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Fire Patterns in the Range of the Greater Sage-Grouse, 1984-2013

usgs-logoOAKHURST, Calif. -- Overall fire threats to greater sage-grouse habitat are much higher in the western part of the species’ range than in the eastern part, according to a U.S. Geological Survey fire threats assessment study published today. 

The USGS report provides a scientific assessment of a 30-year-period of comprehensive fire data (1984-2013) across sage-grouse management zones (see map) and vegetation types that include sagebrush as a major component. Researchers evaluated the implications of these findings for conservation and management of the greater sage-grouse in wildland areas across the species’ range.


The greater sage-grouse’s range is split up into seven management zones. The four western zones are distinguished from the three eastern zones due to differences in rainfall and vegetation, which affect fire regimes. Overall, the results indicate that fire threats are higher in the four western zones than in the three eastern management ones.

Fires have the potential to degrade habitat conditions for the greater sage-grouse, and there isevidence that fire is becoming increasingly more prevalent in the western United States, in many cases associated with the spread of invasive annual grasses.

“During recent decades, fire area and fire size have increased across large portions of the western zones, hindering recovery of sagebrush and threatening sage-grouse habitat,” said lead author Matthew Brooks, a USGS fire expert and research scientist at the USGS Western Ecological Research Center. “In contrast, parts of the eastern zones were less impacted by fire, and may actually have less fire than historically occurred.”

Sage-grouse rely on sagebrush habitat for food and breeding. This research focused specifically on sage-grouse habitat within sage-grouse population areas across the species’ 11-state range so that the research could best inform sage-grouse conservation and management efforts.

For example, noted Brooks, the fire history, vegetation type and soil moisture data developed in this study can be combined with other data to create science-based potential risk assessment maps for the establishment of a grass/fire cycle or habitat degradation information for the greater sage-grouse. “Also,” he added, “in light of these findings, it may be useful for managers to reconsider the relative importance of wildfire as a threat to greater sage-grouse in the eastern management zones.”

Other Findings:

This research, Fire patterns in the range of greater sage-grouse, 1984–2013—Implications for conservation and management,was authored by M.L. Brooks, J.R. Matchett, D.J. Shinneman, and P.S. Coates, all of USGS. U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2015-1167.

About Greater Sage-Grouse

Greater sage-grouse occur in parts of 11 U.S. states and 2 Canadian provinces in western North America.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is formally reviewing the status of greater sage-grouse to determine if the species is warranted for listing under the Endangered Species Act.


Greater Sage Grouse HabitatGreater Sage Grouse Habitat


Wildfire, sage grouse, habitat