Designing a Regional Network of Fuel Breaks to Protect Greater Sage-Grouse Habitat
The loss of sagebrush steppe to uncharacteristically large and frequent wildfires has been identified as a primary threat to Greater Sage-Grouse (GSG) populations in the western portion of the species’ range. Policy documents regularly identify the need for landscape-scale approaches to design and implement fuel treatments (e.g., fuel breaks) to prevent loss of habitat to wildfires. In an effort to help federal and state agencies reduce the impact of large wildfires, we developed a GIS approach that uses Circuitscape to identify strategic locations for fuel breaks and simulate potential fuel breaks to protect remaining large patches of important GSG habitat. As a demonstration, we applied our experimental approach to a 27-million acre (110,000 km2) region that includes parts of Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, and Utah. We used the Circuitscape model to identify a set of strategic locations for fuel breaks and simulate potential fuel breaks with different levels of resistance to fire. We proposed six focal geographies in our Project Area for further investigation for designing and implementing fuel breaks. From the beginning, we knew the detailed design and implementation of fuel breaks would require close collaboration with public land fire managers. We have discovered that even preliminary design of a network of fuel breaks will require close collaboration with local experts, especially BLM fuels management staff. The participation of local experts and their support of the design process will be critical for success. Besides encouraging others to test our Circuitscape approach for modeling fuel breaks, we intend to pursue a collaboration with fire managers in at least one of the focal geographies we identified.