Is There a Solution?
Now that we know what the problem is, how are we going to keep our rangeland ecosystems from disappearing forever? First, let's look at why our rangelands are threatened.

The Wicked Weed of the West

picture of cheatgrassCheatgrass (Bromus tectorum), is a hardy plant that people accidentally transported from Eurasia about 100 years ago. This little plant packs a big punch; it loves to take over in sagebrush steppe ecosystems. It's the first plant to grow in the spring and it easily crowds out native plants, plus, it loves to grow in disturbed locations, such as recently burned areas, near new roads, or basically anywhere the soil and native plants have been disrupted. Of course it doesn't always need a disturbed area to grow well; it can establish almost anywhere. Cheatgrass is basically the 'Wicked Weed of the West.'

Cheatgrass is the first plant to dry in the spring, making it flashy fuel for wildfires caused by humans and lightning. Once a cheatgrass-fueled wildfire ignites, they move quickly, growing as fast as the wind will carry them. After an area has burned, cheatgrass is the first plant to grow again, outcompeting native plants and thus, creating a cycle of distruction that we will be battling for years to come.

Cheatgrass isn't the only invasive weed; many others have been introduced to sagebrush-steppe ecosystems. Cheatgrass is just the most prominent invasive weed at this time, but we continue the battle against other invasive weeds too, as we fight their invasion into native sagebrush steppe ecosystems across the West.

The Fire and Invasives Cyclegraphic of how to break the sage-grouse cycle
How can we stop it?
Recognizing the conditions on the land and the need to protect and conserve the sagebrush-steppe ecosystem and greater sage-grouse habitat, the Department of Interior (DOI) convened The Next Steppe: Sage-Grouse and Rangeland Fire in the Great Basin Conference (Next Steppe Conference) in November 2014. The Next Steppe Conference brought together leading scientists and researchers in fire and invasive species ecology, wildlife biologists, key policymakers, land managers, wildland managers and firefighters, Tribal and community leaders, and other stakeholders to discuss the escalating threat of rangeland fire and how to address it.

graphic of a new equation to break the cheatgrass cycleJanuary 5, 2015, DOI Secretary Jewell signed Secretarial Order 3336 - Rangeland Fire Prevention, Management, and Restoration (the Order). The Order emphasizes that rangeland fire management is a critical priority for “protecting, conserving, and restoring the health of the sagebrush-steppe ecosystem and, in particular, greater sage-grouse habitat, while maintaining safe and efficient fire operations.” The Order also emphasizes that the “allocation of fire resources and assets before, during, and after wildland fire incidents will reflect this priority.” This directed the creation of a Rangeland Fire Task Force to deliver a science-based comprehensive strategy aimed at reducing large-scale rangeland fires, which are the threat to the sagebrush-steppe ecosystem. Elements of the Strategy include effective rangeland management, fire prevention, fire suppression, and landscape scale restoration.

Read more about the Order and Strategy HERE.

How can we Save Our Sage-Steppe?

BLM, USFS Plans for Western Public Lands Provide for Greater Sage-Grouse Protection, Balanced Development

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) have finalized land use plans that will conserve key sagebrush habitat, address identified threats to the greater sage-grouse and promote sustainable economic development in the West. The plans were a critical component that helped the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to conclude that the rangeland bird no longer warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

picture of healthy sagebrush steppepicture of sagebrush steppe invaded by cheatgrass







Our partners are a critical component of sagebrush steppe conservation. Ensuring that we work with other users of the sagebrush steppe, such as local governments, ranchers, mining companies, recreationists, and other private industries, is the key to maintaining a healthy landscape. For example, BLM is working to train local ranchers and other citizens in wildland fire suppression. In some states, these citizens have formed Rangeland Fire Protection Associations. The associations work with federal wildland firefighters to safely suppress wildfires, often in remote areas that are difficult to reach. Such partnerships have proven to be successful in keeping sage-steppe wildfires small.

Invasive weed projects are also at the forefront of our work; we are partnering with both local and state governments, private land owners, and other organizations to combat invasive weeds throughout the sagebrush steppe.

We know it will be a lot of work, but saving the sagebrush steppe will preserve not only its creatures, it will ensure that the Western way of life will continue on for future generations.

Suzanne O'Neill, Colorado Wildlife Federation Executive Director, said it best, "If we stay on track and sage grouse populations rebound, maybe a chicken-sized bird known for its flashy mating dance will become a symbol of what's possible when we search for common ground."