Lessons & Photos from SGI’s 8th Annual Workshop: Combating Wildfire & Weeds

BLM Land Soda Fire Restoration stop -BLM’s public land work with ranchers, agency, and non-government partners pays dividends in successful cross boundary restoration

June 18, 2018

Photos in this story are courtesy of Evan Barrientos/Audubon, Justin Fritscher/NRCS, Hannah Nikonow/IWJV, Sarah Levy/USFWS.

Field tour and presentations focused on cooperative, science-based conservation that’s working to thwart fire and invasives in sagebrush country

More than 135 conservation partners recently met in Boise, Idaho during the Sage Grouse Initiative’s 8th annual workshop. This year’s workshop focused on wildfire, weeds and rangeland restoration.

Over the course of two days we heard from ranchers, firefighters, researchers, local non-profits and public land managers about the amazing results that come from working together locally to achieve a shared vision: healthy sagebrush rangelands for people and wildlife.

Presentations from ranchers, partners, agencies, and public land managers shared personal insights on how they’re all working together with Idaho’s Sage Grouse Action Team to manage for perennials and away from invasive grasses.

Workshop participants learned the economic importance of treating invasive grasses across ownership boundaries.

The spread of invasive grasses like cheatgrass and medusahead rye lead to more frequent and intense wildfires. Cheatgrass is highly flammable, and it’s altering the fire cycle in the West. Treating these invasive species and reducing future wildfire intensity benefits the people, wildlife, and local communities that rely on these rangelands to make a living. 

Local landowners and partners discussed what’s working for “the bird and the herd” in Idaho and across the range, particularly focusing on using grazing as a tool to manage the invasive weeds that degrade sagebrush ecosystems and fuel wildfires. Through sustainable grazing and removing invasives, ranchers and land managers can promote healthy and diverse native plant communities with strong root systems. 

Attendees had the chance to hear from Noppadol  Paothong, award-winning wildlife photographer who recently released Sage Grouse: Icon of the West. Paothong has spent 13 years photographing sage grouse and their habitat, instilling in him a deep appreciation for the bird, the people, and wildlife who call the beautiful western landscape home. 

Workshop participants also learned about the ongoing efforts to restore more than 280,000 acres of sagebrush in Idaho and Oregon burned by the Soda Fire in 2015. The all-day field tour took participants to see the recovery efforts first-hand. They learned how quick action and a team-based approach has made the difference for repairing damage done by the Soda Fire.

Early cooperation was key in tackling the Soda Fire as it raged across Idaho and Oregon.

Workshop attendees toured cheatgrass control plots used by the USGS and the state of Idaho to test the effectiveness of different treatment techniques. Photos: left, Justin Fritscher NRCS; right, Sarah Levy USFWS.

Workshop attendees toured cheatgrass control plots used by the USGS and the state of Idaho to test the effectiveness of different treatment techniques.

Attendees heard how public land managers and ranchers are applying lessons learned in fighting invasive weeds across ownership lines. The BLM outlined how they work with the help of ranchers and partners to seamlessly restore rangeland across property boundaries.

It was truly neighbor helping neighbor, with state and federal agencies and non-government organizations working side-by-side with the ranchers to stop the spread of the fire.

Once the fire was out, these partnerships set the stage for cooperative efforts to restore the burned areas. Within days, restoration plans were developed, and implementation began hitting the ground. 

Presenters on the field tour described how they prioritized restoration techniques and treatments based on topography, soils, and fire intensity. Plus, workshop participants were shown by partners in Idaho and Oregon how they employed lessons learned from mistakes and successes on other past western wildfires

The “all hands on deck” approach to restoration after the Soda Fire is allowing for landscape-level recovery across ownership boundaries. 


SGI recognized key folks to sage grouse conservation in Idaho, including Trisha Cracroft, Virgil Moore, Dustin Miller, Jason Pyron and Sal Palazzolo.

SGI recognized folks who are key to sage grouse conservation in Idaho, including Trisha Cracroft, Virgil Moore, Dustin Miller, Jason Pyron and Sal Palazzolo.

Throughout the two-day workshop, SGI recognized conservation leaders who are making a difference for working lands and wildlife. SGI awardees included members of the Idaho Sage Grouse Action Team, Idaho rangeland conservation partners, and individuals working on the Soda Fire restoration.

The common denominator between all workshop presentations? Cooperative, science-based rangeland conservation that’s working to combat wildfire and weeds in sagebrush country.

Thanks to all who attended!

See more photos from the workshop >

Watch this Facebook Live Video from the field tour:

Aerial view of the SGI field tour of the Soda Fire, courtesy of Vicky Osborn, IDFG

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Wildfire and Weeds: 5 Things Ranchers Should Know

What Causes Wildfires In The West?

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.