Review of fuel treatment effects on fuels, fire behavior, and ecological resilience in sagebrush ecosystems in the western US

Roadside Fuel Break in sagebrush

View synthesis.

This 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.

Stay Connected