Big Sagebrush Response to Wildfire and Invasive Grasses in the 21st Century

  • North Central CASC
  • Northwest CASC
  • Southwest CASC
In Progress

Big sagebrush plant communities are important and widespread in western North America and are crucial for meeting long-term conservation goals for greater sage-grouse and other wildlife of conservation concern. Yet wildfire is increasing in the West, turning biodiverse, shrub-based ecosystems dominated by sagebrush into grasslands containing invasive species such as cheatgrass and less overall plant and animal diversity. These transformations negatively impact people and ecosystems by reducing habitat quality for wildlife and the aesthetic value of the landscape.

Understanding how sagebrush communities are already responding and will continue to respond to changes in wildfire, invasive species, and climate is a priority for managers in the West. However, we currently know very little about how invasive grasses and fire will affect big sagebrush rangelands in the future and whether all big sagebrush ecosystems in the western U.S. will be negatively affected. In collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, this project aims to fill this gap by assessing the vulnerability of sagebrush plant communities to future changes in climate, wildfire, and invasive grasses. To do this, researchers will predict sagebrush plant community responses to climate variability, wildfire-driven increases in invasive grasses,and grazing pressure at 200 sites across the West that are particularly important for the greater sage-grouse. They will then produce maps of what future sagebrush plant communities could look like by mid- and late-century for local and regional land and wildlife managers. Additionally, a web interface will be made available for managers to view this information, allowing them to access the data.

This work will provide resource and land managers with maps of what future plant communities will look like and will focus on aspects of the plant community that are most relevant for range-wide management priorities. A better understanding of the effects that climate, wildfire, and invasive grasses could have on sagebrush habitats will help managers more efficiently target their conservation efforts on areas that are projected to be the least vulnerable to these threats.

This project was jointly funded by the North Central, Northwest and Southwest CASCs.

Data and Products