specialty products and crafts.
Plums, agarito berries and pricklypear tunas can be eaten or used to make jelly.
Inventory data references
Vegetation data for this site was obtained from existing Range Site Descriptions, SCS-RANGE -417 Production and Composition Records for Native Grazing Lands, and on-site inventories by the author and local experts including ranchers, natural resource specialists from federal and state agencies, and personnel from cooperating agencies and organizations. A total of 10 SCS-RANGE-417’s containing data collected from 2 counties during the period 12/30/1981 to 12/12/1986 were reviewed for this site.
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Coffey, Chuck R., and Russell Stevens. Grasses of Southern Oklahoma and North Texas: A Pictorial Guide. The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, Ardmore, OK. 2004
Diggs, George M., Jr., Barney L. Lipscomb, and Robert J. O’Kennon. Illustrated Flora of North Central Texas. Botanical Research Institute of Texas. Fort Worth, TX 1999.
Egan, Dave and Evelyn A. Howell. The Historical Ecology Handbook…A Restorationist’s Guide to Reference Ecosystems. Island Press, Washington, DC. 2001.
Enquist, Marshall. Wildflowers of the Texas Hill Country. Lone Star Botanical, Austin, TX. 1987.
Flores, Dan. “Indian Use of Range Resources” presented at 20th Annual Ranch Management Conference. Lubbock, TX, September 30, 1983.
Gould, Frank W., The Grasses of Texas. Texas A&M University Press, College Station, TX. 1975.
Hatch, Stephan L., Kancheepuram N. Gandhi, and Larry E. Brown. Checklist of the Vascular Plants of Texas. Texas Agricultural Experiment Station MP-1655. College Station, TX. 1990
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Johnson, Rhett. Personal communication. 9/18/2007.
Kelton, Elmer. “History of Rancher Use of Range Resources” presented at 20th Annual Ranch Management Conference. Lubbock, TX, September 30, 1983.
Ladd, Doug. Tallgrass Prairie Wildflowers. Falcon Press, Helena and Billings, MT. 1995.
Larrabee, Aimee and John Altman. Last Stand of the Tallgrass Prairie. Sterling Publishing Co., New York, NY. 2001.
Nelson, Paul W. The Terrestrial Natural Communities of Missouri. Missouri Department of Natural Resources. 1985.
Packard, Stephen and Cornelia F. Mutel. The Tallgrass Restoration Handbook for Prairies, Savannas, and Woodlands. Island Press, Washington, DC. 1997.
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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: I would like to express my thanks and appreciation to the following for their cooperation, assistance, and support in the development of this Ecological Site Description:
Tony Baeza, NRCS – Breckenridge, TX
Fort Richardson State Park – Jacksboro, TX
Matt Gregory, NRCS – Jacksboro, TX
Rhett Johnson, ranch manager – Granbury, TX
Myron Merz, NRCS – Mineral Wells, TX
Rancho Hielo Brazos – Glen Rose, TX
Michael and Susannah Wisenbaker, ranchers – Dallas, TX
J. C. Link Ranch
Lem Creswell, RMS, NRCS, Weatherford, Texas
Justin Clary, RMS, NRCS, Temple, Texas
Dan Caudle, DMC Natural Resources, Weatherford Texas
Joe B. Norris, RMS, NRCS, Abilene, Texas
PES edits by Colin Walden, Stillwater Soil Survey Office
Bryan Christensen, 9/19/2023
Site Development and Testing Plan:
Future work, as described in a Project Plan, to validate the information in this Provisional Ecological Site Description is needed. This will include field activities to collect low, medium and high intensity sampling, soil correlations, and analysis of that data. Annual field reviews should be done by soil scientists and vegetation specialists. A final field review, peer review, quality control, and quality assurance reviews of the ESD will be needed to produce the final document. Annual reviews of the Project Plan are to be conducted by the Ecological Site Technical Team.
