USGS to study fuel break effects on wildfires, sage-grouse

Above: Roads through areas prone to wildfire act as fuel breaks, disrupting the fuel continuity, potentially reducing the rate of fire spread. The areas on either side of the road have also been mowed to reduce vegetation height. Photo courtesy of BLM.

The U.S. Geological Survey is gearing up for a project across the Great Basin studying how effective fuel break are, simultaneously evaluating their ecological costs and benefits.

Fuel breaks like sandy roads or other barriers are intended to reduce fire size and frequency by slowing or altogether halting fire’s spread to the other side of the break. Still, questions remain about whether fuel break protect sagebrush and sage-grouse, the USGS said in a comments discussing the new research. 

“We want to determine the extent to which fuel breaks can help protect existing habitat from wildland fires, paying particular attention to how such breaks affect sagebrush habitat, sage-grouse, and other sagebrush-dependent species,” the USGS said in a statement. 

Additional information about the research can be found on the USGS site. 

DOI to implement plan to address rangeland fire prevention, management, and restoration

The Department of the Interior continues to address the issue of restoring rangelands, with one of the primary objectives being to reduce the threats to the greater sage-grouse in the Great Basin.

On March 9 the Department released “SO 3336 — The Initial Report” which identifies actions to be implemented prior to the onset of the 2015 Western fire season. The BLM, Fire and Aviation will lead the development of all actions associated with the initiative.

Below is a list that summarizes some of those actions that are related to wildland fire management, and following that is the text of a message released on March 10 that provides more information. More details about each item are in “The Initial Report”.

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“Prior to the 2015 Western wildfire season, all units that manage priority greater sage-grouse habitat will complete the actions identified in this section of the Initial Report:

  • Increase the capabilities and use of rural/volunteer fire departments and RFPAs and enhance the development and use of veterans crews.
  • Ensure local, multi-agency coordination (MAC) groups are functional, and MAC plans are updated.
  • Ensure local, multi-agency coordination (MAC) groups are functional, and MAC plans are updated.
  • Apply a coordinated, risk-based approach to wildfire response to assure initial attack response to priority areas.
  • Develop a standardized set of briefing materials.
  • Review and update local plans and agreements for consistency and currency to ensure initial attack response to priority greater sage-grouse areas.
  • Develop supplemental guidance for the use of “severity funding.”
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of action plans.
  • Increase the availability of technology and technology transfer to fire management managers and suppression resources.
  • Improve the description and awareness of critical resource values threatened in various stages of the fire response process including large fire management.
  • Ensure compliance and evaluation of the implementation plan action items.”

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Below is information released by the DOI today, March 10:

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“Secretary Jewell Issues Strategy to Protect, Restore Sagebrush Lands for 2015 Fire Season.
Report advances work with Federal, state, Tribal and non-government partners to protect economic activity and wildlife habitat vital to the Western way of life.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today released the first of two reports developed by the Rangeland Fire Task Force. This initial report includes actions to be implemented by Interior’s bureaus to immediately address the threat of rangeland fire to Western sagebrush-steppe landscapes and improve fire management efforts before the start of the 2015 wildfire season.

“Cheatgrass and other invasive species have contributed to making rangeland fire one of the greatest threats in the Great Basin – not only to sagebrush habitat, but to wildlife, ranching, and other economic activities that depend on a healthy landscape,” Secretary Jewell said. “As we head into the 2015 fire season, the actions recommended in this report will help ensure that our preparedness, response and recovery strategies better align with the threats facing the West.”

Secretarial Order 3336, signed by Secretary Jewell on January 5, 2015, called for the development of a comprehensive, science-based strategy to reduce the size, severity and cost of rangeland fires; address the spread of cheatgrass and other invasive species; and position wildland fire management resources for more effective rangeland fire response. The Order called for the creation of an implementation plan, initial report, and final report. The Implementation Plan, completed on January 31, 2015, established a roadmap to accomplish the objectives of the Order. This initial report released today outlines actions and activities that the Department, in collaboration with partners and interested stakeholders, can take prior to the onset of the 2015 Western wildfire season. The goal is to protect, restore and conserve vital sagebrush landscapes and productive rangelands, particularly in the Great Basin region of Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Oregon and California.

Continue reading “DOI to implement plan to address rangeland fire prevention, management, and restoration”

Secretary Jewell wants to reduce the frequency and intensity of rangeland fires

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today issued a Secretarial Order calling for a comprehensive science-based strategy to address the more frequent and intense wildfires that are damaging vital sagebrush landscapes and productive rangelands, particularly in the Great Basin region of Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Oregon and California.

The strategy will begin to be implemented during the 2015 fire season. Goals include reducing the size, severity and cost of rangeland fires, addressing the spread of cheatgrass and other invasive species, and positioning wildland fire management resources for more effective rangeland fire response.

“Targeted action is urgently needed to conserve habitat for the greater sage-grouse and other wildlife in the Great Basin, as well as to maintain ranching and recreation economies that depend on sagebrush landscapes,” said Secretary Jewell. “The Secretarial Order further demonstrates our strong commitment to work with our federal, state, tribal and community partners to reduce the likelihood and severity of rangeland fire, stem the spread of invasive species, and restore the health and resilience of sagebrush ecosystems.”

The purpose of the order is to establish enhanced policies and strategies for preventing and suppressing rangeland fire and for restoring sagebrush landscapes impacted by fire across the West. These actions are essential for conserving habitat for the greater sage-grouse as well as other wildlife species and economic activity, such as ranching and recreation, associated with the sagebrush-steppe ecosystem in the Great Basin region. This effort will build upon the experience and success of addressing rangeland fire, and broader wildland fire prevention, suppression and restoration efforts to date, including the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy, and ensure improved coordination with local, state, tribal, and regional efforts to address the threat of rangeland fire at a landscape-level.

Complete text of the order.