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Cataloging Information

Fire Ecology
Fire Effects

Record updated:
NRFSN number: 19545

The increase of wildfire frequency and size in the Great Basin over the last few decades has taken a toll on sagebrush. As more fires burn, the native sagebrush-steppe ecosystem is being replaced by annual invasive species, primarily cheatgrass, which dominates up to 100 million acres in the West. As sagebrush has decreased, greater sage-grouse populations have plunged. Firefighters and managers understand the cheatgrass cycle. Cheatgrass thrives in disturbed areas, such as those that have recently burned. It cures early in the spring and can form a mat of continuous fuel, which carries fire fast and far. Cheatgrass is highly flammable; it’s often compared to tissue paper as a fuel. So the more fire, the more cheatgrass. And the more cheatgrass, the more fire. It’s a cycle that must be stopped, if the Great Basin is ever again to resemble its historical condition. It’s not just sage grouse that are threatened by loss of habitat. More than 350 other wildlife and plant species also inhabit the Great Basin. And local economies are hurt when wildfire erupts in the sagebrush-steppe. Wildfire in high-quality sagebrush habitat instantly becomes a top priority for firefighters.

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