An Emerging Threat: Climate Change and Wildfire in Northwest Rangelands

By Morgan Lawrence, UDSA Northwest Climate Hub

Fire on a ridgeline with smoke blowing in the wind and firefighters working next to it.
Firefighters bring fire down the ridge to check up the Stewart Creek fire on the Sawtooth National Forest. USDA Forest Service photo by Derek Bland.

Adapting to changing wildfire patterns in Northwest rangelands will require dedication, collaboration, and careful consideration of the trade-offs between different management strategies.

Rising temperatures, invasive annual grasses, and human ignitions are driving a concerning shift in wildfire patterns across Northwest rangelands. Since 2000, more acres of rangeland than forest land have burned in the West. Mega-fires (fires that burn > 100,000 acres) are also becoming more common, especially on the Snake River Plain and in the Northern Great Basin. Rising temperatures and drought are contributing to drier fuels and more frequent fire weather, increasing wildfire risk. Meanwhile, invasive annual grasses are drying out earlier in the season than native grasses and plants, leading to earlier ignitions and increased fire frequency in rangelands.

These changes have significant consequences for human health and safety, wildlife habitat, carbon storage, and livestock operations. Combating these challenges requires a complex, multi-faceted approach that includes monitoring and early detection of invasive grasses, restoration of invaded rangelands, fuel management, and collaboration between ranchers, land managers, and partners.

To learn more about the impacts of wildfire on Northwest rangelands, as well as actions that can help managers adapt to changes, check out the USDA Northwest Climate Hub’s article, “Climate Change and Wildfire in Northwest Rangelands.”


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