Burning controversy: Shift in US firefighting strategy prioritizes sage grouse brush in West

Associated Press

Federal agencies deciding how to deploy firefighters during one of the West's worst wildfire seasons are considering a new factor in their deliberations: an imperiled bird that inhabits a vast stretch of sagebrush from California to the Dakotas.

Officials have already mapped out the greater sage grouse's habitat west of the Rockies, where wildfire is considered a primary threat to the bird. They've positioned semi-trailer sized water containers in areas that need protecting.

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And wildlife biologists are advising firefighters.

While fire officials note that human life is the first priority, the shift in strategy comes as a Sept. 30 court-imposed deadline looms for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to decide whether to list the bird as a threatened or endangered species.