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Background

Rangeland fires in the Great Basin of the Western United States have increased in size and intensity in recent years. The accelerated invasion of non-native annual grasses, in particular cheatgrass and medusahead rye, and the spread of pinyon-juniper across the sagebrush-steppe ecosystem, along with drought and the effects of climate change, have created conditions that have led to the increased threat of rangeland fires to the sagebrush landscape and the more than 350 species of plants and animals, such as mule deer and pronghorn antelope, that rely on this critically important ecosystem. As a result, the increasing frequency and intensity of rangeland fire also poses a significant threat to ranchers, livestock managers, sportsmen, and outdoor recreation enthusiasts who use the sagebrush-steppe ecosystem, and puts at risk their associated economic contributions across this landscape that support and maintain the American way of life in the West.

To address these issues, on January 5, 2015, U. S. Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell signed Secretarial Order Number 3336, Rangeland Fire Prevention, Management, and Restoration (“Order”) (PDF, 86 KB). The Order sets in motion actions to enhance the protection, conservation, and restoration of a healthy sagebrush-steppe ecosystem, and to address important public safety, economic, cultural, and social concerns. This effort builds upon the experience and success of addressing rangeland fire and the broader wildland fire prevention, suppression and restoration efforts to date. This includes the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy and the The Next Steppe: Sage-Grouse and Rangeland Fire in the Great Basin conference, and ensures improved coordination with local, state, tribal, and regional efforts to address the threat of rangeland fire at a landscape-level.

A Rangeland Fire Task Force, led by the Department of the Interior Deputy Secretary, was established to review existing policies and programs; seek input from partners; and develop a science-based strategy to reduce the threat of large-scale rangeland fire.

The Task Force submitted to the Secretary of the Interior two reports: an Initial Report (PDF, 1.8 MB) that identifies immediate actions to implement prior to the 2015 Western fire season and a Final Report (PDF, 4.5 MB) of activities implemented during calendar year 2015 and beyond. Interagency Federal Task Groups worked in collaboration with tribes, state and local governmental partners, and other stakeholders to develop these reports.