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Jeanne C. Chambers, Eva K. Strand, Lisa M. Ellsworth, Claire Tortorelli, Alexandra K. Urza, Michele R. Crist, Richard F. Miller, Matthew C. Reeves, Karen C. Short, Claire Williams
Year Published:

Cataloging Information

Fire Behavior
Prescribed Fire-use treatments

NRFSN number: 26399
FRAMES RCS number: 69147
Record updated:

Background: Sagebrush ecosystems are experiencing increases in wildfire extent and severity. Most research on vegetation treatments that reduce fuels and fire risk has been short term (2–3 years) and focused on ecological responses. We review causes of altered fire regimes and summarize literature on the longer-term effects of treatments that modify (1) shrub fuels, (2) pinyon and juniper canopy fuels, and (3) fine herbaceous fuels. We describe treatment effects on fuels, fire behavior, ecological resilience, and resistance to invasive annual grasses.

Results: Our review revealed tradeoffs in woody fuel treatments between reducing canopy fuels vs. increasing understory herbaceous vegetation (fuels) and fire behavior. In pinyon-juniper expansion areas, all treatments decreased crown fire risk. Prescribed fire and cut and broadcast burn treatments reduced woody fuels long-term but had higher risk of invasion. Mechanical treatments left understory vegetation intact and increased native perennial plants. However, cut and leave treatments increased downed woody fuel and high-intensity wildfire risk, while cut and pile burn and mastication caused localized disturbances and annual grass invasion. Ecological outcomes depended on ecological resilience; sites with warm and dry conditions or depleted perennial native herbaceous species experienced lower recovery and resistance to invasive annual grasses. In invasive annual grass dominated areas, high-intensity targeted grazing reduced fine fuels but required retreatment or seeding; in intact ecosystems with relatively low shrub cover, dormant season targeted grazing reduced fine fuel and thus fire spread. Preemergent herbicides reduced annual grasses with differing effects in warm and dry vs. cool and moist environments.

Conclusions: The information largely exists to make informed decisions on treatments to mitigate effects of wildfire and improve ecological resilience at local, project scales. Primary considerations are the short- vs long-term tradeoffs in fuels and fire behavior and thus fire severity and the likely ecological response.


Chambers, Jeanne C.; Strand, Eva K.; Ellsworth, Lisa M.; Tortorelli, Claire M.; Urza, Alexandra K.; Crist, Michele R.; Miller, Richard F.; Reeves, Matthew C.; Short, Karen C.; Williams, Claire L. 2024. Review of fuel treatment effects on fuels, fire behavior and ecological resilience in sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) ecosystems in the western U.S. Fire Ecology 20:32.

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