Rangeland Fire and Sage-Grouse
Information for firefighters, fire managers, the public, and anyone who may be interested in wildfire's effect on the sagebrush-steppe ecosystem.
2015 Endangered Species Act Finding
A status review conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has found that the greater sage-grouse remains relatively abundant and well-distributed across the species' 173-million acre range and does not face the risk of extinction now or in the foreseeable future.
The Service's decision follows an unprecedented conservation partnership across the western United States that has significantly reduced threats to the greater sage-grouse across 90 percent of the species' breeding habitat. The Service has determined that protection for the greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act is no longer warranted and is withdrawing the species from the candidate species list. Visit the Federal Register to read the Service's "Not Warranted" finding.
The Sage-Steppe Situation
Though the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not list the species, many of our rangeland ecosystems, particularly in the Great Basin region, are in seriously poor health. There are a number of contributing factors: climate, development and pressures of over-use, for instance. But the most insidious factors are fire and the increasing spread and dominance of invasive species, most notably cheatgrass.
In many places, the flammability of cheatgrass and the difficulties of re-establishing a diverse vegetation community have reduced the natural fire regime – the interval between when fire would naturally occur on the same piece of land – from 60 or more years down to 3 to 5 years. This has created a fire-invasives spread-fire cycle that has been in place and worsening for a century.
It's not just the sage-grouse in trouble: the bird's fate reflects a much larger picture that includes local economies, over 300 species of wildlife whose habitat is threatened, ecosystem health and more. While saving greater sage-grouse is highly important, it is equally critical that we preserve and improve the sagebrush steppe ecosystem on a landscape scale.
Working Toward a Solution
Even though the greater sage-grouse was not listed as an endangered species, we still have a lot of work to do. The BLM, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and the Natural Resources Conservation Service are working together with State governments to ensure the conservation of the west's sagebrush habitats. The States manage the bird itself, as well as significant amounts of its habitat.
The BLM and the U.S. Forest Service have developed conservation plans for the sagebrush steppe and the greater sage-grouse. View them HERE.
When Secretary Jewell signed Secretarial Order 3336 Rangeland Fire Prevention, Management and Restoration in January this year, it reflected recognition at the highest levels of the dire conditions on the land. The Order laid the groundwork and directed a fundamental, historic and necessary shift in fire and resource management on western rangelands, particularly in the Great Basin region, with fire management and invasive species at the center of this shift.
In May of 2015, U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell stated that greater sage-grouse conservation is the BLM's number one resource priority. She also announced an Integrated Rangeland Fire Management Strategy.
Since then, the BLM has bolstered wildland fire suppression resources near sage-grouse habitat which, during the 2015 fire season, assisted in minimizing many wildfires that threatened the sagebrush steppe in Nevada, California, Idaho, Utah and Oregon. The BLM has also conducted numerous fuels projects to improve the health of the sagebrush steppe, with many, many more in progress.
Learn more about the greater sage-grouse and the sage-steppe ecosystem:
BLM's Greater Sage-Grouse Page
Sage Grouse Biology
Sage Grouse Initiative
U.S. FWS Greater Sage-Grouse Website
The Sage-steppe Ecosystem
Why Care About America's Sagebrush?
The Sagebrush Sea Documentary
See what our partners are doing: