This article was published by Audubon.
How do you fight a fire ripping through a 135-million-acre grassland tinderbox?
It’s a question that federal and state agencies in the Great Basin are scrambling to answer. With sagebrush wildfires spreading fast across the West (recent blazes have scorched as many as 30,000 acres in a day), and climate models projecting a 9-degree-Fahrenheit increase in the region during the next century, land managers are concerned that blazes like the Soda fire of 2015, which burned an area greater than New York City in half a week, will become more common.
“We’re seeing the future right now,” says rangeland ecologist Mike Pellant. If a solution isn’t found in time for the next dry season (late summer to fall), more human lives and livelihoods will be at risk. The fires also threaten a landscape that’s critical to more than 350 species, including the declining Greater Sage-Grouse.
“At the rate of several million acres a year, we just can’t keep up with it,” says Jonathan Beck, a project manager for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Boise, Idaho. Looking to be proactive, the department is proposing wide-scale firebreaks in Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Utah, and California.
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