TOPIC 1 Conservation Issues Facing the Sagebrush Steppe
and Greater Sage-Grouse: Land Management Tools

This section explores the tools available to land managers for dealing with the conservation issues facing the Sagebrush Steppe and Greater Sage-Grouse. Scroll down the page to read each sub-section, or click the Land Management Tools drop-down navigation to go directly to a sub-section.

Key Concepts and Tools for Vegetation Management
in the Sagebrush Ecosystem

Why do we do vegetation treatments/fuels management? (from Miller et al. 2014)

  1. To reduce fuel loads and thus fire severity and extent.
  2. To increase perennial herbaceous species, which largely determine resilience to disturbance (recovery potential) and resistance to invasive annuals.
  3. To decrease the longer term risk of conversion to invasive annuals.
  4. To maintain watershed integrity.

Operational considerations and fuels management:

  • Fuels Management is defined as those practices intended to modify fire behavior, improve ecological condition, or augment fire suppression efforts. Examples of fuels management practices include prescribed burning, mechanical, chemical, and biological treatments.
  • Initial attack is an important tool. For example, effective initial attack keeps over 99% of wildfires at less than 10,000 acres. However, certain pro-active measures may compliment suppression efforts and potentially result in fewer large fires.
  • The small percentage of fires that escape initial attack often become large conflagrations that are resistant to control and cause severe damage to habitat and other resources. Those 2–5% of all fires each year cause the largest expense, the most severe losses, and pose the greatest challenges for fire, land and resource managers. Establishing appropriately placed practices to reduce fuels pre-fire, such as fuel breaks, greenstripping, targeted grazing, or other locally agreed-upon techniques, can give firefighters a safe zone from which to compartmentalize fires and cut habitat losses (Murphy et al. 2013).


Resistance and Resilience

The complex interactions of multiple environmental variables and how those variables influence resilience to disturbance and resistance to invasion is critical to effectively manage sagebrush steppe ecosystems; this is the concept of Resilience and Resistance. Begin by watching this video of Mike Pellant discussing the emergence of Resistance and Resilience science.


This concept is explored in more detail in the lesson on Resilience and Resistance, but an introduction is provided here. Key gradients include elevation, precipitation, soil temperature and moisture which combine to influence plant productivity and fuel loads (Chambers et al. 2014, Pyke et al. 2015, Figure 3).

  • Resilient ecosystems have the capacity to regain their fundamental structure, processes, and functioning following disturbance, stressors, and management treatments; the resilience of an ecosystem is determined by its environmental characteristics and ecological conditions such as current vegetation, and reflects its recovery potential.
  • Resistant ecosystems have the ability to retain their fundamental structure, processes, and functioning (or remain largely unchanged) despite disturbance and stressors; the resistance of an ecosystem to invasive annual grasses is a function of the environmental and ecological characteristics of an ecosystem that limits the population growth and expansion of the invasive species.



  • Resilience and Resistance are:
    • Highest on lands with cool to cold soil temperature regimes and relatively moist soil moisture regimes.
    • Lowest with warm soil temperatures and relatively dry soil moisture regimes.
    • Resilience and resistance can be combined and mapped (Chambers et al. 2017, Figure 6, Maestas et al. 2016), where blue colors have cool to cold soil temperatures and relatively moist soils and red colors have warm soil temperatures and relatively dry soils.


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Figure 3 Click the image for a printable version.



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Figure 6 Click the image for a printable version.


Resilience and resistance data allow managers to predict the ecological responses of sagebrush ecosystems to both disturbance and management actions and to determine appropriate management strategies.

In this video, Jeanne Chambers explains how the concepts of Resilience and Resistance help managers make better decisions on management objectives.

Ecological Site Concept

The ecological site concept aggregates areas with similar soils and climate that will support similar amounts and types of vegetation and includes an explanation of the successional dynamics of plant communities that may occur on the ecological site.

  1. Included in each ecological site description is an explanation of the successional dynamics of plant communities that may occur on the ecological site.
  2. These dynamics are displayed as conceptual models using State and Transition models (Pyke et al. 2015, Figure 6) where plant community phases are expressed by a change in dominance among species within communities and where these dominance changes can fluctuate among each other within relatively stable states.
  3. The successional state that contains plant community phases where ecological attributes (soil and site stability, hydrologic function, and biotic integrity) are functioning near optimum levels under a natural disturbance regime is referred to as the reference state.


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Figure 6 Click the image for a printable version.


Fire and Invasives Assessment Tool (FIAT)

To begin, watch this video of Doug Havlina discussing the Fire and Invasives Assessment Tool.


Completed in 2015, the Fire and Invasives Assessment Tool (FIAT) approach identified priority habitat areas and management strategies in five assessment areas in the Great Basin (see map) to reduce threats to Greater Sage-Grouse resulting from impacts of invasive annual grasses, wildfires, and conifer expansion. For each assessment area, the following two steps were conducted:


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Five assessment areas in the Great Basin. Click the image for a printable version.


