Download the compiled Great Basin Factsheet Series 2016: Information and tools to conserve and restore Great Basin ecosystems.

For hard copies of the compilation, contact Génie MontBlanc, Great Basin Fire Science Exchange Coordinator, at (775) 784-1107 or

Assessing Fuel Loads in Sagebrush Steppe and PJ Woodlands

October 22, 2015

Great Basin Fact Sheet No. 9: Assessing Fuel Loads in Sagebrush Steppe and PJ Woodlands

By: Stephen C. Bunting and Jeff Rose


This fact sheet helps define wildland fuels and review some of the approaches used to assess fuel loads in Great Basin ecosystems. Assessing wildland fuel loading is important for quantifying potential fire hazards, for monitoring the effectiveness of fuel treatments, and for predicting fire behavior, soil heating, fuel consumption, and emissions. The different methods developed to assess fuel loads in sagebrush steppe and juniper woodland vegetation vary in accuracy, and in time and effort required for sampling. Identifying areas of high and low fuel loading helps during the planning and implementation phases of a project.

In Brief:

  • Managers have developed several approaches for assessing fuel loads that vary with landscape scale, required data accuracy and precision, and resources available for data collection.
  • Understanding and quantifying the different components of wildland fuels, such as total fuel, consumable fuel, and time-lag fuels, is the first step for developing valid estimates of fuel loads.
  • Methods vary from those that are rapid and more qualitative to those that are quantitative. They include fire behavior fuel models, photo series, photoload methods, the planar-intersect method, and remote sensing.
  • Approaches vary in accuracy and in time and effort required for sampling. Fire behavior fuel models or photo series guides are effective for rapidly assess­ing fuel loads on multiple sites, but more intensive methods such as the planar intersect method are useful during the personnel-training phase.

Click here or on the image below to download a PDF of the full fact sheet.

 fuel loads

This fact sheet is part of the Great Basin Fact Sheet Series compiled collaboratively by WAFWA, USFS, BLM, NRCS, RMRS, ARS, USGS, and FWS. The series provides land managers with brief summaries of current science concepts and management strategies related to conservation and restoration of the sagebrush sea.


The Sage Grouse Initiative is a partnership-based, science-driven effort that uses voluntary incentives to proactively conserve America’s western rangelands, wildlife, and rural way of life. This initiative is part of Working Lands For Wildlife, which is led by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.