Rangeland health reference sheet
Interpreting Indicators of Rangeland Health is a qualitative assessment protocol used to determine ecosystem condition based on benchmark characteristics described in the Reference Sheet. A suite of 17 (or more) indicators are typically considered in an assessment. The ecological site(s) representative of an assessment location must be known prior to applying the protocol and must be verified based on soils and climate. Current plant community cannot be used to identify the ecological site.
|Author(s)/participant(s)||Lem Creswell, Zone RMS, NRCS, Weatherford, Texas|
|Contact for lead author||817-596-2865|
|Approved by||Bryan Christensen|
|Composition (Indicators 10 and 12) based on||Annual Production|
Number and extent of rills:None.
Presence of water flow patterns:Deposition or erosion is uncommon during normal rainfall events, but may occur in limited areas during intense rainfall events.
Number and height of erosional pedestals or terracettes:None.
Bare ground from Ecological Site Description or other studies (rock, litter, lichen, moss, plant canopy are not bare ground):Expect no more than 40% bare ground scattered randomly throughout the site.
Number of gullies and erosion associated with gullies:Some deep rills and gullies may occur as a result of intense rainfall events.
Extent of wind scoured, blowouts and/or depositional areas:None.
Amount of litter movement (describe size and distance expected to travel):Little or no litter movement or deposition during normal rainfall events.
Soil surface (top few mm) resistance to erosion (stability values are averages - most sites will show a range of values):Soil surface is susceptible to water erosion due to amount of bare ground and steep slopes.
Soil surface structure and SOM content (include type of structure and A-horizon color and thickness):0-6 inches of brown flaggy silty clay loam. Soil surface contains 35-85% coarse fragments ranging in size from 0.5 to 36 inches. Limestone bedrock occurs at depths ranging from 6 to 20 inches. SOM is 1-4%. See soil survey for more information.
Effect of community phase composition (relative proportion of different functional groups) and spatial distribution on infiltration and runoff:The tallgrass/midgrass savanna with abundant forbs, adequate litter, and little bare ground provides for maximum infiltration and negligible runoff in normal rainfall events.
Presence and thickness of compaction layer (usually none; describe soil profile features which may be mistaken for compaction on this site):None.
Functional/Structural Groups (list in order of descending dominance by above-ground annual-production or live foliar cover using symbols: >>, >, = to indicate much greater than, greater than, and equal to):
Dominant:Warm-season tallgrasses > Warm-season midgrasses >
Sub-dominant:Trees > Shrubs/Vines > Perennial forbs
Other:Cool-season grasses > Warm-season shortgrasses
Amount of plant mortality and decadence (include which functional groups are expected to show mortality or decadence):Perennial grasses will naturally exhibit a minor amount (less than 5%) of senescence and some mortality every year.
Average percent litter cover (%) and depth ( in):Litter is dominantly herbaceous.
Expected annual annual-production (this is TOTAL above-ground annual-production, not just forage annual-production):1000 to 3000 pounds per acre.
Potential invasive (including noxious) species (native and non-native). List species which BOTH characterize degraded states and have the potential to become a dominant or co-dominant species on the ecological site if their future establishment and growth is not actively controlled by management interventions. Species that become dominant for only one to several years (e.g., short-term response to drought or wildfire) are not invasive plants. Note that unlike other indicators, we are describing what is NOT expected in the reference state for the ecological site:Ashe juniper, redberry juniper, pricklypear, yucca, tasajillo, pricklyash, lotebush, mesquite, King Ranch bluestem, annual broomweed.
Perennial plant reproductive capability:All perennial species should be capable of reproducing every year unless disrupted by extended drought, overgrazing, wildfire, insect damage, or other events occuring immediately prior to, or during the reproductive phase.
The Ecosystem Dynamics Interpretive Tool is an information system framework developed by the USDA-ARS Jornada Experimental Range, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, and New Mexico State University.
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