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Sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) ecosystems occupy more than 100 million acres of the western United States. Big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) communities are among the most widespread of sagebrush communities. The land area historically occupied by sagebrush has been reduced by nearly half due to a variety of causes, including human development, agriculture, woodland expansion, nonnative plant invasions, overgrazing by livestock, and climate changes. About 30% of the land formerly occupied by sagebrush communities has been converted to other land cover types, including conifer woodlands and nonnative annual grasslands, and additional areas are under threat of conversion.

sagebrush burningNot only do many species rely on sagebrush communities, but these altered land cover types differ from sagebrush communities in their fire ecology and fire regimes. For example, conifer woodlands have higher woody fuel loads and altered fuel structures that increase the potential for high-intensity, stand-replacing crown fire. Fires in nonnative annual grasslands tend to be more frequent, larger, faster spreading, and more severe than in sagebrush communities, which can result in a grass/fire cycle that prevents sagebrush from reestablishing.

Resources listed here contain the most recent and applicable information on these topics for big sagebrush ecosystems in the Northern Rocky Mountains.

This hot topic was developed in partnership with the Fire Effects Information System.