Rangeland Ecology & Management

Get reliable science

Mesquite slash piles following grubbing treatment

Brush Management

Mechanical Methods

Did you know?

The common mechanical tool called the Ely Chain (Cain 1971) was developed in the late 1960s by the Bureau of Land Management for improving wildlife habitat in the pinyon-juniper and big sagebrush ecosystems of Nevada.

Photo by: Austin Rutherford
  • Written by Rachel Frost, Montana State University ; Revised by Austin Rutherford, University of Arizona


    Mechanical control on rangelands is defined as "the use of a tool to remove or destroy above and/or below ground plant material." There are numerous different ways to treat rangeland mechanically, and many considerations (e.g., species, sprouting ability, weather, topography, soil depth and type) for choosing the appropriate control. The form of mechanical control that is best suited to a particular situation depends on: 

    1. Current and intended land use or land improvement goals 

    2. Characteristics of the vegetation (e.g., resprouting potential) 

    1. The acreage of the treatment area (this is directly related to cost) 

    1. Availability of equipment 

    1. Soil characteristics/types, rockiness 

    1. Topography 

    1. Weather conditions prior, during, and after treatment 

    Mechanical tools commonly employed to manage rangeland vegetation/brush: 

    Grubbers. The use of a sharp, often U-shaped blades attached to a tractor, front-end loader, or excavator depending on needs and treatment area for severing brush roots below ground. The depth below ground and position where to sever in the root system for successful control can vary by brush species. Grubbing is generally effective at controlling and/or killing resprouting brush species (e.g., mesquite and catclaw acacia) in areas up to 100 to 250 tress/acre (Wiedemann, 1997). The machine size and tire type (e.g., rubber, tracks, off-road) should be considered during the planning process factoring in brush size and type, cost/acre, soil types, and sensitive cultural resources.  

    Masticators. Mastication is a common technique in forest, woodland, and shrubland management, and is the process of shredding, grinding, or chopping trees/shrubs with specialized attachments most often on a skid steer loader or excavator. Mulched brush material falls onto the ground surface and can help to improve soil health and fertility via decomposition in more mesic environments. In fire-prone ecosystems, mastication is used for fuel management in reducing ladder fuels and slow the spread of wildfires. This control method would not be effective on resprouting brush species (e.g., mesquite, acacia, some Junipers).  

    For detailed information including decision trees on masticator types for general management goals, see US Forest Service General Technical Report RMRS-GTR-381.

    Chains. The use of chains (e.g., anchor or Ely chain) to alter rangeland vegetation is called "chaining". Chaining involves pulling a large chain, most often a section of marine anchor chain, between 2 tractors. Vegetation is either pulled out of the ground by the roots or broken off at ground level. Chaining is most effective on shrubs/trees as herbaceous material regenerates and recovers quickly following treatment. Chaining provides relatively quick results and allows large areas to be treated at a relatively low cost, however, it causes substantial soil disturbance that can lead to compaction or erosion. Trees or shrubs that resprout may require additional or follow-up treatment with herbicides or fire to actually kill the plants (see Integrated Brush Management Systems). 

    Root Plows. A root plow is a heavy-duty, V-shaped blade that is pulled behind a tractor to sever the roots of trees/shrubs below the bud zone. Root plowing can control up to 90% of target plants when properly implemented; i.e. the blade is at the correct depth and it is done at the proper time of year. Unfortunately, root plowing also kills most herbaceous plants on site, especially when operating in areas of high tree density. Selective plowing can be used to sculpt the vegetation, improve wildlife habitat and enhance multiple use values on rangeland with fertile soils. 

    Mowers. Mowing is generally applied to herbaceous vegetation to immediately remove biomass from an area. It can be used to prevent seed production in patches of invasive weeds or to increase visibility and ease of travel such as along highways or in recreation areas. Mowing causes minimal soil disturbance but does not necessarily kill the target plant and may cause harm to desirable vegetation as well. Repeated mowing may reduce resprouting trees and brush, however, it is most often combined with other treatments to achieve maximum control. Mowing is not suitable for rocky ground or areas with dense stands of large diameter trees. 

    Rakes. Rakes are often used after chaining or root plowing to smooth and prep the site for revegetation or range seeding. Specially designed rakes allow for  brush to be stacked with minimal soil in piles. 


  • King Ranch biologist Matthew Schnupp discusses Brush Sculpting/Management techniques to enhance quail habitat.

  • Utah State University Extension provides an overview of the need to restore sagebrush rangelands following Juniper encroachment and cheatgrass invasion.


  • This tool is designed to assist land managers with the rangeland restoration and/or rehabilitation planning process. The tool assembles information ab…
  • Web Soil Survey (WSS) provides soil data and information produced by the National Cooperative Soil Survey. It is operated by the USDA Natural Resource…
  • An interactive Google map tool that allows the user to explore soil survey areas. View soil map units and detailed descriptions. The app can run on de…

Featured Resources From the Database

Further Reading