Sagebrush, Photo: Tom Koerner/USFWS
© Tom Koerner/USFWS

Sagebrush Sea

Basic Facts About Sagebrush Sea

The Sagebrush Sea is the seemingly endless sagebrush grasslands that cover the yawning basins and the broad plateaus of the Intermountain West.

While often portrayed as a hot, barren, dusty desert, healthy sagebrush habitats are, in fact, a colorful and complex ecosystem where sagebrush grows in delicate balance with other shrubs, trees, bunchgrasses and wildflowers. The landscape is replete with lakes, rivers, streams, springs and wetlands, hot springs, alkali flats, salt flats, sand dunes, volcanic rock formations and mountain ranges.

Did You Know?

Big sagebrush, a “mother plant” to a multitude of animals and plants in the Sagebrush Sea, can live as long as a century.

Sagebrush (Artemisia spp.), the signature species of the Sagebrush Sea, is among the most widely distributed native plants in the western United States. Approximately 27 varieties of sagebrush grow in the West from sea level to nearly 12,000 feet  in areas that receive as little as eight inches of precipitation per year. 

The Sagebrush Sea supports hundreds of species of fish and wildlife. The landscape is vital habitat for the charismatic sage-grouse, the tiny pygmy rabbit, the fleet-footed pronghorn, and the gorgeous Lahontan cutthroat trout. The ecosystem is also a migratory corridor for birds and important winter habitat for mule deer and elk. At least 15 species of raptors use sagebrush habitat. Carnivores including weasels, badgers and cougars prowl the Sagebrush Sea, and wolves have even been seen traversing the landscape. Even the insects are diverse - more than 1,250 insect species have been identified on a single tract of sagebrush in Idaho.

Did You Know?

Pronghorn, an icon of the Sagebrush Sea and the fastest land mammal in North America, evolved to outrun ancient predators that went extinct 10,000 years ago.

Though historically maligned—Robert Louis Stevenson plaintively wrote, “sage-brush, eternal sage-brush”— more Americans are coming to know and appreciate the Sagebrush Sea as cherished open space that supports an increasing number of recreational and sustainable economic opportunities, as well as a variety of fish and wildlife.