U.S. Joint Fire Science Program


Date of this Version


Document Type



Fire Science Brief, Issue 110, May 2010


US government work.


Across the Great Basin, human activity since the 19th century has altered fire regimes, land-cover patterns, and the distribution of animals and plants in ways that may be irreversible. Expansion of native pinyon and juniper trees and non-native cheatgrass into areas dominated by sagebrush is hypothesized to be increasing the frequency, extent, and severity of wildfi re. Land uses such as grazing by domestic livestock and diversion of water for irrigation have greatly reduced the extent of riparian vegetation that supports many species of birds, butterfl ies, and other animals. For more than 20 years, changes in land cover have been documented via satellite remote sensing and, to a lesser extent, monitoring in the field. Research also has provided information on the distribution and population dynamics of birds and butterflies associated with pinyon-juniper woodlands and riparian vegetation. In a four-year study in the central Great Basin, researchers examined remote sensing data on land cover and as many as nine years of field data on the distribution and abundance of breeding birds and resident butterflies to infer how these taxonomic groups might respond to changes in land use, including fuels management approaches, and in climate. Because different species of animals are associated with different aspects of topography and vegetation structure and composition, it may be possible to project future responses of animals to alternative scenarios of vegetation change. This information adds to the regional knowledge base and provides resource managers with guidance on potential effects of fuels treatments on the habitat of animals.