Wildfire risk and mitigation opportunities in the US sagebrush biome

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Within the Great Basin of the western United States (US), hundreds of thousands of hectares of highly imperiled sagebrush ecosystems are converted to invasive annual grasses or seeded states each year following wildfires. In response to the effects of these wildfires, extensive fuel treatments are being planned and implemented throughout the region. Here we describe a customized regional modeling effort for sagebrush and pinyon-juniper ecosystems to help guide investments in woody fuel treatments and fuel break systems. Within a risk assessment framework, modeled burn probabilities and simulated fire perimeters are overlaid with areas of conservation concern, like core sagebrush ecological integrity or growth opportunity areas with special consideration of resilience to disturbance and resistance to invasion by exotic annual grasses (e.g., cheatgrass). Our initial assessments indicate that risk is not uniform across the landscape and suggest that strategic investments considering both in situ and transmitted risk will be most cost effective. Strategic placement of fuel treatments is expected to result in a large proportion of total possible risk reduction at relatively low investment levels. These initial findings expand upon those of other US regional wildfire risk assessments, and demonstrate how state-of-the-art datasets and analytics can be used to help prioritize fuel treatment investments across focal landscapes.