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

Conifer Removal in the Sagebrush Steppe

Encroaching conifers decrease forage for livestock and reduce habitat for sage grouse.July 8, 2015

Great Basin Fact Sheet No. 4: Conifer Removal in the Sagebrush Steppe

By: Jeremy D. Maestas, Bruce A. Roundy, and Jon D. Bates


Over the past 150 years, juniper and pinyon woodlands have increased across the sagebrush steppe of the Intermountain West, including spreading to sites that previously did not support trees. This transition from shrub steppe to woodland has broad, concerning impacts on ecosystem function and services. This fact sheet explains the “why when, where, and how” of conifer expansion and infill in sagebrush ecosystems, and lists potential management strategies.

In Brief:

  • Benefits of addressing conifer expansion and infill include maintaining native understory plants, reducing risk of large and severe wildfires, improving habitat for declining species, reducing soil erosion and conserving soil water, and increasing ecosystem resilience to fire and resistance to cheatgrass invasion.
  • Early intervention to address Phase 1 and 2 sites (those with an adequate native shrub and herbaceous understory) achieves the most predictable results for the least cost.
  • A variety of trade-offs and risks must be considered when selecting the most appropriate management option to meet project goals and desired outcomes.

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

GB fact sheet 4 pic

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.