In arid and semi-arid landscapes around the world, wildfire plays a key role in maintaining species diversity. Dominant plant associations may depend upon particular fire regime characteristics for their persistence. Mountain shrub communities in high-elevation landscapes of the Intermountain West, USA, are strongly influenced by the post-fire recovery dynamics of the obligate-seeding shrub, mountain big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata Nutt. ssp. vaseyana [Rydb.] Beetle). This species is a short-distance disperser with a short-lived seedbank, leading to highly variable post-fire recovery times (15-100 years). We investigated the relative importance of site productivity and seasonal climate in explaining the variance in recovery time for 36 fires, comprising a fire chrono-sequence (from 1971 to 2007) for the Great Basin and Colorado Plateau. A. t. vaseyana recovery was positively related to precipitation in the cool season immediately following fire, likely because deep soil-water recharge that persists throughout the growing season enhances first-year seedling survival. Percentage sand fraction positively correlated with recovery rate yet negatively correlated with live cover in unburnt stands. Our data support the hypothesis that post-fire recovery rate of A. t. vaseyana depends on the climatically controlled ephemerality of the regeneration niche, as is likely true for many arid-land shrub species.