Altering Sagebrush Landscapes with Fuel Breaks to Save Them from Wildfire

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Linear fuel breaks have long been used to help suppress fire in the Great Basin, and thousands of miles of new fuel breaks may be constructed in coming years to protect sagebrush ecosystems, including greater sage-grouse habitat.

Although fuel breaks can reduce fire size and frequency by enhancing suppression efforts, habitat loss or fragmentation when fuel breaks are constructed may be an unintended consequence. Unfortunately, there is relatively little published science that addresses either fuel break effectiveness in rangelands or possible ecological effects on sagebrush ecosystems. A new USGS report addresses this information gap. In the report, USGS and U.S. Forest Service authors review recent federal protection policies and management directives; describe fuel conditions, fire behavior, and fire trends in the Great Basin; and assess what is known about fuel break treatment effects on sagebrush plant communities and associated wildlife. Their conclusions will aid land managers in designing, implementing, and maintaining an effective fuel break system in sagebrush landscapes into the future.

Shinneman, D.J., Aldridge, C.L., Coates, P.S., Germino, M.J., Pilliod, D.S., and Vaillant, N.M., 2018, A conservation paradox in the Great Basin—Altering sagebrush landscapes with fuel breaks to reduce habitat loss from wildfire: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2018–1034, 70 p., https://doi.org/10.3133/ofr20181034

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Date published: November 20, 2017
Status: Active

Fire Ecology in Dynamic Ecosystems Team (FRESC)

Understanding how fire and other disturbances affect ecosystem health and resiliency is critically important for land managers and for society as a whole.