The Role of Fire and Fire Surrogate Treatments in Restoring Sagebrush Habitat in Utah’s West Desert
Key to restoring sagebrush habitat in the Great Basin is minimizing wildfire and promoting ecosystem resiliency. Land managers use methods such as fuel reduction treatments and creation of fuel breaks to decrease fire risk and promote perennial dominated landscapes. Mastication (mechanical shredding) of pinyon and juniper has become an important tool for restoring sagebrush habitat throughout Utah’s West Desert. Benefits of mastication include ease of implementation, shrub retention, erosion control, and providing safe sites for seed germination and establishment. Achieving the goal of restoring ecological resiliency requires increasing perennial grass and forb cover. Ironically, this increase in fine fuels combined with masticated debris can actually increase the flammability of a site. When fire does occur within masticated treatments, however, fire behavior is modified and intensity is often decreased relative to adjacent untreated sites. Over time, the masticated debris will eventually break down. But in the short term, in some especially fire prone areas, prescribed burning of shredded material is an option to remove the fuel load while keeping the sagebrush component intact.