FIAT Step 1 aims to:

  • Identify important Priority Areas for Conservation (PACs) and focal habitats (portions of a PAC with important habitat characteristics that support viable populations of greater sage-grouse, and are at risk due to threats).
  • Identify potential management strategies to conserve or restore important focal habitats threatened by wildfires, invasive annual grasses, and conifer expansion.
  • Identify resistance to invasive annual grasses and resilience to disturbance within focal habitats to assist in identifying appropriate management strategies.

Step 2:

Begin by watching Doug Havlina explain Step 2 of the Fire and Invasive Assessemnt Tool.


In this step, teams produced potential treatments and management strategies for sage-grouse conservation, including opportunities for fuels management, habitat restoration, fire operations, and post-fire rehabilitation to be conducted by the local management units. This step used the sage-grouse habitat matrix (combining sagebrush cover and resistance/resilience, Chambers et al. 2017, Table 8) and spatial data to map these areas on the landscape, set priorities, and determine treatment opportunity areas. The outcome of FIAT step 2 was a comprehensive program of work for the five assessment areas, which was captured in written reports and a geodatabase.

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Table 8: Click the image for a printable version.

Shown are maps from the Southern Great Basin FIAT assessment.

  • Spatial depiction of the Sage-Grouse habitat matrix for project planning areas in the assessment area. This map uses the combination of Resistance and Resilience level (high, moderate, low) and proportion of landscape dominated by sagebrush (low, medium, high) to map the nine classes in the sage-grouse habitat matrix for the project planning areas within the Southern Great Basin FIAT landscape.
  • Priorities and proactive fuels management opportunities. These are mapped at a landscape level for each of the project planning areas in the assessment area. Proposed fuel breaks are mapped (in blue) as are First, Second, and Third Order Priority treatment areas.
  • Conifer encroachment and invasive grasses treatment opportunities. These are also mapped at a landscape level for each of the project planning areas in the assessment area.

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Example 1 Click the image for a printable version.


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Example 2 Click the image for a printable version.


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Example 3 Click the image for a printable version.


BLM is utilizing an integrated program of work (IPOW) to prioritize and fund projects which benefit sage-grouse. These funds are for projects which address threat factors and include conifer removal, seeding, chemical treatment of invasive species, strategically placed fuel breaks, and other measures which change fire behavior, augment suppression effectiveness, or protect/maintain/restore habitat.

Funding sources to implement the IPOW include both fuels management and resource program funding.

Integrated Rangeland Fire Management Strategy

The Strategy, released May 19, 2015, is intended to improve the efficiency and efficacy of actions to address rangeland fire, to better prevent and suppress rangeland fire, and improve efforts to restore fire-impacted landscapes. These activities involve targeted investments to enhance efforts to manage rangeland fire in specific portions of the Great Basin, consistent with efforts of tribal, state, and other lands, and in keeping with the trust responsibilities to Indian tribes and other statutory obligations.

Essential to the success of the Strategy is improving efforts to work on a landscape-level and better employing science and technology to target areas of high priority for preventing, suppressing, and restoring fire-impacted landscapes using a risk-based approach.

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Through application of “All Hands, All Lands” management, increased collaboration among Federal, state, tribal, and local officials, natural resource managers, and the fire community can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the overall rangeland fire management effort. A commitment to monitoring changes in resource conditions to evaluate the effectiveness of different management strategies will improve learning and, through adaptive management, increase the success of the Strategy.

Better managing rangeland vegetation and reversing the spread of invasive, non-native grasses is critical to breaking the invasive species-fire cycle that has contributed to the increased frequency and intensity of rangeland fires. By planning projects at a landscape scale to reduce and control invasive species and rapidly restore lands impacted by fire to native vegetation, progress in protecting and restoring the sagebrush-steppe ecosystem for the benefit of all can be achieved.

The Strategy includes the following major components:

  1. Integrated Response Plans: Design and implement comprehensive, integrated fire response plans for the FIAT areas and other Great Basin areas that prioritize protection of low resilience landscapes most at-risk to detrimental impacts of fire and invasive species.
  2. Prioritization and Allocation of Resources: Provide clear direction on the prioritization and allocation of fire management resources and assets.
  3. Fuels: Improve targeting of fuels reduction opportunities and implementation.
  4. Integrate Science into Project Design and Implementation: Use current and emerging traditional and scientific knowledge of ecological resistance and resilience in the development and implementation of fuels management and restoration actions. Use effective adaptive management to ensure that design practices and implementation strategies reflect both emerging scientific findings and knowledge gained from the analysis of past actions.
  5. Post-Fire Restoration: Review and update Emergency Stabilization and Burned Area Rehabilitation policies and programs to integrate with long-term restoration activities.
  6. Commit to multi-year Investments in Restoration: Support long-term strategies for the restoration of sagebrush-steppe ecosystems, including consistent long-term monitoring protocols and adaptive management for restored areas.
  7. Large-scale Activities to Remove Invasive Non-native Grasses: Implement large-scale experimental activities to remove cheatgrass and other invasive annual grasses through various tools.
  8. Science and Research: Commit to multi-year investments in science and research.
  9. Seed Strategy: Develop a comprehensive strategy for acquisition, storage, and distribution of seeds and other plant materials.



Next explore the Resources section.