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A ten-year study on the effects of wildfire fuel reduction treatments shows that mowing has the greatest potential to reduce woody fuel while minimizing disturbances to shrubs and soil.

Sagebrush ecosystems of western North America are threatened by invasive annual grasses and wildfires that can remove fire-intolerant shrubs for decades. Fire managers are tasked with implementing fire fuel reduction treatments that suppress fire while conserving wildlife habitat. USGS, USDA, and university scientists initiated prescribed fire, mowing, and herbicide application in six sagebrush communities in the Great Basin and Columbia Plateau of the western U.S. The researchers evaluated the long-term effects of these treatments on fuel reduction, greater sage-grouse habitat quality, and resistance to invasive annual grasses. Mowing showed the most promise since it successfully reduced wildfire fuels while minimizing shrub mortality, soil damage, and long-term negative impacts on sage-grouse habitat. Understanding the ecological consequences of fuel treatments will help fire managers choose methods that successfully reduce wildfire size and intensity while minimizing unintended damage to sagebrush ecosystems.

Pyke, D.A., Shaff, S.E., Chambers, J.C., Schupp, E.W., Newingham, B.A., Gray, M.L., and Ellsworth, L.M., 2022, Ten-year ecological responses to fuel treatments within Wyoming big sagebrush ecosystems: Ecosphere, v. 13, no. 7, e4176.