U.S. Joint Fire Science Program


Date of this Version


Document Type



JFSP Final Report. Project Number 09-1-08-4


US government work.


Prescribed fire and other fuels management treatments have been suggested as mechanisms to slow expansion of pinyon and juniper woodlands while minimizing potential expansion of cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) and increasing habitat quality and quantity for Greater Sage- Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus). These treatments also may reduce the probability of severe wildfires, which can have undesirable effects on social, economic, cultural, and ecological values. However, achieving long-term goals related to fire and fuels may conflict with short-term goals related to survival and viability of native species. Fire can fragment high-quality habitat for species associated with woodlands, including more than 20 native species of breeding birds. Additionally, expansion of pinyon and juniper woodlands may have been patchy but common and natural before European settlement of the Great Basin. Evaluation of spatial and temporal trade-offs of actions to reduce probability of wildfire, maintain sagebrush steppe, and conserve native species, including rare or endangered species, can identify strategies that are either consistent or incompatible with achieving these and other objectives simultaneously. We monitored use by Greater Sage-Grouse of areas treated with fire or proposed for treatment. We sampled other native species of breeding birds associated with sagebrush steppe, pinyon and juniper woodlands, and riparian woodlands throughout four mountain ranges in the central Great Basin that are under the jurisdiction of federal resource agencies. We sampled vegetation structure and composition as components of bird habitat. Additionally, we sampled 0.1-ha field plots to examine topography and microclimate, tree cover and biomass, residual perennial understory species, and composition and abundance of non-native invasive species along elevational gradients. Apparent use of burned areas by Greater Sage-Grouse was limited. However, Greater Sage- Grouse were present throughout the study area, and occured both in valleys and along ridgelines. The proportion of cheatgrass tended to increase following fire, although interactions with land use (e.g., grazing by domestic livestock, recreation) likely affect presence and density of cheatgrass. Humans appear to be removing a substantial proportion of dead wood after fires, which may decrease post-fire habitat quality for breeding birds. Resilience to invasion of nonnative species and potential for recovery of native species after a disturbance appeared to be greater at higher-elevation sites than at a lower-elevation site, and fire appeared less likely to result in regeneration of native species at lower-elevation sites than at higher-elevation sites. Our work complements ongoing research on responses of native and non-native species and ecological processes to changes in fire dyanmics and related environmental changes across the Great Basin.