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

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.

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.