Texas wildfire Rodney Mestas Zack Coleman

BLM initiates sagebrush steppe fire reduction analyses

BLM examining fuel projects to improve firefighting capabilities and protect rangelands in Great Basin.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recently announced that it is initiating environmental analyses of fuel breaks, fuels reduction and habitat restoration projects on sagebrush steppe rangelands in Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Utah and California to ensure healthy, productive working landscapes and wildlife habitats.

A region-wide analysis of impacts and cumulative effects will help BLM streamline authorization of projects aimed at reducing the threat of wildfires and restoring degraded habitats, the announcement said.

"Fire, invasive annual grasses and conifer encroachment are the most significant threats to sagebrush-steppe in the Great Basin," BLM Idaho state director Tim Murphy said. "Focusing on these threats is also going to help the BLM protect working landscapes that contribute to healthy local economies."

Large-scale wildfires have become significantly more frequent throughout the western U.S. in recent years, particularly in sagebrush-steppe ecosystems. Wildfires have begun to exceed 100,000 acres on a regular basis, and areas are re-burning more often, BLM said. Large and frequent fires often result in conversion of sagebrush to annual grasses like cheatgrass, and native habitats cannot recover naturally.

Strategically sited fuel breaks can slow the progress of wildfires, allowing better firefighter safety and increased protection of human life and property, livestock forage and important ecological resources such as sage-grouse habitat, the agency noted. Treating invasive plants like cheatgrass and encroaching species like juniper further reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfires.

A notice published in the Dec. 22 Federal Register details BLM's intent to prepare two programmatic environmental impact studies, identifies some preliminary issues for analysis and begins a 60-day comment period. BLM welcomes public comments on issues to be analyzed in the programmatic environmental impact studies and possible alternatives, which may be submitted by any of the following methods:

* Email [email protected];

* FAX (208) 373-3805, or

* Surface mail: Jonathan Beck, BLM Idaho State Office, 1387 S. Vinnell Way, Boise, ID 83709.

BLM will host public scoping meetings, with specific dates and locations to be announced shortly through local media, newspapers, social media outlets and the BLM website https://go.usa.gov/xnQcG. The website will also provide details and documents about fuels projects and the impact analysis process.

BLM manages more than 245 million acres of public land located primarily in 12 western states, including Alaska. BLM also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation. Diverse activities authorized on these lands generated $75 billion in sales of goods and services throughout the American economy in fiscal 2016 — more than any other agency in the U.S. Department of the Interior. These activities supported more than 372,000 jobs.

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