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

Woody Fuels Reduction in Wyoming Big Sagebrush Communities

mowing treatment in sagebrush to reduce fire fuel loads

November 20, 2015

(Photo above: mowing is one treatment option for reducing woody fuels.)

Great Basin Fact Sheet No. 13: Woody Fuels Reduction in Wyoming Big Sagebrush Communities

By: Eugene W. Schupp, Chad S. Boyd, and Shane Green


Historically, ecosystems of Wyoming big sagebrush were subject to disturbances that reduced or removed shrubs, often by fire. Fire return intervals occurred every 60 to 110 years. However, due to overgrazing, many Wyoming big sagebrush communities have undergone a shift from native perennial grasses and forbs to more annual weeds (like cheatgrass) and other fine fuels. Reducing woody plant cover can increase the production of perennial grasses and forbs, improve habitat for wildlife, and reduce the intensity and severity of wildfires. Read on to learn the consequences and options for reducing woody plant fuel in Wyoming big sagebrush plant communities of the Intermountain West.

In Brief:

  • Loss of herbaceous species in the understory, an increase in annual weed cover, and an increase in shrub cover can result in more fine fuels, greater fuel continuity, and more frequent fires in Wyoming big sagebrush communities.
  • Fuel treatments can decrease woody fuels and fire severity and help restore the plant community, but the possibility of negative versus positive effects must be carefully evaluated.
  • Thinking through a series of key questions that determine treatment response helps in deciding whether to proceed with woody fuels reductions and, if so, which treatment methods to use.
  • Herbicides or mechanical treatments may be used, depending on impacts of treatment on the desirable herbaceous species and the degree of surface disturbance. Prescribed fire in Wyoming big sagebrush is extremely risky and, in general, is not recommended.

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

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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.