It may seem, to anyone who has driven long stretches of highway across the West, that there is plenty — maybe even more than enough — sagebrush. Sagebrush once covered 250 million acres of western North America, but today that ecosystem is half the size it once was and it’s burning more frequently.

Jon Griggs has been running the Maggie Creek Ranch southwest of Elko, Nev., for almost 30 years.
In 2007, wildfire tore through thousands of acres and destroyed several ranch buildings. The wind howled. The sky was orange, and Griggs couldn’t see more than a dozen yards in front of him with all the smoke.

He kicks the dirt with his black cowboy boot. “We thought that’s not gonna happen to us. And it got us. And…” his voice catches in his throat. “I don’t like to think about that day.”

Griggs and other locals will tell you there has always been fire here, but now the fires are bigger and more frequent than anyone can remember.

In just the past two years, more than 800,000 acres of sagebrush have burned in northern Nevada. For many, the word “wildfire” brings to mind images of flaming treetops and blackened stumps. But we should actually be picturing sagebrush on fire. In the past two decades, nearly 75 percent of all acres burned in the west were rangelands — not forest. Hundreds of thousands of acres — home to rural ranching communities and endangered sage grouse — are going up in flames each year. READ MORE

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