Fire ecology of sagebrush systems: to burn or not to burn for wildlife habitat
Carl Wambolt, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT
There are nearly 200 mammals and birds that have at least some dependence on sagebrush in their natural habitats. These wildlife species may rely on sagebrush taxa for forage, security cover, thermal cover, or nesting-fawning-calving cover. It is intuitive that sagebrush habitats did not burn frequently under natural conditions. Sagebrush taxa do not generally possess characteristics that allow them to endure fire. Because sagebrush taxa are the climatic dominants over nearly all their range, it is logical that they did not cope with fire as often as many other vegetative types. In the same manner, fauna of the sagebrush types evolved with niches created by sagebrush taxa and subdominant plant species. Manipulation of sagebrush systems by fire or other means often does not produce the theorized benefits, but can be expected to result in loss of native fauna.