Reducing size and severity of rangeland fires
Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today issued a Secretarial Order
calling for a comprehensive science-based strategy to address the more frequent and intense
wildfires that are damaging vital sagebrush landscapes and productive rangelands, particularly in
the Great Basin region of Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Oregon and California.
The strategy will begin to be implemented during the 2015 fire season. Goals include reducing
the size, severity and cost of rangeland fires, addressing the spread of cheatgrass and other
invasive species, and positioning wildland fire management resources for more effective
rangeland fire response.
“Targeted action is urgently needed to conserve habitat for the greater sage-grouse and other
wildlife in the Great Basin, as well as to maintain ranching and recreation economies that depend
on sagebrush landscapes,” said Secretary Jewell. “The Secretarial Order further demonstrates our
strong commitment to work with our federal, state, tribal and community partners to reduce the
likelihood and severity of rangeland fire, stem the spread of invasive species, and restore the
health and resilience of sagebrush ecosystems.”
The Secretarial Order establishes a top-level Rangeland Fire Task Force, chaired by Interior’s
Deputy Secretary Mike Connor, includes five assistant secretaries, and lays out the goals and
timelines for completing the Task Force’s work.
The Task Force will work with other federal agencies, states, tribes, local entities and nongovernmental
groups on fire management and habitat restoration activities. This includes
enhancing the capability and capacity of our partners’ fire management organizations through
improved and expanded education and training. The Task Force also will encourage improved
coordination among all partners involved in rangeland fire management to further improve safety
The Order builds on wildland fire prevention, suppression and restoration efforts to date,
including the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy, which provides a roadmap
for achieving “all hands—all lands” cooperation, and the President’s wildland fire budget
proposal to change how fire suppression costs are budgeted to treat extreme fire seasons the way
other emergency disasters are treated. The budget proposal would provide greater certainty in
addressing growing fire suppression needs while better safeguarding prevention and other nonsuppression
programs, such as fuels reduction and post-fire rehabilitation.
The accelerated invasion of non-native grasses and the spread of pinyon-juniper, along with
drought and the effects of climate change, increased the threat of rangeland fires to the sagebrush
landscape and the more than 350 species of plants and animals, such as mule deer and
pronghorn, that rely on this critically important ecosystem. The increasing frequency and
intensity of rangeland fire in sagebrush ecosystems has significantly damaged the landscape on
which ranchers, livestock managers, hunters and outdoor recreation enthusiasts rely. This
unnatural fire cycle puts at risk their economic contributions across this landscape that support
and maintain the Western way of life in America.
Efforts to conserve and protect sagebrush habitat are the centerpiece of an historic campaign to
address threats to greater sage-grouse prior to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s court-ordered
2015 deadline whether to propose the bird for Endangered Species Act protection.
Secretary Jewell is working with Western governors to improve wildland fire-fighting capacity at
all levels, highlighting the proactive voluntary partnership with ranchers, farmers and other
landowners to conserve the sagebrush landscape on private and public lands. Interior’s
November 5-7, 2014, conference in Idaho, The Next Steppe: Sage-grouse and Rangeland Fire in
the Great Basin, brought together fire experts and land managers at the federal, state and local
levels who underscored the need for a comprehensive, landscape-scale strategy to rangeland fire
suppression and prevention.
At the December 6, 2014, Western Governors’ Association winter meeting, Jewell directed her
Department’s leadership to develop a comprehensive strategy to fight rangeland fire with an eye
toward protecting rural communities, sagebrush landscapes and habitats essential to the
conservation of the sage-grouse and other wildlife.
“These efforts will help Governors, state, tribal and local fire authorities, and those landowners
on the ground – including rangeland fire protection associations and rural volunteer fire
departments – make sure they have the information, training and tools to more effectively fight
the threat of rangeland fires,” said Jewell. “To protect these landscapes for economic activity
and wildlife like the greater sage-grouse, we need a three-pronged approach that includes strong
federal land management plans, strong state plans, and an effective plan to address the threat of
Because about 64 percent of the greater sage-grouse’s 165 million acres of occupied range is on
federally managed lands, Interior’s Bureau of Land Management and the Department of
Agriculture’s U.S. Forest Service are currently analyzing amendments to existing land use plans
to incorporate appropriate conservation measures to conserve, enhance and restore greater sagegrouse
habitat by reducing, eliminating or minimizing threats to the habitat.
State and private lands, which make up a significant portion of the priority and general habitat
for the greater sage-grouse, are also critical for the species. As a result, the Department is
working in an unprecedented partnership with the states to provide strong habitat protection and
conservation measures on the lands they administer. As part of her efforts with Western
governors, Secretary Jewell encouraged, assisted and highlighted the proactive, voluntary state
and federal partnership with ranchers, farmers and other landowners to conserve the sagebrush
landscape on private and public lands.
The rangeland fire Secretarial Order will help frame the third part of the greater sage-grouse
conservation strategy by encouraging further federal, state, tribal and local protection for those
vulnerable sagebrush lands in the Great Basin states.
Greater sage-grouse once occupied more than 290 million acres of sagebrush in the West, but the
bird, known for its flamboyant mating ritual at sites called leks, has lost more than half of its
habitat since then. Settlers reported that millions of birds once took to the skies; current estimates
place population numbers between 200,000 and 500,000 birds. The species now occurs in 11
states and two Canadian provinces. More information on the greater sage-grouse and the
ongoing, collaborative work to conserve the sagebrush